Durham, Northumbria- Christmas time

PUBLISHED: 08:46 08 March 2010 | UPDATED: 16:22 20 February 2013

Shoppers on Elvet bridge

Shoppers on Elvet bridge

Durham, one of the country's most picturesque and smallest cities, is bracing itself once again for an infux of visitors this Christmas, as Barbara Mason discovers

With its winding streets and gorgeous architecture, Durham is the prettiest of places to get in the mood for Christmas.

Its a fabulous place to go to at any time of year and even in the face of the attractions of a riverside walk or boat trip in the summer months, the festive season is as good a time as any to call into the ancient capital of Northumbria.

The first weekend in December is an ideal time to visit as the 5th and 6th of the month sees the Durham Christmas Festival in full swing. With the World Heritage site of Durham Cathedral and Castle as a backdrop, the Palace Green will be covered by a giant marquee which will house a gourmet food court and around 150 stalls selling crafts and gifts, so surely youll be able to find something for even the hardest to buy for person in the family.

During the festival, youll find a local producers food fair in the cloisters of the cathedral, with cooking demonstrations on the Saturday from local chefs using local produce. In fact, the whole weekend will be packed with traditional events and entertainment for people of all ages to enjoy.

With the central area turned car free for the festival, its an ideal occasion to take the family, use the Park and Ride or arrive by public transport and have a great time. You can join the lantern procession from St Nicholas Church to the cathedral on the Saturday, while Sunday sees the cathedral - voted the countrys most loved building in a 2001 BBC poll - host a spectacular Carols for All service.

The festival has a really great atmosphere says one of the organisers, Colin Wilkes, who explains: Theres such a lot going on and were expecting around 80 to100 coach-loads of visitors. Its the busiest time of the year and not to be missed.

Just off the Market Place, site of the ever-controversial statue of Lord Londonderry, is Durham Indoor Market, an entertainment in itself.

The markets been in existence since 1851, explains Colin, who has managed the market for the last 15 years of its 158-year history. It was formed by its own Act of Parliament: The Durham Markets Company Act 1851. Originally it was only allowed to open one day a week from 6am until close of trading at 11pm, when a bell sounded to close the market, Colin continues, pointing to the bell which youll now find at the top of the staircase which leads to caf Cenno, from where you can ignore the free wi-fi because youll be too busy gazing down from the balcony and watch the world go by.

Markets are fascinating places. You never know whats around the next corner, says Colin, and the beauty of this one is that, being indoors and central to the city centre, its a refuge from the weather if outside the picture postcard scenery has turned wet and windy. A mooch around the stalls can provide you with everything from high quality fabrics, hand-knitted garments, guitars, shoes, dog baskets, hold up stockings, bread advertised as not containing animal fats and therefore suitable for vegetarians, to a pet shop thats been in the market for six decades and a CD stall selling music from just as far back. What is bang up to date though is the food: fresh fruit, veg, cheese, poultry, fish and lots of bakers provide the sort of quality youre hard pressed to find elsewhere these days.

The Indoor Market may have existed from the time of the Great Exhibition in London in the middle of the century before last, but come out of the main entrance, turn left and in less than two minutes youre in the ultra modern Walkergate which teems with restaurants and bars featuring a wide range of the top brands of high street world cuisine.

While Walkergate and the Indoor Market bookend Durhams retail therapy, Bramwells Jewellers is a gem in itself, linking the old and the new.

The shop was established in 1867, says Lucy Bramwell; along with brother Tony the fifth generation of Bramwells looking after the family business still run by dad, Peter. Weve branches throughout the North East but have always been based in Durham where originally Bramwells was a jewellers and an opticians. A joint jewellers and opticians - the ideal place for Dame Edna or Dame Elton to pop into. No longer an opticians, Bramwells is simply a jewellers now but its a high class establishment - and thats a fair description of Durham itself.

Use the links with this story to tell us what you like about visiting Durham at Christmas.

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