County Durham was in the Middle Ages a county palatine under the rule of the Bishop of Durham; the Prince-Bishops as they were known. A great deal has changed in Durham since those days though, even is the palatinate ended only in 1836.
County Durham today is in parts a heavily industrialized county. It is rich in mines; coal, iron, lead, mill-stone grit and limestone. Indeed in parts of Durham sea-coal is driven from undersea ridges onto the beaches in industrial quantities. The mines, now in deep decline, drove the county’s development. The mouths of the Tees and the Tyne are heavily industrialised and urban.
The northeast of the county, including Gateshead, Washington, South Shields and Sunderland, is the most urbanised. However away from the urban areas, in particular in the west of the county, Durham becomes hill country; the Durham Dales are prime rugged walking country. The county has wide, uncultivated moors amongst the hills, which rise up into the Pennines. The south is more fertile farmland, awhile along the Tees are more industrial towns. Indeed they may symbolize industrialism; the opening Stockton-Darlington railway has been said to mark the definitive opening of the Industrial Age.
Between the towns the coast has a variety of cliffs and sandy beaches.
The City of Durham rises magnificently on a hill surrounded by the River Wear, crowned by its huge Norman Cathedral. Behind the cathedral is a precipitous drop down to the river. This site was chosen in troubled times as a defensible spot by the guardians of the bones of Saint Cuthbert, which now lie within the Cathedral. Their settlement here was the effective foundation of Durham and its status.
County Durham is bounded north and south by the Tyne and the Tees respectively. The Wear is the other major river. Little rivers run down scenic wooded denes all along the coast.
County Town: Durham
Main Towns: Barnard Castle, Billingham, Blaydon, Darlington, Durham, Gateshead, Hartlepool, Jarrow, South Shields, Stockton-on-Tees, Sunderland, Washington.
Main Rivers: Wear, Tees, Tyne.
Highlights: Durham Cathedral; Raby Castle; Jarrow Church and Monastery; HMS Warrior, Hartlepool.
Highest Point: Burnhope Seat, 2,452 feet.
Area: 1,015 sq miles
County Flower: Spring Gentian