DARKNESS is approaching, fireworks fill the air, a Norman longship emerges from the tranquil lake and an army, swords aloft, march ashore ready for battle.
No, this is not the latest blockbuster movie but we are sitting in an open-air theatre with the impressive Bishop Auckland Castle as a backdrop, watching the spectacular £31m night show, Kynren. More of our Saturday evening later – as there’s plenty more to get through on our weekend in the beautiful city of Durham.
This year sees Durham Cathedral and Castle celebrate its 30th anniversary as a World Heritage Site. And it’s easy to see why. Steeped in history, standing proudly side by side in the picturesque setting of Palace Green it is hard to imagine the bitter battles that took place here. Durham City itself offers much more than just its historical background. Surrounded by green spaces, Crook Hall and Gardens and the University Botanic Gardens are an oasis of calm. Take a stroll through the woodland and banks of the River Wear, or a gentle boat ride for a different viewpoint.
Ramside Hall Hotel provided an excellent two-night stay for us in a spacious family room. Situated off the A1 in mature parkland and just three miles from the centre of Durham, it is popular for its golf courses, spa and gym and award-winning restaurants – we couldn’t resist the Rib-Room, serving local Durham beef, matured for up to 32 days.
We headed into the city centre to discover the history behind the castle and Cathedral. The top of the hill in the loop of the River Wear was the perfect site for William The Conqueror to build a northern stronghold. Building began under the supervision of the Earl of Northumberland, who later rebelled against William. The Bishop of Durham took control and in 1075 the title of Prince-Bishop was created by the King – a unique combination of church and politics.
The Prince-Bishops were given great responsibility, to protect the north of England from attack, but also great reward, being able to mint their own coins, levy taxes and raise their own army.
Public entrance to the castle is restricted to guided tours only because it is now a working museum and home to over 100 students of Durham University. Many of the students lead the tours themselves.
The Cathedral, standing proudly across from the castle must have seemed a formidable presence to the Saxons and Scots. Being an integral part of the local community the Cathedral has an army of dedicated volunteers and staff. While you can just wander around admiring the exquisite stained glass and Romanesque architecture, we joined an hour-long tour to learn more about the history of this magnificent building. The Shrine of St Cuthbert and resting place of St Bede attracts thousands of visitors each year.
A new exhibition, Open Treasure, opened in July, showcasing treasures within the impressive Cathedral Cloister. The magnificent Great Kitchen is one of only two surviving monastic kitchens in the UK and the 14th century monks’ dormitory gives a fascinating insight into their lives.Our contribution to the fundraising consisted of adding four bricks to the nearly-completed scale model Lego cathedral. The labour of love and is an innovative way to engage younger visitors.
As mentioned earlier, our Saturday evening was spent half an hour south of Durham City in Bishop Auckland. Kynren, meaning ‘generation’ is the brainchild of philanthropist and investment manager Jonathan Ruffer, who returned to purchase and revitalise Auckland Castle. Kynren was inspired by the popular French show, The Puy de Fou. Over 1,000 volunteers from ages three to 87 dedicated a year perfecting their roles telling 90 minutes of history from Roman times through to the Second World War – all seen through the eyes of Arthur, a 10-year old local boy. Kynren runs until 17th September.
Fantastic pyrotechnics, water displays, jousting, music, dancing and a rousing finale left the 8,000 crowd feeling very patriotic and it is hoped these volunteer-led spectacles will carry on for years to come.
The Day family were guests of Ramside Hall Hotel, Carrville, Durham DH1 1TD. 0191 386 5282,.ramsidehallhotel.co.uk
The official Durham tourism site is at thisisdurham.com
Kynren 0333 300 3028, kynren.co.uk
Durham Cathedral 0191 386 4266, durhamcathedral.co.uk
Durham Castle 0191 334 2932, dur.ac.uk/durham.castle