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Durham Castle

Given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986 to share with Durham Cathedral, Durham's castle is one of the few English buildings to have been continuously inhabited for over 900 years. It is a medley of architectural styles and together both buildings dominate the city centre of this ancient market town.

The Norman keep was built in 1072, just six years after William the Conqueror landed at Hastings. Designed to subdue the local population, it later became an important bulwark against the Scottish threat from the north. When this receded in the 15th-16th centuries, the castle was redesigned with pleasure in mind, by a succession of worldly and wealthy "prince bishops". In 1840, with the founding of Durham University, the castle became University College, and students continue to live in the keep and dine in the Great Hall to this day.

Entering through the 16th-century gates, visitors find an oddly-shaped courtyard whose dimensions correspond to the inner bailey of the original Norman fortress. To the west is the Great Hall, built in the 13th-14th centuries by Bishop Bek (1284-1310) and Bishop Hatfield (1345-1381). It is one of the largest and most impressive medieval halls in the country, being nearly 14 metres high and over 30 metres long, with the great timber roof added in the time of Bishop Hatfield. On the walls are Cromwellian armour and breastplates, along with portraits of some of the Prince Bishops.

Bishop Hatfield was also responsible for the peculiar octagonal keep erected on the terraced mound on the east side of the courtyard. The walls and windows of the present keep are 19th century, but the original plan and shape are Norman and echo the classic motte and bailey layout of the ancient Norman fortress.

A view of the octagonal keep at Durham Castle

Durham Castle Information


When: Daily

Where: Durham

Cost: £5; seniors & children £3.50; family ticket £12

Opening Hours: Guided tour only (lasts 45 mins) daily from Easter to end Sep. Oct-Easter tours take place on Mon, Wed, Sat and Sun afternoons

Address: Durham, DH1 3RW

Hotels near Durham Castle


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