As the train pulled into Durham’s neat, stone station, I felt a jolt of excitement. We were finally back in my favourite corner of the country – the wildly beautiful North East – with a weekend in Durham waiting just around the corner.
Just a few months before we had visited the city’s neighbouring county, Northumberland – a place of starry skies, powdery sand dunes and tree-lined wildernesses. It was a trip that left me drunk on its beauty, ready to seize any opportunity to return. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long – an invite from Visit England giving me the excuse that I needed.
To help celebrate English Tourism Week, we were asked if we would take another journey north, spending a weekend in Durham to meet an English Tourism Superstar, Richard Darlington. Alongside meeting Richard, his lambs and his prized visitor toilets (read more here), we’d also be exploring the county’s rugged North Pennines, its tawny-coloured Teesdale Hills and its recently revitalised coastline. Given that it was now January and I was still droning on about Northumberland like a heart-broken drunk (“have you seen Northumberland recently, how is it? Does it miss me?”) we immediately said yes.
Where To Stay: Seaham Hall Hotel
I felt a little self-conscious arriving at the five-star Seaham Hall Hotel. My jeans splattered with mud from our trek and my hair plastered to my face, I walked through the hotel’s grand entrance deeply regretting my appearance. I felt like Shrek.
The grand location for the wedding of Lord Byron and Annabella Milbanke in 1815, Seaham Hall has long been dubbed one of the most romantic and luxurious hotels in the North East of England. An imposing, white Georgian mansion with carefully curated gardens, it is a beautiful place to stay.
After a warm welcome, we were led up the sweeping staircase to our Executive Suite. Now, it’s not often that I can say we stayed in a suite (the reality normally being a slightly undersized double bed in a room with no bathroom door) – and so this was therefore a wildly exciting moment. Complete with an enormous lounge, a sunken marble bath and king-size bed, I felt even more aware of my dirty walking boots as I tip-toed around, inspecting the bowls of fresh fruit and luxury spa products. Saying goodbye to our lovely host, I only hoped that I no longer had wind-swept snot plastering my face.
Immediately changing into our robes – and in bid to escape from the mud – we headed down to the hotel’s celebrated Serenity Spa. Complete with a 20 ft pool, massage stations, Asian herbal sanarium, salt sauna, Indian steam room, out door hot tubs and ice foundation, the spa also comes complete with gentle mood-lighting and glowing lamps. It is an unbelievably relaxing place, and one that led to us eating our beautiful dinner barely conscious.
Thanks to a peaceful night at Seaham Hall Hotel, we woke up transformed from mud-covered Neanderthals to mostly-presentable bloggers. After a breakfast of pastries and coffee, we left behind the lap of luxury for Seaham’s recently revitalised coastline.
A Victorian port, Seaham was – until the 1990s – at the heart of a community of coal-mining villages. When the collieries eventually closed, Seaham bore perhaps the brunt of the environmental damage; its beaches becoming black and polluted. However, and like the North East’s phoenix from the flames, a £10 million project to clean up the coastline transformed this small seaside town – a newly acquired Heritage Status hanging proudly around its neck.
Climbing out the car, a crowd of small, excited dogs galloped past – heading towards Seaham’s dramatic coastline and its famous Nose’s Point. Backed by fields of wildflowers and climbing hills, the coastline is a well-worn cliché: ruggedly beautiful. With only a few hours left in the North East, we walked the length of the coastal path that leads from Nose’s Point back into Seaham; dramatic grey clouds rolling above us and foaming waves crashing against the limestone cliffs below.
Before leaving, Natalie asked if we’d enjoyed our time in County Durham – did we ever go anywhere more far-flung, more exotic? The question made me laugh, knowing she’d doubt my answer. Although we do sometimes head abroad – Florida’s sunshine state or the beaches of the Caribbean beckoning, it’s been here – in England’s wildly beautiful, ever creative and fiercely independent North East – that we’ve had some of our best and most memorable adventures. “We’ve had a brilliant time”, I replied honestly.
Giving me a hug, Natalie nodded approvingly as I stood up to leave: “that’s what we want to hear”, she said laughing. Waving at her as we walked outside – our train soon to be arriving into Durham – she shouted one last thing: “make sure you come back soon!”.
Smiling, I had no doubt that we would.