By Isobel Tighe
Growing up in a small, self-contained town, it almost seemed like a rite of passage to flee the restraints of your tiny domain in exchange for the hustle and bustle of a big city for university. Whilst most of my peers swapped our monotonous fields for concrete jungles, I chose to relocate to a city more like a home away from home. This was especially comforting when my first year became a cycle of lockdowns, restrictions and two-week isolation periods.
In the absence of a typical fresher’s experience, I got to appreciate Durham in a way that I otherwise would not have. Late nights spent dancing in Jimmy’s were replaced with early morning walks around the city, hunting for the green space that reminded me of home. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t hard to find.
The Cathedral’s powerful presence transitioned more and more into a friendly face with each daily walk. Its neighbour, Palace Green Library, seemed to whisper a welcoming ‘hello’ with each passing step. As an English student, I longed for the day its doors would reopen, and I could finally visit the wonders concealed inside. Further along I passed the Castle, envying the resident students lucky enough to be within its walls every day. Looking back on how much history I consumed on a mere one-hour walk, it’s not hard to understand why Durham deserves the title of UK City of Culture.
Even without such historical buildings, Durham’s intertwined partnership between the urban and the rural makes it the perfect candidate for UK City of Culture. A walk along the riverside invites you into a pastoral paradise filled with an abundance of greenery and wildlife.
The walk between Prebends and Framwellgate Bridges is home to some of my favourite characters. There’s the heron who spends most of his mornings perched on the little waterfall, hunting for his breakfast. Further downstream you can find the otters who splash and frolic, peering up at you from their own personal playground. A safe distance away is the lone swan who finally found a mate last spring. Either side of the river the trees bloom up and hug you in, sheltering you from the rain. It’s a landscape so picturesque, it feels like a postcard.
Climbing up Saddler Street, the urban landscape comes out to play, containing thousands of years of history. At eye level (and sometimes above) the high street is lined with copious amount of cafes, restaurants and bars. There’s cuisine to fit almost anyone’s tastebuds, although, as a typical pasta lover, Spags is a personal favourite of mine. As for coffee, you’d never be without it here. Instead of a college bar crawl, I think my next mission will be to tackle Durham’s Tour de Café across an all-day study session.
Behind their doors, these eateries contain one of the most important aspects of Durham’s culture: its people.
If Durham is a hive for culture, each of us is a worker bee, trying desperately hard to contribute something meaningful in the time we have here. Inside the hive, you have locals, those who are Durham born-and-bred; students from far larger cities than Durham; students (like me) from the tiny, rural corners of the country; students and staff from over 130 countries across the world.
When you think about it, it’s incredible that a city so small can host such a wide range of people, all with different lived experiences, nationalities, even accents. Despite the vast disparities between us all, I would like to think that nearly every single one of us can give at least one reason why Durham will always hold a special place in our hearts. That’s the beauty of Durham; it feels like home to anyone and everyone fortunate enough to spend time here.
Durham is spreading itself very thin, giving more and more to an even greater number of people each time a September rolls around. With the title of UK City of Culture under its belt, Durham would be able to strengthen its cultural prevalence, with increased opportunities to host national events and celebrations. And, of course, it would do wonders for tourism revenue, boosting Durham’s position on both national and international levels. It’s time something was given back to the city that already gives so much to everyone else.