Durham ~ the River Walk
A city-walk in the countryside
Durham’s River Walk
Durham, Tyne & Wear
I met my sister, Bernadine, for a catch-up in Durham. It was late April when we visited and quite a dark and cloudy weekend but we had 24 hours together and we made sure we made the most of it! We did this by walking and talking, eating and drinking, sight-seeing and exploring, taking pictures and exchanging news. It turns out that the compact, convivial city of Durham, with its very special history and architecture and numerous cafes, pubs and restaurants, is the perfect place for all of these activities. Here are just some of the sights we saw on our River Walk. You can click on any of the images to enlarge my photos.
The centre of the ancient city of Durham is situated on a small peninsula bounded on three sides by a loop of the River Wear. This ribbon of river encircles Durham’s most photogenic and historic sites, and its green, nature-thronged banks give a very different perspective of the hustle and bustle of the tourist and university town above.
We completed the outside loop of the River Walk. We were staying at the Royal County Marriott Hotel on Old Elvet so we started at the Elvet Bridge and finished at Framwelllgate Bridge after a very leisurely 2 hours or so.
We climbed down the Elvet’s steps and started our walk just along from the Boat Club, Although in the middle of town, this is a tranquil spot, below Durham’s roads and daily life and it has a very different pace, featuring only occasional joggers, other walkers, ducks and, on this day, some varsity rowers.
Starting on the inside loop meant leaving the river across the Kingsgate footbridge to Dunelm House, a student hub, to follow the path in town for a little while, perhaps 10 minutes, before rejoining the riverbank for the outside loop. You can see the loop on this map of Durham’s centre.
The photos that follow are not in order of the route we took, but they give you the feel of the walk and it’s green, serene and sylvan ambiance, as well as some of the key sites and prettiest views.
About half-way round the loop is the Prebends Bridge. Much-painted, much photographed and a very pretty pedestrian route up onto the Bailey, where the Cathedral and Castle are situated. It’s prettiness is not accidental: the bridge was deliberately sited slightly north of an older one, at a wider stretch of river, to optimise its aspect and trees were planted at either end to enhance its beauty and tranquility, creating an archetypal Romantic composition.
The wend of the River Wear may provide the route but - for much of the walk - my focus was not on the water but on the glorious, abundant and enveloping greenery that drapes the riverbanks. Even on a dull day, the greenery here is magical; dense swathes of wild garlic and creeping ivy drape the ground and climb up the banks to be met by the canopies of towering trees, decked with leaves of every shade from acid to forest green. On a summer’s day, this would be THE perfect place to watch the ‘emerald feathers play’. (Name that tune!*)
In one or two places, buildings at the River’s edge reveal a past industry in milling. In the Middle Ages these buildings were corn mills but one in particular was converted in the 17th century to a fulling mill for cloth production. Until 2014, the Old Fulling Mill, which sits at one end of the weir and below the Cathedral, was a museum within Durham University’s Department of Archaeology. Regular flooding prevents it being open permanently now but it’s a beautiful and evocative building to pass on the river walk.
Although Bernadine and I passed occasional joggers, dog walkers and strolling students and other tourists, the river walk was mostly quiet and we had long vistas entirely to ourselves, which made for good photo ops and even better blether ops.
We don’t see enough of each other, my sister and I, and this was our first time together in 3 years. But we catch up quickly and always enjoy an easy companionship, especially in places we can explore our shared interest in places full of history and stories. As well as doing the River Walk, we visited some of Durham’s main attractions, including the awe-inspiring Durham Cathedral (pictured below with its sticking plaster on the tower!), and some of its best eateries and pubs.
We ended the River Walk at the Framwellgate Bridge, although you could go further. A huge and expensive new development is underway beyond Framwellgate, where new shopping and leisure outlets are currently being built, but we chose to stay with the old and headed back up the stairs and into Durham’s historic market place.
I loved the River Walk that looped around and under Durham’s ‘fort-island’ centre (the original meaning of what was once called Dun-ham). The section we walked was perhaps a mile and half long, maybe two, and there is a longer, more comprehensive option that is 3 miles long. But this was a delight - for both the walk and for the company - and for views like this.
Loop walks are a good thing, don’t you think? It’s nice not to have to retrace your steps and to see a circular route completed. Where’s a good one near you? Mine would be the section of the coastal path behind where we live, which takes you round Crail Golf Course and Ness Point (the actual corner or ‘Neuk’ of East Neuk) then back to Crail. It’s about 6 miles, though, so not a quick walk. Or the shorter Lade Braes in St Andrews, perhaps. Tell me yours by leaving a comment below.
The Tripographer’s notes
Unslumping level? 10/10
Would I go again? Yes!
Best time to go? I doubt there’s a bad time but Autumn would be lush.
Best for? Forest bathing (it’s a thing, look), views, walking and talking.
Top tip? Take time to meander up the occasional paths that lead off the Walk to explore further.
*It’s ‘Corner of the Earth’ by Jamiroquai