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Explore The Hidden Gems Of County Durham

19 January 2022

When you think of County Durham, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Perhaps it’s the iconic Cathedral, situated next to the beautiful River Wear.

Or perhaps it’s the historic university, founded in the 1830s, which is spread throughout the city, encased in an array of opulent buildings that make the city a delight to wander through.

Despite the county town itself being one of the main tourist attractions in the area, there are a number of hidden gems in the North East that make County Durham an underrated destination.

When should you visit?

If you decide to take a trip, it’s definitely worth planning to go during warmer weather, in order to fully experience the beauty of the North East.

But we think County Durham also looks heavenly in late September to early October when russet tones paint the trees and the fallen leaves on footpaths.

To begin your journey, some of the walking trails just outside of the city centre are definitely worth a visit.

If you travel by train, as soon as you jump off, you’ll find yourself a short distance away from Wharton Park, which provides stunning views of the Viaduct and the Cathedral.

After a delicious cappuccino from the park’s very own café, head to Aykley Woods just a stone’s throw across the road.

The woods, much like Wharton Park, offers extraordinary views of the viaduct and is particularly worth a visit in the autumn – the array of copper colours on display makes you feel as though you’ve stepped into a painting.

Discover more picturesque woods

If you’re looking for more woodland to visit within walking distance of the city centre, Baxter Woods and Bearpark Woods are not to be missed.

Both boast some spectacular scenery and ooze tranquillity, away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

Finally, before venturing out of the city, the Old Durham Gardens are a great spot to take a picnic or a coffee.

Stroll through town and pick up some treats from Flat White, Riverview Kitchen or Vennels before heading down past Elvet Bridge and alongside the River Wear to end up at the gardens, a slice of paradise hidden in plain sight.

Breathtaking surroundings

It isn’t just the city that has some glorious green spots, however – just a 40-minute drive away lies the village of Stanhope, a gateway to the North Pennines.

Before heading out into the rolling hills, don’t forget to check out the ford in Stanhope, where you can cross on giant stepping stones, and the fossil tree, an ancient stump thought to be over 320 million years old.

With an abundance of walking trails to choose from, the Pennines offers fun for all ages.

Some of the best trips to take while in the Pennines include a visit to Frosterley, a former quarrying village that produces the unique ‘Frosterley marble’, examples of which can be seen inside the Durham Cathedral.

A fan of bird spotting? The Derwent Gorge is not to be missed, with the chirps of wood-warblers and yellowlegs making a sublime accompaniment to the trickling of the abundance of streams found in this hidden jewel.

Grassholme Reservoir

Just a short car journey away lies the Grassholme Reservoir, a perfect place to reflect and recharge.

With open water and accessible walking routes, this reservoir is a fantastic area to spot wildflowers, and also allows fishing if that’s something that you’re interested in.

 If you still haven’t got your fix of open water, the Hury, Selset and Balderhead Reservoirs are all close by, meaning you won’t run out of places to visit – you could even make these visits into a day trip!

But perhaps the best hidden gem in County Durham is its glorious and vast coastline. Starting in Seaham, a coastal town easily accessible by bus or car, there are a plethora of surrounding beaches that will suit your need, whatever they might be.

But before you leave Seaham, why not take some time to enjoy the classic English staple, fish and chips, from Downey’s, one of Seaham’s tastiest restaurants?

Or perhaps, if fish and chips aren’t your thing, enjoy an evening meal at Ashoka, a moderately priced Indian restaurant situated on the seafront. If you prefer a drink, why not pop next door to Dempsey’s bar?

Venture along the coast

After some nourishment, it’s time to head out and explore all that the County Durham coastline has to offer.

One of the best, and most secluded beaches, is Nose’s Point, a seafront that doubles up as a Site of Special Scientific Interest thanks to its diverse geology and ecology.

The weathered coastline features striking sea stacks and wildflower meadows tucked into the cliffside and provides plenty of places to sit and reflect while watching the rolling waves.

Moving further down the coast, an underrated beach, yet one that is still worth a visit is Horden beach, which lies on the outskirts of its namesake’s former mining community.

This beach, which is primarily made up of shingle, is a living relic of the county’s industrial past.

Despite the majority of colliery waste being washed away, there is still evidence of the areas past – see if you can spot some of the pebbles that have been stained by iron ore.

Finally, if you bring your pooch on your travels and are looking for a dog-friendly beach, Easington is the place for you.

It’s tucked away and features a mixture of sand and shingle –an ideal location to wind down your trip.

Schedule your next visit

County Durham is one of those places that you won’t forget, even after leaving.

With a mixture of well-known attractions and some hidden gems, the area is definitely worth a visit – every time you come back, you’re sure to find a new favourite place!