EMERGING from the cold concrete gloom of a multi-storey car park, a bitterly long winter and three months of lockdown, the door opened to reveal the sights, smells and sounds of a sunny beer garden.

I stood for a moment to drink in the atmosphere, enviously admiring the cool frothy pre-noon pints, while the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah played in my head.

The sun shone on the customers of The Bishops’ Mill, a ‘Spoons pub in the Walkergate complex, while people queued for a seat so they could order their beers using a mobile phone app.

Three Durham students, Austin Seck, Joshua Dexter and Kenneth Ong, could barely believe their luck when they arrived as the Blue Moon beer was showing up as ‘free’.

They wasted no time and ordered 12 pints.

Austin Seck, 24, said: “The pubs have reopened today and I was up all night finishing an assignment.

“When we got to ‘Spoons there was no queue and when we checked the app there was free pints. Honestly, this feels like the best day of my life.”

The Northern Echo:

The Walkergate complex in Durham 

It appears the free beer was an error as the group suddenly found the offer was no longer available.

The day had started well as builders working nearby had come for a full English and a pint after finishing their night shifts just after 9am.

Manager Guy Stoker said: “It is excellent to be open again. It has been a long time coming.”

Hairdressers in the city centre were packed and Edward Donaldson, from The Keep Barbershop, said they were booked out for a fortnight, adding: “It is great being back open.”

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Edward Donaldson, of The Keep Barbershop, with 18-year-old Sam Horner 

Tables and chairs spilled down Elvet Bridge, allowing customers at cafes and bars to enjoy the chocolate box backdrop of Durham Cathedral and Castle.

The temperature was chilly, but the sunshine, and a few warm layers, made sitting outside with loved ones a joy.

It made people remember how life used to be, and heightened the sense of how they could derive such pleasure from something so very simple.

The Northern Echo:

People enjoying being out and about in Durham city centre

The lifting of Covid restrictions also means non-essential retail outlets, such as gift shops like The Georgian Window, near the cathedral, can now reopen, but trade was slow to start with.

Owner Norman Longstaff said: “It’s just nice to see people out and about. Hopefully it will pick up when it gets warmer.”

In the Market Place, people sat with takeaway food as a musical duo performed live from the Marquis of Londonderry statue.

Nearby, outside Greggs, as people queued for their sausage rolls and pasties, there was another familiar sight and sound for the people of Durham.

Busker Chloe Castro, who impressed audiences across the country on The Voice five years, set up her acoustic guitar and amp and began playing and singing her own songs.

The Northern Echo:

Busker Chloe Castro is a familiar sight in Durham 

Chloe, now 24, said: “The atmosphere has been really nice in Durham because the sun was shining.

"It has been really busy and everyone seems to be in pretty good spirits.

"There are smiles all round.”