Incredible though it is, County Durham isn't just about the cathedral. There's lots a bit further afield to keep all manner of tourist entranced and entertained

Durham is a wonderful city, dominated by the magnificent Romanesque cathedral. This extraordinary building, which sits atop the peninsula, has accrued so many awards and accolades it would take the length of a good sermon to recite them. It was voted Britain’s Favourite Cathedral last year, while travel writer Bill Bryson gives it even higher praise. “The best Cathedral on planet earth,” says Bill.

Quite rightly, tourists flock from all over the world to see the cathedral, but after taking in the castle, the river and a restaurant or two, they often take off to other parts of the country, without exploring what else County Durham has to offer. And there’s a lot to shout about…

Also in the city, just a short hop away from the cathedral, is Crook Hall. This unique building, actually a connected collection of buildings from three different periods – Medieval, Jacobean and Georgian – is simply charming, as is host and owner Keith Bell, who showed us round. The Bells bought it back in as a base for Keith’s management consultancy business, but a constant stream of phone calls from people to wanted to view it – and a pressing need to finance its upkeep – led to the decision to let the paying public in. It was first opened to visitors in April 1998 and they were equally smitten by this rarity – a quirky building surrounded by five acres of beautiful gardens just a few hundred yards from the city centre. The hall and gardens now host events all year round – from Easter Bunny hunts to graduation parties – and its romantic nature means it’s a hugely popular venue for weddings.

Afternoon tea is available throughout the year in the light and elegant Georgian Drawing room or the gardens. In the manner of Mr Kipling, they also make exceedingly good cakes in the new Garden Gate Café, next to the maze at the bottom of the garden.

Keith and Maggie are excellent hosts. Visitors can wander from room to room and really make themselves at home. There are no signs here saying ‘don’t sit here’ or ‘don’t touch that’. You can wander at will in search of the ghost, or simply sit by the fire and take in the architectural features.

If you can’t bear to tear yourself away, there are two apartments to rent from £110 per night.

Crook Hall & Gardens, Sidegate, Durham DH1 5SZ. W: T: 0191-384-8028

EVENTS (Entrance fees apply)

April 25: Garden tour with head gardener *

May 6-7: Mary Poppins-inspired event

May 20: Medieval event

May 27-28: Peter Pan-inspired event

June 17: Father’s Day, 10am-5pm

June 25, 26, 27: Sparkling Graduation Afternoon Teas *

July 11: Garden tour with head gardener *

*Booking required


Hamsterley Forest

Just 17 miles to the West of Durham, is Hamsterley Forest, the largest forest in County Durham at more than 2,000 hectares. During the 1930s and 40s, it was used first as a Ministry of Works labour camp and then as a prisoner of war camp, but nowadays those who come here are sentenced only to a day of fun or high-octane adventure.

For little ones, there’s inventive wooden equipment designed by North Shields company Infinite Playgrounds. Along the forest’s Viking Wildplay Trail, a swing isn’t just a swing; it’s a multi-seat suspended log which mimics the movement of a longboat on the sea. There’s hours of fun to be had here.

The Mamil hordes (and their families) are also invading Hamsterley in increasingly large numbers, as they get to hear about the great off-roading on offer. There’s bike hire if you don’t want to bring your own, and tracks that will suit all ages and abilities, from those who want to tootle round the forest on tarmac, to those who prefer to throw themselves into off-roading off steep slopes and strategically placed rocks.

The extensive trail network in the forest also hosts walkers, with or without dog, and horse riders. You might even spot a Gruffalo or two…

With all that entertainment for the price of a parking ticket… what’s not to like?


Hamsterley TT Super, Trailbike downhill, Sunday, June 3, £29.50

Bushcraft Survival Skills Weekend, Saturday, June 16, £100


Set in attractive woodland and surrounded by some of the best hay meadows in England, is Bowlees Visitor Centre, a delightful café, gift shop and information point for activities in Teesdale. As well as delicious scones and cakes, there are some interesting facts to get your teeth into here – illustrated boards explain the unique geology of the area and explain about its wildlife and flora. Upstairs an original example of a map produced by the Father of English Geology William Smith is currently on display as part of Earthworks. The project, which was awarded £376,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund, aims to bring the area’s geological heritage to life, and tell the North Pennines’ fascinating story, a tale of ancient tropical seas, vast deserts, moving continents, huge ice sheets, magma and minerals.

Visitors can park at Bowlees, head across the field to a little wynch bridge, and over the river is the path to Low Force, a series of small waterfalls frequented by canoeists. Two stunning miles upriver, walkers will come across High Force, a thunderous mass of swirling water that drops 21m back into the River Tees. If you don’t want to walk from Low Force, you can also park at the High Force Hotel and there’s an accessible walk down to a viewpoint.

W: http://teesdaleestate@rabycastle.com


The drive over the top of the moors from Teesdale into Weardale and onto Derwent Reservoir, near Consett, is bleak but spectacular, and worth a trip out in its own right. But the reservoir, one of our largest, covering 1,000 acres, has plenty to offer too. It’s a family friendly location, with walks, cycling trails, sailing and picnic areas; there’s history and wildlife aplenty, and it’s one of the most popular fisheries in the region for anglers. If you don’t know how to reel them in already, you can learn to cast here.

Now 50 years old, the reservoir supplies water to Sunderland and Durham.



Rose & Crown

A quintessential English inn at the heart of one of the prettiest villages in Teesdale, offering character, comfort and good food in beautiful surroundings, served up with a smile. There are 14 inviting bedrooms in the main house, the Courtyard and Monk’s Cottage, all combining rural charm with contemporary design and a few special touches.

The bar is atmospheric with traditional stone fireplace and Windsor armchairs, and adjoins the brasserie area with wood burning stove. The dining room is more refined, but very far from stuffy. Dogs are welcome and there was an adorable in-house Jack Russell roaming the ground floor when we stayed which was so well trained it stopped at the dining room threshold and just looked longingly at our sausages.

The Rose & Crown has been known as a great place to stay and eat for a lot of years now. The previous owners won numerous awards, before handing the 18th century inn on to the family who own nearby Headlam Hall Country Hotel & Spa 15 miles down the dale from Romaldkirk in 2012. The Robinsons haven’t changed the winning formula, but built on it, and it’s still a great place to stay and eat.

The Rose & Crown, Romaldkirk, County Durham DL12 9EB. T: 01833-650-213; W: Double rooms cost from £115 for bed and breakfast.