Sunday 16th – Monday 17th June 2019
This tour starts with me meeting the tourees at Durham railway station at 16:00. From here our coach takes us to our hotel – Lumley Castle.
Originally a manor house, in 1389 Sir Ralf Lumley received permission from the Prince Bishop of Durham to convert it into a castle. Unfortunately Sir Ralf was executed in 1400 after a failed coup to overthrow Henry IV and Lumley Castle was subsequently confiscated by the crown, but it was returned to the Lumley family in 1421.
In the early 1800s the castle came under the ownership of the Bishop of Durham after he had given his home, Durham Castle, to the newly created University of Durham. Later, Lumley Castle became a hall of residence for the university. The university sold the castle in the 1960s to fund the development of new halls of residence in the city. In 1976 it was established as a hotel with great historical character. My room, reached by a typical medieval spiral staircase – [see video of the day, below] – was the window seen top right in the above picture and featuring a four poster bed, pull cord light switches and rope ties for the curtains.
Monday started with a 15 minute coach journey into Durham where we picked up Jan, our local blue badge guide. Jan and Eric, our coach driver, gave us a 30 minute coach tour around the outer part of Durham where we saw the river, the modern halls of residence, Durham School and views of the cathedral.
Interestingly, this view is over some allotments, in a dip in the landscape, created as a result of the quarrying that produced the 100,000 tons of sandstone used to build the cathedral.
The coach dropped us off in the centre of Durham and the tour of Durham continued on foot. Our first stop was a surprise visit to the Town Hall.
Although it looks old it does, in fact, date from 1851. The architect, Philip Hardwick, designed it to look medieval. I had a wry smile when I heard that as this was the same architect who created the original Euston station: my father was involved in the demolition, in the early 1960s, of that station and the imposing Euston Arch together with the creation of the modern concrete beauty that we currently enjoy.
On the completion of our guided tour the tourees are free to go and explore Durham city independently and to have lunch. This means that, as tour manager, I am also free to explore. My first stop was a visit to the cathedral.
However it wasn’t just the impressive architecture of the cathedral that I wanted to see. As some will know I have always had an interest in Lego [in fact I also have a website where I sell Lego minifigures (www.ciel.uk.com)]. So I just had to go and see the model of the cathedral built in Lego.
This remarkable model was constructed by visitors to Durham Cathedral between 11th July 2013 and 25th July 2016 as part of a fundraising campaign. Each Lego brick was paid for with a £1 donation. The completed model has almost 300,000 bricks – raising just under £300,000 for the cathedral.
Before I visited the cathedral I had popped into the Tourist Information Office and bought a ticket for a visit to Durham Castle. As mentioned earlier, Durham Castle is owned by the university and is a hall of residence for one of the colleges. This means that you can only visit as part of a tour and it is limited in what you can see. This is student accommodation so you cannot take photographs inside for privacy reasons.
I have to say it is well worth a visit.
You can go down into the chapel below the castle which was built prior to the cathedral, so is over 1,000 years old.
The grand hall [through the door shown below] looks like the dining area from Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, and is in fact used by the students, sitting on long benches for their three meals a day.
I then went for a walk around the city including the main market square.
I had to cut short my little visit, before I had chance to walk around three sides of the city on the river path, as I had to collect one of the tourees, who had arrived a day late, from the railway station. Although I walked up the hill to the station, the two of us caught a taxi back to the coach meeting point.
After the coach had returned all the tourees to Lumley Castle, very kindly, the manager of the hotel gave us a guided tour of this historical hotel, with stories of Lily the ghost and a visit to the dungeons [now a bar!].
RailDiscoveries Tour Map:
Video of the day:
Selfie of the day:
- Welsh Highland Railway & Caernarfon
- Ffestiniog Railway & Portmeirion
- Passau and Home [via Köln]
- London to Munich [for Oktoberfest]