IT is one of Britain’s best-kept secrets – because most of us think County Durham is actually in Ireland!
But the county between Northumberland and North Yorkshire is home to a huge variety of adventure opportunities and rich history.
My wife, kids and I kicked off our exploration with a night’s stay at 600-year-old Lumley Castle.
Standing on a hill outside Chester-Le-Street and overlooking the county cricket ground, if there was prize for the friendliest hotel in the UK then Lumley Castle is surely a contender.
After a night’s rest we went to Beamish Wild, a tree-top white-knuckle adventure course of zip wires, rope walks, tyre swings and a heart-stopping free-fall finale.
My little monkeys Emily, 17, Jack, 16 and Ben 14, were up those trees like, er, little monkeys. It was a bit tougher for a clapped-out old git like me and at times it was exhausting. But I was never going to quit in front of three sniggering teenagers.
After my pulse returned to normal we spent the rest of the day next door at the multi-award-winning Beamish Museum — surely the jewel in Durham’s crown.
As a family based in the North-East, we are regulars at the open-air venue and it never fails to deliver.
This is a unique living museum set largely in Edwardian times, although it does have a 1940s farm and work has started on a 1950s village to open later this year, to include shops, a cinema and cafe.
Beamish covers a huge site but there are working trams to whisk you around. The attractions include a steam railway, bank, masonic hall, car showroom, a coal mine, homes and a pub.
Sadly, the price of beer is set in the present.
After a full day we retired to the Ramside Hall Golf and Spa Hotel and made full use of the luxurious pool, sauna and steam room.
GO: CO DURHAM
STAYING THERE: Lumley Castle has rooms from £68 per night. See lumleycastle.com. Ramside Hall Golf And Spa Hotel has rooms from £99 per night. See ramsidehallhotel.co.uk.
OUT & ABOUT: Beamish Museum – firstname.lastname@example.org; cycle hire from inspiralcycles.co.uk; Weardale Adventure Centre – email@example.com.
MORE INFO: For more details about Co Durham visit thisisdurham.com.
In the morning we headed for the stunning Hamsterley Forest, where I had another white-knuckle experience, this time on mountain bikes.
Local bike shop owner Gary Ewing and Raleigh account manager Tom Waugh kitted me out with a Haibike ebike. This slick machine is fitted with a small engine so it takes all the hard work out of cycling, especially up hills.
We started with one of the gentler routes created as part of Forestry England’s centenary celebrations.
After reaching the top of the hill, with breathtaking views of the moors, we all hurtled down one of the competition-standard routes. Next was a short drive to Britain’s most spectacular waterfall — the stunning High Force. Set in woodlands, it pours from a 71ft cliff on the edge of the Pennine Way.
Simon Wilson, from the North Pennine Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, also took us to Low Force, another stunning waterfall.
But the highlight of our trip was a visit to Weardale Adventure Centre.
There wasn’t time for canoeing, raft building, archery or many other activities on offer. But we did spend an unforgettable morning climbing a 35ft rock face with expert guidance from John Noble and Reece Shields.
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Then we were off again, this time to an old lead mine dating from the 1700s. We descended at least a mile underground, crawling through narrow gaps between the rocks.
I can guarantee that after a trip down the lead mine you will never complain about work again.
And I discovered that Durham can be a land of adventure — with not a leprechaun in sight.