Why You Should Visit Durham Cathedral
Durham's 11th century Norman castles are probably the best and weirdest student digs in the world. Over 100 students from University College, Durham get to live there.
Most castles charge £10 or so for a quick look around. This one actually lets students stay there full time. They can eat in the dining hall. They can climb the spiral staircases. They can go out, get drunk, and come back at three in the morning to sleep in their castle.
At university, I lived in a mouldy terrace right by a busy railway station.
When I visited Durham in 2009, I’m glad I didn’t bother with a guided tour of the fortress. Such a severe fit of jealousy might have caused me to turn green with envy!
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, probably the most famous architecture writer of all time, said Durham is “one of the great experiences of Europe to the eyes of those who appreciate architecture.” This is great praise, as Pevsner was known for his sharp tongue. Near my office, there’s a church with a stained glass window that Sir Nicholas dismissed as “entirely continental, mid-century, and very terrible.”
Durham Cathedral is most famous for its roof, which was ‘a type of experimental model which was far ahead of its time’, according to Unesco, which has given it World Heritage status.
Harry Potter nostalgia
If you’re studying at an architecturally dull London school of English and wish it was more like Hogwarts, why not go to Durham Cathedral? That’s probably as close as you’ll get to Hogwarts, as the Cathedral library was used as Professor McGonagall’s classroom in Harry Potter, and several other scenes were shot around the building.
Bill Bryson told you to
In Notes from a Small Island, Bill Bryson wrote: “I unhesitatingly gave Durham my vote for best cathedral on planet Earth”. Bryson has been chancellor of Durham University since 2005, and says of the city: “If you have never been to Durham, go there at once. It’s wonderful.” Durham has “a huge amount of history, a huge amount of beauty, and a great deal of friendliness”, according to Bryson.
Everyone else likes it
In a 2001 BBC poll, Durham cathedral was comfortably voted Britain’s favourite building. It got 51% of the vote, easily beating its nearest rival, the Eden Project (22.5%). Ten years later, the Guardian did a similar poll, and Durham Cathedral won that as well, getting 62.3% of the vote
You could get on TV (kind of)
There are two webcams sitting at the top of the Durham Uni physics lab, permanently pointing at the cathedral, and taking still pictures. If you go on the Uni website, you can see what the cathedral looked like a couple of minutes ago. The images are quite good on a clear day, but the bottom of the cathedral is obscured by trees, so you might need to climb part-way up the walls to get in the picture. (Actually, this would probably get you on the TV news anyway.)
You can learn to cope with accents
If you’re taking an English course in London, and think you’ve mastered the language, head to Durham. It’ll give your language abilities a real test, as the local accent can be really difficult at times.