Our program has entered the second week of its placement in Durham, England. However, Durham is a relatively small city of around 48,000 people – almost 5 times smaller than Durham, NC. I realize that most Duke students don’t know much about Durham, England, so I figured that I’d give a brief overview of the city and its people.
Durham lies on the River Wear in North East England. Local legend states monks transporting St. Cuthbert’s remains were led by a milk maid who had lost her cow; these monks established Durham where the cow was eventually found. Durham Cathedral was constructed in 1093 to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert. The Cathedral also stores the remains of the Venerable Bede, whom many view as the “father of modern history.” While Durham was significant as a religious site, the city was also important as a barrier against invading Scots, leading to the construction of Durham Castle. During the Middle Ages, Durham was ruled by Prince Bishops , who wielded immense power within the city. Durham University was founded in 1832; the university continues to be a major facet of the community. By the Victorian era and the Industrial Revolution, Durham and the surrounding region become a large source of coal, with coal mining becoming an incredibly large portion of the region’s economy. While the coal mining industry in Durham ceased operation in the 1980s, the Durham Miners’ Gala remains an annual event.
Most Americans think of the British as posh, proper, and somewhat uptight people. This is not true of Northern England. The people of Durham are straight-talking, strong-willed, and very warmhearted. It’s not uncommon to see two complete strangers hold deep conversations. I was on a train last weekend, and the man sitting next to me asked if I was American. I said yes, then he proceeded to tell me all of his thoughts on America and most of his life story for the next 40 minutes. In the Southern US, we like to brag about our “Southern Hospitality.” However, the sheer friendliness of the Northern English is incredible. Also, the food in Durham is amazing; it’s simple yet incredibly filling. I’ve eaten more meat pies and fish and chips in the last two weeks than in my entire life!
So if you ever plan to visit England, I’d recommend skipping the hustle and bustle of London and visiting the North. You’ll find an incredibly welcoming community rich in tradition, history, and natural beauty.