LUXE LOCAL: DURHAM

Goes without saying that Durham is a desirable place to live. It has local and global in the mix. The summer sees throngs of visitors and in term times the cobbled street are awash with students but real life goes on too. It was once voted ‘best city in the UK’ by readers of Condé Nast Traveller magazine.
Durham Cathederal

PROPERTIES >>

Very much a case of town and gown. There are some stunning historic properties in the characterful streets which house the academics and the lucky students. Prices are pretty steep because this is a show-stopper of a postcode. Schools are good, views unrivalled and ameneties impressive. South Street has to be the best address in town – just a whisper away from the river with awesome – in the real sense of the word – views of the cathedral. Terraced properties in the city centre are popular, if pricey, or go to the top of the tree with many homes topping the £1 m-plus mark. You will find graceful detached properties, plenty of new-build and masses of character properties in the city but be prepared to chat up the mortage man.

CONNECTED >>

Commuter heaven. East coast main line trains call in at Durham at least every half hour for surely one of the best railway station vistas in the world. Newcastle is a half-hour rail commute as are Darlington and Teesside. The A1 is minutes away and on the outskirts of the city park and ride to save a city centre snarl up. Airports at Newcastle and Durham Tees Valley about 40 minutes away.

SHOP >>

It’s getting better but the loss of Waitrose was a tragedy. Shops in the city centre are good but could be a bit more wowie considering the appeal of other cathedral cities.

  • What is nice though is the abundance of small independents such as Scarlet Ribbons and Ding Dong both gorgeous vintage stores.
  • LeBeado on Elvet Bridge is a lovely place to spend a long time – make your own jewellery with experts – and zillions of beads – to help you out.
  • Get a fashion fix at Van Mildert where you will find some very desirable labels or do the well-heeled student thing at Jack Wills. Woven is new and a for designer menswear.
  • Audacia is full of lovely home gifts and cool stuff and Mugwump’s a bit of legend – nice, quirky fashion, boho jewellery, cards, pressies and general girl stuff. Great for a long mooch.
  • Warm Sanctuary in Claypath is a good place to get snuggly with carpets, flooring and interiors.
  • Oxfam on Elvet Bridge is a really, really swish one. Looks like they save the really good stuff for there and Bramwell’s jewellers has some die-for diamonds to tempt.
  • Check out Fowler’s Yard, home to local artisans and craftspeople, offering a great selection of boutique shops unique to Durham. (www.fowlersyarddurham.co.uk)
  • The market is good fun. Plenty of bargains to be had and some great food stalls – including an award-winning deli and a great fresh fish stall.
  • Elsewhere there’s the usual suspects from the high street – among them M&S, Next and Fat Face. Nice Waterstones for a great browse.

STROLL >>

  • At every turn there’s a good view and a fine stroll to be had. The riverside walks are easy, refreshing and inspiring and the spot where the weir flows is the iconic view of Durham. The Lumiere festival is worth a visit when the city and its buildings are lit up in imaginative and breath-taking ways.
  • Take in the majestic Cathedral and do some Harry Potter location-spotting.
  • Walk out of town to the Oriental Gardens or head along the river to secluded spots like lovely Finchale Abbey. The Gala Theatre and cinema is a popular spot to stop off. Saturday lunchtimes find unmissable fortnightly free jazz concerts.

EAT >>

  • Bistro 21 at Aykley Heads: One of Terry Laybourne’s gourmet outposts. Chic, rustic surroundings and great food as you might expect. Great value set lunch menus.
  • Zen: Exceptional Thai, noodles and Asian-influenced food. Eat in the restaurant or grab noodles at the bar. The sparkly outside patio area is a gathering spot for the beautiful people.
  • Finbarrs: New kid on the food block. Gastro-eating at its best. Good selection of Med-inspired dishes such as market fish stew with tomato and saffron.
  • Radisson Blu restaurant is much more than a conventional corporate hotel eat-and-go place. Nice rustic Italian specials with emphasis on cured meats and cheese – good wine list too.
  •  Ebony Champagne Bar, Walkergate, goes from vibrant café bar by day to champagne bar at night, Ebony has over 100 cocktails to choose from along with an extensive selection of champagnes, spirits, wines and bottled beers.
  • Vennels Café is the best cake-stop! Located in an ancient Durham Vennel (a North Eastern term for a narrow alleyway between two buildings), Spread across two floors of a historic building and a 16th century courtyard. Vennels is best known for its generous slices of home baked cakes.

MY LOCAL >>

Simon Stallworthy is Director of Gala Theatre, Durham. He lives in the city with his partner, the novelist Janette Jenkins, their daughter Emily and two dogs.

THRE GREAT THINGS ABOUT LIVING HERE >>

  • I love being able to walk in to work. It’s the first time ever and it still gives me a thrill five years on. I’ve commuted on tubes, trains, cycled and when I worked at “Coronation Street” it was over an hour sat in traffic everyday on the M61. Durham’s a great place to explore on foot, and I often walk to work the long way round just to extend the pleasure. I’ve even been known to pop home for lunch!
  • Durham is one of those places that feels particularly right in the cold of an English winter. On Christmas morning I always take the dogs out, over Prebend’s bridge, along the river, and on to the Palace Green. If you time it right you have the whole walk to yourself and Durham feels timeless; like Christmas mornings have been for centuries.
  • I don’t mean to be self promoting but Gala is a fabulous resource for people living and working in the region. We bring some of the best theatre, comedy and music to Durham, and even though we were never designed as such, we’re the only cinema in town. Sometimes, at the weekend, I try to come to Gala like any other customer – I just head down on a Sunday evening and enjoy a film, or watch the Comedy Store. It’s a great end to a weekend.

THREE PLACES TO TAKE VISITORS >>

  • A rowing boat on the river is always good fun. It’s not the kind of thing you can do everywhere and there are some great views. Plus it feels like you’ve had a bit of exercise even if you’ve managed to avoid doing any rowing!
  • Hexham always seems the perfect place to do a bit of Saturday morning shopping, especially if there is Farmer’s Market on. There are enough independent shops for people from out of the region have a look around, and some great places for lunch. It’s easy to park, and there’s Waitrose to pick up any bits for supper we couldn’t get in town.
  • Sadly, I won’t be able to take people to Chester’s Walled Garden anymore as it has closed, but I know there are many people who I’ve taken there that have gone away with fond memories of it. It was a very special 18th Century walled garden next to Chesters Roman Fort created by Susie White. It’s sad that it’s gone, but this is a changing region and there are lots of other gardens and nurseries to explore, so I’ll just have to find another favourite.

IN THE KNOW SECRET >>

Flass Vale is 20 hectares of woodland right in the centre of Durham. It’s bordered by Western Hill and the main A167 and is a fabulous natural valley bed, abounding with wildlife.

There are several footpaths crossing through it, and it’s a magical, almost mystical area, which can be bright with sunshine and birdsong, or silent with mists. The dogs and I love it!

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