Friday, 6 July 2018

Alnwick to Durham

26th June 2018

I left Alnwick's bus station at 10.04 on the Arriva X15 bus to Newcastle, the fastest and most direct of the various Arriva limited stop services that link the town to Newcastle. My bus headed due south through the village of Shillbottle and on to Morpeth through fine upland countryside with extensive views from the front seat upstairs (my favourite!). After calling at Morpeth the route is more-or-less direct along the modern A1 dual-carriageway to Gosforth and then retraces the route I'd followed yesterday on the X18 to the Haymarket Bus Station.

There was plenty of choice for the next stage of the journey on to Durham. Arriva and Go North East between them run about 15 buses an hour during the busiest part of the day. I was tempted by the 28 to Chester-le-Street via Beamish museum, but it was a single-decker and a rather cramped one at that and I wanted to be able to enjoy the views.
My chariot of choice was therefore Go NE's service 21, also branded as "The Angel" for reasons that soon became apparent.  We left Newcastle on the Great North Road and almost immediately crossed the Tyne by means of the High Level Bridge to enter County Durham.

COUNTY DURHAM: County Town - Durham

"County" Durham is the only English county to style itself this way, rather than adding "shire" to the county town name. The style is more widespread in Ireland.  The historic and geographical county stretches from the Tyne to the Tees, although the area administered by Durham County Council nowadays is rather smaller, the county having lost administrative territory to Tyne & Wear in the north and Cleveland in the south-east, although both these entities were later abolished and replaced with unitary councils for places such as Gateshead, South Shields, Sunderland, Hartlepool and Darlington.  Up until the fifteenth century the area was considered part of Northumberland, but from that time  administration and government were centered in Durham due to the presence of the cathedral and the powerful Prince Bishops and it became the county town. The largest settlement, however, is Darlington.

I'd entered County Durham by crossing the Tyne on the High Level Bridge that carries the old A1 and soon found myself passing Anthony Gormley's famous sculpture from which
The Angel of the North, as seen from the top deck of "The Angel" bus.
the bus service takes its name and which I was surprised to see has now been in place for 20 years!


The next stretch of the route is perhaps best described as "post-industrial", with a number of very large, but very unused factory sites. The only town of note was Chester-le-Street, with a long, straight High Street lined with the now-usual range of rather down-market shops and pubs although it didn't look too bad in the sunshine!

New graduates at Durham
I'd had difficulty finding a hotel in Durham due to the University graduation ceremonies that were taking place and had to accept a bed in a roadside motel about 3 km south of the city. I therefore spent the afternoon looking round the town despite this meaning I had to carry by bag around with me in the heat.  I had a late lunch in the market hall and then walked up to see if I could have a look at the cathedral. But as I half-expected it was closed to the public. The university and cathedral are closely-linked in Durham and the latter is used as the venue for graduation ceremonies, which were in full swing. The road leading to the area was closed and I suspect that I shouldn't really have been wandering around there at all, but I realised some time ago that the correct response to someone in a high-viz jacket who asks: "Can I help you, sir?"  is very definitely "No thank you, I'm alright" 

The Old Shire Hall
After a walk around the old town at the top of the hill I made my way back to the centre along the riverside. As part of this tour I've decided to try and visit at least one building in each county town that has a connection to its county. In Durham this was the Old Shire Hall (the present day one is a modern building on the outskirts) and, eventually and after a false start that saw me walking in the wrong direction for about a kilometre, I found it.


After all this it was back to the bus station to get a bus out to the motel at Sunderland Bridge. There were plenty of buses (I wouldn't have stayed there otherwise) and I got an Arriva service 7, although due to the layout of the bus station and the fact that it disappeared swiftly down the road after dropping me off, this was the first bus of the trip that I failed to get a photo of.

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