A Graduation Mini-Break

Those who follow our Instagram account more closely will know that both Ruth and I were students at Durham University and last week we made the 320-mile journey from Kent to the North East for Ruth’s graduation from her Masters’ course. We broke the 6-hour journey in Rutland and, as well as a few days in Durham City, stayed in one of our favourite villages in the UK – Blanchland on the County Durham/Northumberland border.

After an early start, we arrived in England’s smallest county – Rutland – by mid-morning. The county is only 18 miles wide at its largest point and is dominated by the enormous Rutland Water, an artificial reservoir that is one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe, second in size only to Kielder Water in the UK. Though now a nature reserve and a lovely place for water sports or pleasant walks, the villages of Normanton, Nether Hambleton and Middle Hambleton were destroyed during its construction in the 1970s. Normanton Church stands at the water’s edge, only surviving flooding due to public outcry! Its lower floor, now below the water level, was filled in with rubble and the upper floor is used for weddings and concerts.

After a lovely walk round part of the reservoir we headed round Rutland Water to the villages of Edith Weston, named after Edith of Wessex (1029-1075) – the wife of Edward the Confessor. On the western side of the Water sits the tiny settlement of Egleton and perched high on a peninsula in the middle of Rutland Water, surrounded by the reservoir on 3 sides is Upper Hambleton.

The cottages in Rutland villages are made of limestone or ironstone and many have beautiful thatched roofs.

A few miles to the north of Rutland Water is the gorgeous village of Exton. This truly is a hidden gem and has all the charm of Cotswold villages such as Castle Combe or Bibury but without the swarms of tourists. Beautiful cottages surround a large village green and line a few more streets and the village is home to the handsome Fox and Hounds pub (sadly closed for refurbishment when we visited). Near the village is Barnsdale Gardens, created for the BBC’s Gardeners’ World.

Getting back on the road, we arrived in Durham in the early evening and checked in to the Hotel Indigo. Located in Old Shire Hall, home to Durham County Council and later Durham University, the building boasts beautifully rich decorations and our room had stunning view of Durham Cathedral.

The following day was joyous, despite the rather typical North Eastern weather! The Cathedral was a magnificent setting for the graduation ceremony and it was lovely to be back there – it really did feel like coming home. In the evening we went back to our old college for a formal dinner, which was a wonderful end to the day. Durham is such a special place to us and we really enjoyed seeing our old haunts – and old friends too! Click here to see more photos of the city.

We spent the next few days at an equally special place – the tucked away village of Blanchland, 45 minutes from Durham and secluded in a wooded part of the Derwent Valley on the county border between Durham and Northumberland. Blanchland was formed out of the medieval abbey, from which the village gets its name; the Premonstratensian monks who lived there wore white habits – ‘blanche’ is the French word for white, hence Blanchland. Nathaniel Crewe, Bishop of Durham between 1674 and 1722, built the village, and the Lord Crewe Arms is named after him. The village is picture-perfect and is one of our 10 English Villages to Visit in 2020. Click on the cover below to read our list:

The Lord Crewe was stunning – the room was lovely and the restaurant served delicious food in exquisite surroundings. The roaring fire, which filled the dining room with a warm glow was once used as a hiding place by General Forster during the Jacobite uprising in 1715 and was a fantastic focal point in the centre of the room.

We had a really relaxing stay in Blanchland and on the way back to Kent we traveled through both Weardale and Teesdale. Just outside the road from Blanchland there are stunning views of the village of Huntstanworth and its unusual but beautiful patterned roofs.

Further south, we stopped off at Romaldkirk. This pretty little village has Anglo-Saxon origins and is a very picturesque place to have a quick look round or use as a starting point for a walk in the hills.

For more North East inspiration, check out @northeast.england, our feature account for all things County Durham, Northumberland and Tyne and Wear.