DURHAM and its dramatic cathedral, set within a narrow bend of the River Wear, has been the resting place of St Cuthbert since 995. His hallowed remains rendered Durham a place of pilgrimage for both the Saxons and the Normans, who began work on the present cathedral at the end of the eleventh century. The city centre is well worth a night or two, and while there are attractions other than the cathedral it's more the overall atmosphere that captivates, enhanced by the ever-present golden stone, slender bridges and glint of the river.
Following the founding of the cathedral in the eleventh century, the bishops of Durham were granted extensive powers to control the troublesome northern marches of the kingdom, ruling as semi-independent Prince Bishops, with their own army, mint and courts of law. The bishops were at the peak of their power in the fourteenth century, but thereafter the office went into decline, especially in the wake of the Reformation, yet they clung to the vestiges of their authority until 1836, when they ceded them to the Crown. They abandoned Durham Castle for their palace in Bishop Auckland and transferred their old home to the fledgling Durham University, now England's third-oldest seat of learning after Oxford and Cambridge.