. A hilly, sea-facing county, compact yet often rugged, and ranged around its castled capital, Durham . The county lies between two great rivers, the Tyne and the Tees , and extends inland to Yorkshire and east to the sea. Along its eastern coast industrial towns often of ancient origin and sandy shores face the grey North Sea . Many high cliffs and islands dot the coastline and Beacon Hill , owned by the National Trust, is the highest point on the Durham coast. Inland the county smooths into the long, straggling valley of the Tees with extensive stone-walled fields, and wide moors above.
. There are vivid contrasts within the county, with the bleak and rugged Pennines and sheep-rearing farmland of west Durham akin to the north Yorkshire moors, while the industrial, chemically-based south-east has a nuclear landscape and the mining areas of Easington and Peterlee with their big wheels signposting mine shafts to remind us that this was where the industrial Revolution had its perhaps biggest impact. Jarrow, South Shields and Sunderland to the northeast are metropolitan areas with a great shipbuilding tradition.
. The landscape is based on limestone in the west, then a clay plain with sandstone outcrops such as the one at Durham jutting up. There's a lead mining centre at Killhope.
Origin of name: From the Saxon word Dunholme, dun meaning a hill and holme referring to an island in a river (the rocky outcrop where Durham Cathedral now stands).
The Normans changed it to Duresme, which was corrupted to Durham . Bishops ruled this area until 1836 so the suffix 'shire' was never added: it is County Durham , not Durhamshire.
Name first recorded: 1000 as Dunholme.
DURHAM : is splendidly set cathedral and university city overlooking a loop in the River Wear. Student influence on restaurants and arts.
BARNARD CASTLE : Fine medieval bridge, old houses and nearby French chateau-style Bowes Museum .
BILLINGHAM: Friendly people, a theatre and a football club with the name Sinfonia FC (who can claim that?).
BLAYDON: The Blaydon Races are immortalized in the words of the eponymous local folk song.
DARLINGTON : Synonymous with the first railway in the country and a fascinating museum to match.
HAKTLEPOOL: Still has bits of medieval town wall. in the docks is HMS Warrior, the world's earliest iron- hulled battleship, and now a floating museum.
JARROW: The word 'march' springs to mind but in the depths of this grimy town is a lovely 7th-century church where the Venerable Bede sought solace.
STOCKTON-ON-TEES : is famous for its open-air market started in 1310 in the broadest high street in England .
SUNDERLAND : Shares with its neighbour Jarrow a shipbuilding heritage, and it became a city in 1992. Nearby Roker's St Andrew's Church (1906) is an Arts and Crate design with William Morris tapestries.
WASHINGTON : George Washington's ancestral home, Washington Old Hall, is open in summer.
. Birtley . Boldon . Brandon . Consett . Easington . Felling . Ferryhill . Hebburn . Hetton-le-Hole . Houghton-le-Spring . Newton Aycliffe . Peterlee . Ryton . Seaham . Shildon . South Shields . Spennymoor . Stanley
Wear, Tees . Fine fishing along the fast- flowing rivers and at reservoirs at Balderhead, Burnhope, Selset, Weskerley and Tunstall.
Burnhope Seat at 2,452 feet.
. Early April: Gateshead Spring Flower Show has an impressive array of flower displays, demonstrations and trade stands.
. July: Durham Miners' Gala in the county town.
. Mid July: Durham Regatta has various competitive races in eights, fours and pairs and sculls along the river Wear.
. August: Darlington Agricultural Show.
. The Venerable Bede, known as the father of English, lived at Jarrow and lies in Durham cathedral.
. During any coronation the Bishop of Durham holds the right hand of the new monarch, underlining the importance of the post.
. Paul Gascoigne, footballer, is Dunston Federation Brewery's most famous fan!
Durham County Council only administers about three-quarters of County Durham and it shares that honour with the seven district councils of Chester-le-Street , Derwentside, Durham City , Easington, Sedgefield, Teesdale and Wear Valley . All of which adds up to a two- tier system. The rest of the County has three unitary councils at Darlington, Hartlepool and part of Stockton- on-Tees (shared with the North Riding of Yorkshire). There are three unitary metropolitan boroughs of Gateshead . South Tyneside and Sunderland in northeast Durham . government changes of the 1990s: an official ceremonial county, which on the surface seems admirable until you realize it only includes the area of Durham County Council, Hartlepool District with those parts of Stockton north of the River Tees, but excludes Gateshead , South Shields and Sunderland, all in County Durham . Not only is this ridiculous, it underlines the lack of understanding of what a county is and means. A prominent part of Durham detached in Northumberland, stretching from Cornhill to Tweedmouth over to Holy Island , and a further area from Bedlington to North Blyth is administered by Northumberland County Council with Berwick-on-Tweed Council as the second tier for the former and Wansbeck Council for the latter. Crayke Castle is Durham detached in Yorkshire under the control of North Yorkshire County and Hamblelon District Councils.
THIS LAND OF princes and bishops is now only a small part of what was once a huge swathe of stern and harsh north land known as the Palatinate . Throughout history its great families held considerable power as they defended the northern borders, their strength evidenced by the craggy castles beading its shore and crowning its countryside. Even in ruin, these citadels are unmissable in their commanding positions, especially when they are dramatically outlined against the sea by rocky coast or small sandy bay
The adjectives 'startling' and 'stunning' could be applied equally to Durham Cathedral and Gatesheads Metro Centre (dripping with history and shopping). County Durham has plenty of both. Encircled by a deep loop of the River Wear, Durham presents a resounding silhouette to the visitor with cathedral, castle, chimneys and housetops clustering along a sudden high outcrop; an impressive sight at any time of day. The great Norman cathedral with its three towers is stern and strong, yet it has remarkable carving and stonework and the Galilee porch at the west end is an exotic surprise. Scots prisoners, held in the nave in the 17th century damaged effigies so the cathedral has few memorials but the marching line of great round stone columns, incised with Romanesque decorations, is impressive. There are cloisters and a monks' dormitory as well as a famous library and an exhibition of the diocesan treasures gleams gold and silver against sombre stone.
Throughout the town the houses are of 17th- and 18th- century date and there are two old bridges which have carried traffic for centuries. In contrast the most recent bridge, an elegant one called the Kings gate Footway, was built in the 1960s and earned architectural awards. The castle still has much decorative stonework including a magnificently carved triple-arched Romanesque entry. Inside you can find rows of Romanesque windows and a chapel with fantastic beasts on its capitals. The entrance gateway is original though enhanced with mock-Gothic windows. Tours of the castle are conducted by enthusiastic University of Durham students who reside here. Out of term time you can actually stay in student rooms and have bed and breakfast at the castle. There's a stone-flagged market place and all through the city little passages cut steeply down to the river's edge below. Mustard is now being made here again and there's a shop selling it beside the covered market place. The fiery condiment was originally made in Durham , and only later was taken away to Norfolk . North from the county town, the northern border faces across the Tyne; Gateshead is its centre of communications across the deep river valley to Newcastle in Northumberland. To the west at Gibside, near Whickham, a fine house - now a ruin - possesses in Gibside Chapel a notable 18th-century mausoleum.
In Sunderland, Durham has its own Newcastle for it was once a seat of learning and in a previous incarnation, when it was known as Wearmouth, it had a monastery of considerable importance. Flanking Durham north and south are two major towns: Chester-le-Street , which has a set of statues of the ancestors of Lord Lumley, and Bishop Auckland , which is the country seat of the Bishop of Durham . Auckland Castle contains a suite of impressive state rooms. Nearby is Escomb, now the picturesque home ground for Durham County Cricket Club since being elected as a First Class County in 1992. Stockton and Darlington resound in the history of rail travel, and the former appropriately has a rail museum marking with its site the first-ever passenger train ticket office in the kingdom. Darlington is a handsome town, with a fine high-spired church and a Victorian atmosphere. Along the valley of the Tees large village greens are common, and there is one at pretty Gainford with its Georgian houses. The village of Stanhope has a massive tree fossil in its churchyard. Reckoned to be millions of years old, it was found in a quarry. Stanhope is a walking centre for the upper River Wear valley and the North Pennines moors.
Best of all is Barnard Castle , with a wide main street studded with fascinating shops and houses, shadowed by ruined medieval fortifications. One of its inns claims a Dickens link and the novelist certainly researched Nicholas Nickleby here. The impressive French-style chateau on the outskirts is the famed Bowes Museum . It has fine furniture and paintings, and would be a jewel in any major town. Here in the sweeping country of Teesside it is a wonderful treasure chest of surprises.
Legend says that a dairymaid lost her cow on the heights of Durham 's rock and found it entangled in bushes. The monks bearing the body of St Cuthbert, having fled Danish raids on Holy Island , saw this as a sign and constructed a shrine and the first Saxon cathedral, it's more probable that, like William the Conqueror - who almost a century later built the castle - the monks knew an easily defended site when they saw one.
Durham resounds with history. Raby Castle with its nine towers rests on a Saxon manor given to St Cuthbert by King Canute in about 1030. Most of the castle seen today was built by the Neville family of Warwick Castle fame. Cicely Neville, the Rose of Raby, was born here, married Richard Duke of York and bore two kings: Edward IV and Richard III. The monks who had fled Lindisfarne eventually founded Durham and left there the bones of St Cuthbert, in the cathedral floor, covered by the single word 'Cuthbertus'.
For six centuries it became a place of pilgrimage until Henry VIII had it ransacked. St Cuthbert's bones were eventually returned to lie behind the lovely altar screen. Fast forward to the 18th century and the quiet hills of this county witnessed a complete upheaval with the introduction of steam-driven machinery and the harnessing of its coal, iron, the rivers and fine deep-water harbours.