There’s more than one alma mater, you know: way up North to Durham

I suppose Cambridge is easier to get to from London. And it is quite pretty, I guess. And a *fairly* good university… [I’m not going to rise to any of this. Some people are just jealous.] Nonetheless, I was very excited to give the tour of my own university, way up at the other end of the country in the tiny city of Durham.

Even more special to me, though, was a visit to my old college, University College, or Castle as it’s known. It is, indeed, a castle, built in the 11th century [although the keep was rebuilt in Victorian times] to defend against marauding Scots, and was lived in by the Prince Bishops before the students took over.

I lived in the keep, with a very lovely roommate:

University College, Durham

Sang (often hungover) in the tiny Tunstall Chapel, built in 1540:

Chapel at University College, Durham

And generally spent two years living within the Castle walls. Everyone loves reminiscing, right?

I should mention that tours inside the Castle courtyard cost £5 and are the only way to get inside unless you’re an alum. They are a great way to get an insight into the history, though.

The river is a central part of the city and I remember some tense moments at this bridge as a Cox:

Boat markers on bridge in Durham

This is the “worst nightclub in Europe”, apparently – two tiny floors of student-only sweaty noise and extremely cheap drinks.


On a more exalted note, however, I’d love you to meet Durham Cathedral. Built in the Norman period and dating from 1093, this absolutely enormous and imposing structure sits high above the city, on a raised bank above the River Wear. It’s home to both the shrine of St Cuthbert and an incredibly warm and welcoming community. [And is beautifully floodlit.]

Durham Cathedral

The Castle, facing it across Palace Green, also looks stunning when lit at night. The two combine to form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

University College in Durham by night

I know I’m biased, but Durham is one of the least well-known British cities and one I’d recommend so highly. It’s seeable in a day, on a main train route up the country, and such a feast for the eyes. The Castle and Cathedral are out of this world, and the city is quaint and full of excellent cafés and shops. As Bill Bryson said, “You haven’t been? Take my car! Take my keys!”*

*We liked that sentence so much we made him our Vice-Chancellor…

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