Our staff visited some of the county's top attractions and accommodation during English Tourism Week to find out first hand the type of experience visitors can have on a short break in Durham.
Here's what they got up to:
Lucy and Sandra stepped back in time at Beamish - The Living Museum of the North.
We had a great time changing out of our 21st Century attire and transforming into Edwardian Ladies for the day.
From the moment you enter the Beamish site, as part of the staff/volunteers, you feel part of history – something not many people will ever experience let alone be able to do for their job!
Our first role of the day was to attend the daily meeting in the 1900s Town with the staff where we heard about the day’s activities and particular visits that were taking place.
We then familiarised ourselves with the Town shops and homes – visiting the museum teacher's house and the Dentists as well as the new photography studio, the Coop, Sweet Shop and Herron’s Bakery (we resisted the temptation of buying treats, for now!)
The staff provided a great insight into their working days at Beamish – how they actually carry out activities in traditional fashion (not so easy to make the bread in the bakery) and the interactions (and questions) they have from visitors.
We enjoyed hearing the anecdotes from the staff about requests and questions they have been asked: was that dog alive before it was dead? Were you born in Victorian Times?
Then we participated in the Old King Coal event – we supported the staff to run a mini Durham Miner’s Gala with 4 local schools. A very noisy event, with children (and adults) banging on saucepans and shouting at the top of our voices. We were then met by an amazing brass band and it really transported us back the past!
After this we did some more exploring and rode around the site on a tram and a bus causing great intrigue as to what was in our wicker shopping baskets (though we didn’t reveal it was actually a bottle of water and a selfie stick).
Highlights of the day – being able to live history in the open air (yes we got a bit wet in the rain), speak to the visitors (and explain to someone from outside of the area what a stottie was) and to see how much everyone who works at Beamish loves what they do!
Amanda went to Locomotion, The National Railway Museum at Shildon.
The morning started off relatively quiet with just a few visitors moseying around until a school group arrived and the chatter from the enthusiastic kids created a fun background to the day.
It was evident that the younger audience loved the various interactive puzzles and information stations dotted around the museum building and the tour undertaken by one of the Locomotion staff members was also well received.
If you’re not there as part of a school group and are just visiting as a family day out, there are also free activities for children that are stationed by the main entrance (quizzes, design your own engine, train trail etc). They also have a little colouring section of tables and chairs for children to sit and enjoy the activity sheets. Weather depending, there is also a great outdoor play area and also both indoor and outdoor eating areas if visitors want to bring their own picnics and really make a day of it. Another great fun family feature is the costume section where you can use the props to dress up as train passengers and post your pictures on social media.
After lunch, I shadowed Trevor who is one of a group of volunteer guides within the museum. He was a great character and very knowledgeable on the history and heritage of the steam trains. After a personal tour of the 3 main steam engine cab’s (Winston Churchill, Green Arrow and Black 5) I observed fellow train enthusiasts visiting on the day having tours with Trevor and it was really informative listening to the ‘double act’ of information sharing going on. Train enthusiasts really are a passionate lot!
As I wandered the building and took in all of the information tickets attached to the trains, it was great to see the videos that explained the heritage of certain trains within the collection and having the chance to talk to some of the visitors about their experience on the day. Most were local but a few were from further afield, including one gentleman who is a volunteer guide at the National Railway Museum in York and was expanding his knowledge on a quick day visit to Shildon.
As part of the Friends of Stockton and Darlington Railway, who undertake heritage and conservation activities, you can observe the volunteers carrying out cosmetic restoration on various items via the observation galley, which visitors can see as they view the other areas of the museum.
Since 1825, the Stockton & Darlington Railway has played a major part in Shildon’s culture and heritage and Locomotion highlights the affect the railways had on the area. However, it was great to see the new exhibition being finalised whilst I was there, which opened on 30th March. I was able to preview the information boards being put up and how the museum were creating a more ‘child friendly’ version of the exhibit.
The Osaka Trains And The Story Of Japan’s Global Gateway City exhibition explores the story of how the city’s famous railway companies helped to make Osaka a world powerhouse city and pioneers of technological and social innovation in Japan. The exhibit takes centre spot within the museum and is a great addition for visitors.
With the museum open throughout the year, with the exception of Christmas and New Year, and the various themed events that run on special weekends, the ample onsite parking and free entrance makes Locomotion a great day out for all ages.
Katharine spent the day at the Radisson Blu hotel in Durham City.
Radisson Blu is a chic, contemporary four-star hotel. I like the fact that it is flooded with lots of natural light (especially in the reception area which also features an atrium) and in the newly-rebranded restaurant, Collage, which features a modern British menu.
Also, the fact that the hotel sits on the river and is a very convenient base for exploring Durham City is a big plus point.
Each of the 207 bedrooms and suites offer contemporary design and stylish décor. The bedrooms I saw were still looking fresh with elegant interiors even though the hotel is eight years old. The hotel’s top suite is a sight to behold. It has the absolute wow factor, with plenty of space and panoramic views of the river and cathedral.
I spent time with the front of house manager, breakfast manager, Pace health club staff, the General Manager Shirlynn Lim, and Cluster director of sales, (NE) Nick Laing.
The day I visited (mid-week) they had dealt with 192 for breakfast - it is a very busy hotel. Breakfast featured a tempting smorgasbord of Continental and cooked breakfast treats. It is beautifully laid-out and very popular with guests. There was obvious care and attention to detail in looking after it. Bread items are contained in deli soft bags and there are hand-written signs and chalkboards.
The hotel handles a lot of corporate guests through the week and more leisure visitors at weekends.
The Pace health club is an inviting space with clean, fresh gym and 15-metre pool, Jacuzzi, sauna and steam room, open to both local members and hotel guests.
The pool and sauna areas were particularly inviting. And staff on duty were smiley and really accessible.
To find out more about any of these venues, use the links below, and for more reasons to visit this spring, click here.