Friday, May 03, 2013

A day out in Durham

One of the country's most beautiful cities is Durham, with its cathedral and its castle which dominate the sky line for miles about. I had not visited there for years and it seemed a good time to put that right, and sample a few of the local pubs while I was at it.

I had spoken to a few of the locals and they said that Durham was not a city for tickers, but one full of pubs steeped in history. That sounded ok, so I hopped on a train and headed south.

When I arrived at the station there it all came flooding back, a bit obvious really, but as I have said, Durham is built on hills, and that will involve a lot of walking up and down. Undeterred, and armed with the 'Good Beer Guide' (as an aside I have it as an app on my phone, and what a good bit of kit it is, a lot lighter that the hardcopy and in my opinion more user friendly if you are doing a city tour), it was just a case of where to start. If you know Durham it is a pretty obvious answer, you set off downhill.

The first pub I found, was unfortunately closed but there would be time to revisit later, and bypassing Wetherspoons I headed up towards the Market Place, and ' The Market Tavern'. Dominated by its statue the Market Place is a busy, cobbled market place,a bit obvious that bit !; the pub being on the left hand side. Single roomed, with about 5 beers on offer it is feels a bit like an ale house, but is non the worse for that. There does seem to be an emphasis on food though.

Since I was at the top end of the city, it seemed sensible to take a look for some of the other pubs in the area to save lots of walking up and down hills, and with a bit of map reading and a lot of good fortune I found Saddler St, which runs off the Market Place at the opposite corner to the Market Tavern. I knew that there was one of Durham's 'must visit' pubs on their. 'The Shakespeare' was not hard to find, sited on the right hand side. It is Camra heritage pub, and looks the part. Bare boards, small windows, uneven floors, and wooden seating surrounding a central bar. Apparently a home of a 19th century theatre group, hence the name, it was not disappointing. It was a step back in time. Four beers from bigger breweries are on offer,but that was not the point; it is just a great oasis of calm. For some reason, I was the only customer, but I was not complaining.

Another historical pub was only a few streets away, according to the guide, and so I set off down the hill towards Old Elvet, and the' Dun Cow.' On the way towards the prison, which is a good reference point, and away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, it is situated on the left hand side, about 15 minutes walk from the Shakespeare. This one was 16th Century , and has connections with the original history of the city and the monks that settled there, but I will not bore you with the whole story, just a look at the pictures on the pub wall  depicts what happened. Another gem of a pub, more geared to food, but there is decent beer on offer. It is separated into two rooms, a small snug at the front, and a larger saloon at the rear, both accessed off a passageway from the street. 
I checked my guide again and discovered I was fairly close to some of the other listed pubs, so a wander back to the railway station would probably cover most of them. I was not impressed by the 'Court Inn', near the prison and the crown court. This was geared for food, especially at lunchtime,  although some interesting beers were available. A bit more my style was the 'Half Moon', a Beer Guide regular. Here the emphasis was on beer, but again mostly big brewery stuff, but in good nick, and served by a knowledgeable barman. 

I called in a couple of more pubs that did not quite hit the spot before coming across Durham's 'Head Of Steam' up a small alley off North Road. It is a pub obviously geared to the younger drinker looking at the drinks available, but the bar did have 3 local real ales on offer. The couple I tried were both acceptable. The pub itself is open plan, served from a central bar, on a split level with an outside drinking area. To say it is so close to the central shopping area, it was fairly quiet when I visited and a pleasant place to while away a few minutes whilst researching my next moves.

My next stop, although just to stick my head through the door, was Durham 'Spoons. 'The Water House' was the old water board premises and across from the bus station, and was heaving when I called. It looked a good conversion but just too busy to bother stopping. Fortunately, just up the road, under the viaduct, which is easy enough to find and closer to the railway station was the 'Bridge Hotel'. Originally built in the Victorian era as a hostel for navvys building the railway, it featured three beers from the Caledonian brewery. And was another quiet pub when I called. A very handy place to sit and watch the passing transport scene, and work up the enthusiasm for the climb back to the station.

I found the city's pub a bit like the curate's egg, good in parts. If you like history, Durham and its pubs are well worth a visit, especially those near the Market Place. But if your interest is geared more to different beers and local suppliers, then I was somewhat disappointed by the range available. And being a tourist city, it is not cheap either.         

1 comment:

ChrisM said...

Can't believe you came to Durham and missed out the Vic - definitely the best pub by a country mile, it's essentially a working museum!

I quite agree though, there isn't anywhere near the range of beers in Durham there ought to be. Lived here for about 18 months now and definitely miss the range available in Newcastle.