This densely populated county of northeast England was once pictured as a dismal place, with coal fields, ironworks, mining towns, and shipyards. Yet the Durham Dales, occupying the western third of the county, is a popular panorama of rolling hills, valleys of quiet charm, and wild moors. Teesdale is particularly notable for its several waterfalls, including High Force, the largest waterfall in England, which drops a thundering 21m (70 ft.) to join the River Tees. It is equally known for the rare wildflowers that grow in the sugar limestone-based soil of the region; they have helped it earn protection as a National Nature Reserve.
Also notable is Weardale, once the hunting ground of Durham's prince bishops, with its idyllic brown sandstone villages. For more information on the wide range of options the area has to offer, contact the Durham Dales Centre, Castle Garden, Stanhope, Bishop Auckland, County Durham DL13 2FJ (tel. 01388/527650; fax 01388/527461; www.durhamdalescentre.co.uk). Hours are April to October daily 10am to 5pm and November to March daily 10am to 4pm.
The 12th-century Barnard Castle (tel. 01833/690909; www.english-heritage.co.uk) is an extensive Norman ruin overlooking the River Tees. It's open April to September daily 10am to 6pm and October to March Thursday to Monday 10am to 4pm. Admission is £3.90 for adults; £3.10 seniors, £2 for students and children 15 and younger.
Barnard Castle is also home to the Bowes Museum (tel. 01833/690606; www.bowesmuseum.org.uk), a sprawling French-style château housing one of Britain's most important collections of European art, including paintings from Goya to El Greco, plus tapestries, ceramics, costumes, musical instruments, and French and English furniture. There is also a children's gallery. The museum is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Admission is £7 for adults, and £6 for students, seniors, and children 16 and older. Children 15 and younger enter free. Buses run from Durham several times daily.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.