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Introducing County Durham

Picturesque, peaceful villages and unspoilt market towns dot the lonely, rabbit-inhabited North Pennine and the gentle ochre hills of Teesdale. At the heart of it all is County Durham’s simply exquisite capital, one of England’s most visited towns and an absolute must on your northern itinerary.

Ironically, this pastoral image, so resonant of its rich medieval history, has only come back to life in recent years; for most of the last three centuries the county was given over almost entirely to the mining of coal, and the countryside is punctuated with the relics of that once all-important industry, now slowly being reclaimed by nature. A brutal and dangerous business, coal mining was the lifeblood of entire communities and its sudden end in 1984 by the stroke of a Conservative pen has left some purposeless towns and an evocatively scarred landscape.

Durham has had a turbulent history, though it pales in comparison with its trouble-some northern neighbour. To keep the Scots and local Saxon tribes quiet, William the Conqueror created the title of prince bishop in 1081 and gave them vice-regal power over an area known as the Palatinate of Durham, which became almost a separate country. It raised its own armies, collected taxes and administered a separate legal system that – incredibly – wasn’t fully incorporated into the greater English structure until 1971.