Heritage > Counties > England


The county of Durham lies in the North East of England with it's administrative capital being the city of Durham.

The main products from this relatively small county, it covers just 942 square miles, come from Sheep and Dairy farming.

The county lies on one of Britain's richest coalfields and was once mined extensively.

Facts on the region

Origin of name: From the Saxon word Dunholme, dun meaning a hill and holme referring to an island in a river (the rocky outcrop where Durham Cathedral now stands). The Normans changed it to Duresme, which was corrupted to Durham. Bishops ruled this area until 1836 so the suffix ‘shire’ was never added: it is County Durham, not Durhamshire.

Name first recorded: 1000 as Dunholme.

County Town: DURHAM is splendidly set cathedral and university city overlooking a loop in the River Wear. Student influence on restaurants and arts.

County Rivers: Wear, Tees. Fine fishing along the fast-flowing rivers and at reservoirs at Balderhead, Burnhope, Selset, Weskerley and Tunstall.

Highest point: Burnhope Seat 2,452 feet.

Durham’s local government: Durham County Council only administers about three-quarters of County Durham and it shares that honour with the seven district councils of Chester-le-Street, Derwentside, Durham City, Easington, Sedgefield, Teesdale and Wear Valley. All of which adds up to a two-tier system.

The rest of the County has three unitary councils at Darlington, Hartlepool and part of Stockton-on-Tees (shared with the North Riding of Yorkshire). There are three unitary metropolitan boroughs of Gateshead, South Tyneside and Sunderland in northeast Durham.

Government changes of the 1990s: an official ceremonial county, which on the surface seems admirable until you realize it only includes the area of Durham County Council, Hartlepool District with those parts of Stockton north of the River Tees, but excludes Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland, all in County Durham. Not only is this ridiculous, it underlines the lack of understanding of what a county is and means. A prominent part of Durham detached in Northumberland, stretching from Cornhill to Tweedmouth over to Holy Island, and a further area from Bedlington to North Blyth is administered by Northumberland County Council with Berwick-on-Tweed Council as the second tier for the former and Wansbeck Council for the latter. Crayke Castle is Durham detached in Yorkshire under the control of North Yorkshire County and Hambleton District Councils.

The local landscape

A hilly, sea-facing county, compact yet rugged, and ranged around its castled capital, Durham. The county lies between two great rivers, the Tyne and the Tees,and extends inland to Yorkshire and east to the sea. Along its eastern coast industrial towns often of ancient origin and sandy shores face the grey North Sea. Many high cliffs and islands dot the coastline and Beacon Hill, owned by the National Trust, is the highest point on the Durham coast. Inland the county smoothes into the long, straggling valley of the Tees with extensive stone-walled fields, and wide moors above.

There are vivid contrasts within the county with the bleak and rugged Pennines and sheep-rearing farmland of west Durham akin to the north Yorkshire moors, while the industrial, chemical-based south-east has a nuclear landscape and the mining areas of Easington and Peterlee with their big wheels signposting mine shafts to remind us that this was where the Industrial Revolution had its perhaps biggest impact. Jarrow, South Shields and Sunderland to the northeast are metropolitan areas with a great shipbuilding tradition.

The landscape is based on limestone in the west, then a clay plain with sandstone outcrops such as the one at Durham jutting up. There’s a lead mining centre at Killhope.

Local Towns and Villages

BARNARD CASTLE Fine medieval bridge, old houses and nearby French chateau-style Bowes Museum.

BILLINGHAM Friendly people, a theatre and a football club with the name Synthonia FC (who can claim that?)

BLAYDON The Blaydon Races are immortalized in the words of the eponymous local folk song.

DARLINGTON Synonymous with the first railway in the country and fascinating museum to match.

HARTLEPOOL Still has bits of medieval town wall. In the docks is HMS Warrior, the world's earliest iron-hulled battleship, and now a floating museum.

JARROW The word 'march' springs to mind but in the depths of this grimy town is a lovely 7th-century church where the Venerable Bede sought solace.

STOCKTON-ON-TEES Is famous for its open-air market started in 1310 in the broadest high street in England.

SUNDERLAND Shares with its neighbour Jarrow a shipbuilding heritage, and it became a city in 1992. Nearby Roker's St Andrew's Church (1906) is an Arts and Crafts design with William Morris tapestries.

WASHINGTON George Washington's ancestral home, Washington Old Hall, is open in summer.The Barbican is an attractive small urban area and site of the original town as Drake knew it: and the Hoe has outstanding coastal views.











Newton Aycliffe





South Shields



Places to Visit

Raby castle, Darlington, Co Durham

Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham

Auckland Castle deer House, Bishop Auckland, Co Durham

Barnard Castle, Durham

Rokeby Park, Co Durham

Durham Cathedral, Durham

Egglestone Abbey, Durham


Early April: Gateshead Spring Flower Show has an impressive array of flower displays, demonstrations and trade stands.

July: Durham Miners’ Gala in the county town.

Mid July: Durham Regatta has various competitive races in eights, fours and pairs and sculls along the river Wear.

August: Darlington Agricultural Show.

Famous names from the region

The Venerable Bede, known as the father of English, lived at Jarrow and lies in Durham cathedral.

During any coronation the Bishop of Durham holds the right hand of the new monarch, underlining the importance of the post.

Paul Gascoigne, footballer, is Dunston Federation Brewery’s most famous fan!

What colour are you?

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