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Like Berries on a gnarled branch, the red-roofed buildings of Whitby cluster around the mouth of the river Esk as it whispers its secrets to the North Sea. Little has changed in this time capsule of a town since Bram Stoker described it in 1897 in Dracula. Relics include the Captain Cook Memorial Museum, the ossified ruins of Whitby Abbey, and the amusement arcades like boiled sweets lodged amongst the businesses jostling for space on the harbourfront. Here you’ll find The Whitby Catch, voted the 5th best fish and chip shop in the country for its locally-sourced carte du jour. Other independent eateries include Humble Pie ‘n’ Mash offering homemade dishes for honest prices in 16th Century premises, open fire to boot.
The famous swing-bridge of Whitby works like a safety-pin, coming together to unite both sides of the harbour where the old town splits at the seams. Clamber up the 199 steps to the Abbey Headland and you’ll see Whitby in perspective, a speck against the marine horizon painted in hues from across the colour spectrum, depending on the time and day. You may be interested to know that the “benches” conveniently positioned at intervals alongside the stone stairway were initially resting places for the coffins that were hauled up the godforsaken mount by laymen. For those who wish to deepen their knowledge of Whitby’s prolific industrial past – including whaling, ship building, and jet mining – Whitby Museum, nestled in Pannett Park, is a short stroll from the town centre. Whitby itself is just over an hour’s drive from Durham so it can be done in a day. However, for the full Whitby experience, it’s worth considering an overnight stay in one of the guest houses originally pitched on West Cliff to accommodate Victorian pleasure-seekers. You’ll feel like you’ve slipped back in time. Lucy Sabin
I first visited Alnwick Castle when I was nine years old, and I was enchanted. I was finally going to Hogwarts! Situated in the beautiful county of Northumberland, Alnwick Castle and Gardens are not to be missed. No more than an hour away from Durham, there’s really no excuse not to visit this historic castle, whether it’s for the gorgeous gardens, the fascinating history, or the Harry Potter connection. The Quidditch scenes of the first two films were filmed outside parts of Alnwick Castle, making it somewhat of a pilgrimage site for Potter fans. The references are everywhere: signs, broomsticks in the gift shop, and occasional owl displays.
However, there is a lot more to Alnwick Castle than its magical claim to fame. The spectacular treehouse is home to a restaurant – what better way to have lunch than up in the treetops? This rather quirky building also has many rope bridges and walkways, so seems perfect for exploring. The gardens themselves are also amazing. The Grand Cascade, the incredible tiered fountain, is the deserved centrepiece of the whole garden, framed by a maze and many other smaller gardens to explore.
Alnwick Castle itself is home to the Duke and Duchess of Northumberland, and includes many exhibitions about the castle and local area during different periods of history. The Knight’s Quest is also a brilliant interactive adventure involving medieval fancy dress, crafts and the dragon quest – perfect for children!
I still have very fond memories of Alnwick Castle and Gardens from when I was a child and I would love to return! I’d definitely recommend a visit! Hannah Griffiths
If you’re looking to escape Durham to the wilderness then High Force is the day trip for you! The highest uninterrupted waterfall in England is situated in Teesdale, around one and a half hours drive from Durham. And it really is a beautiful drive! The valley that you travel through to reach the falls is really beautiful, and right on our doorstep but rarely ever explored. There’s a small car park and entrance fee, but the tickets are sold out of a tiny hut and you can’t help but adore the quintessence of the place, so you’ll soon forget about the price! You wander down to the falls through a lovely wooded area, and there are plenty of walks of all lengths to explore the valley further. The falls themselves are a nice place to sit and enjoy the view, have a picnic, or risk clambering over the rocks reliving your childhood (warning: health and safety is non-existent!). Last summer I visited the falls with a car-load of friends. We had a picnic there, after stopping off at ‘big, big Tesco’ and raiding their huge reduced isle! Then we went for a four or five mile walk through the Tees valley, taking in smaller waterfalls and sweet little steppingstones as well as some really good ice cream from the visitors centre en route. All in all a great outdoor alternative to the classic day trips to museums and cities closer to Durham. Beth McGarrick