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krisek Darlington - A travel report by Krys
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Darlington,  United Kingdom - flag United Kingdom
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krisek's travel reports

Darlingon - A Place Far From London!

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Darlington, the once grand city, has a few interesting sights to offer, actually. One dates back to the Roman times. This mid-size city in the North-East England, however does not strike as one of the prominent tourists destination.

City clock
City clock
Darlington, about 2.5 hours by train from London, once was a great city with the most vibrant market in Northern England, and ... the cheapest pub in the country where pint of beer was £0.70, whilst the average price in England was £2! I would not put Darlington on a list of key attractions for tourists, and there is in fact little to do there. Having said that, the city being associated with harnessing the steam and introducing the rail travel to the world, carries some weight and anyone interested in trains would potentially find Darlington on the map. The world's first passenger train journey passed through the city in 1825, and later rail-related industry grew in the area. Today, the museum displaying locomotives once manufactured in Darlington is one of England's finest, actually. The main train station is also rather grand. It is somewhat split in two, with platforms running on both side of the minimalistic travel centre. The platforms are covered by two huge arched roofs elevated by elegantly decorated columns. The station is a clear testament that railway was definitely at Darlington's heart.

Favourite spots:
City centre
City centre
The Market by the city clock was my favourite spot in the city. It seemed to be a meeting point for young people before they were disappearing somewhere to party. I have been told that this used to be the most important and busiest market of North-East England once. Nowadays, however it seems like a quite spot in the middle of the newly refurbished and pedestrianised part of the old town. The building in the centre, looks very classic market cloth centre and although it seems dates and underinvested, it fits in the place perfectly. The city clock tower dominating the skyline in this part of Darlington makes the market look really special.

When I strolled about the city, young people dressed up (or down, depending what they were up to) in their cars lingered at the market, probably waiting for the party to form.

What's really great:
Main street
Main street
I kept wondering what it really was about Darlington that captured me. I have to say that it might have been the thrilling feeling of the, I'm sorry to say, backwater England, but I really mean it in the sweetest way possible. For the 100 thousand inhabitants, the city felt quiet and uneventful. The streets felt almost deserted, and I hope this was nothing to do with the situation in the economy. But it was also the fact that the people of Darlington made the most with what they had. I did wonder, and you will read below, about the quality of nightlife and things to entertain the folk, because I thought I would probably struggle to accept that. But looking at the local population I really believed they were having truly a great time. Well, compared to London it was clear to me that life was going at much slower pace in Darlington. And that is not necessarily a bad thing at all!

St Cuthbert's Cathedral
St Cuthbert's Cathedral
The Roman Fort, the Piercebridge Fort, dating back to AD270 is perhaps Darlington's oldest monument. It is badly ruined, so badly in fact that barely the foundations are visible, but it does provoke reflection about the Roman advances in Britain.

The other prominent sight of Darlington is the Saint Cuthbert's Cathedral erected back in 1180. It had been remodelled throughout the centuries, and its main features today date back to the 1400s and 1500s. The majority of the neat stained glass was made in the 1800s. The church claims a title of the most remarkable example of early churches in northern England. It is located in the middle of small and old cemetary, or rather the graves were so classically added to the church throughout the centuries.

The Coachman Hotel, Room no.17
The Coachman Hotel, Room no.17
The Coachman (£37.50/single), where I stayed, located near the very attractive train station, yards away from the station's clock tower, was... adequate, for a lack of a better word. The staff were friendly and helpful. One of them even offered me £10 vouchers for a Thai restaurant. The hotel looked grander than it was, particularly in the common areas and the stairway - very retro and tastefully furnished.

My single room (#17) was very small and the shower/loo room was a size of a cupboard. Literally! And there was no closet for clothes at all. Yet, the room was clean, so I did not complain. Although the tiny bed was so short that my feet hang outside. I felt like sleeping in a kid's cot. The hotel supplied towels, a tiny bar of soap, and a small sachet of shampoo. Breakfast was served between 07:00 and 09:00. No exceptions, apparently. There was a choice of cereal, and preserves but no toasts, but cooked English breakfast was available at request.

There appeared to be no shortage of places to go out in Darlington. In terms of pubs and drink bars that is. However, I am not sure about their quality. As I retreated back to my hotel, I heard loud singing. It was coming out of the Hogan's, a pub right by the station. It had darts and pool table and very reasonably prices bitters, ales, stouts, and lagers. But the man (I think it was a man) at wise age, to put it politely, was singing so distinctively that it reminded me of no-frills river cruises with late night dancing. Excrutiating does not even begin to describe it. A bunch of ladies started puting some moves, and that stage I decided to neck down my pint of bitter and leave immediately. Gosh! I was very far away from London. I really was! And yet, the people in the pub were really enjoying the evening. Some even danced and fooled around a little. I was happy to see that. Obviously, my (spoiled Londoner!!) expectations for nightlife quality are unreasonable.

Darlington travelogue picture
There is no shortage of little cafes-cum-pubs-cum-bars in Darlington. Certain areas have a few strings of them, one by one. Like the central market, Bodgate, Northgate, East Street and Woodland Road. Some of them are based in really old houses, and look really inviting, almost as if promising a great atmosphere of good-ole English pub life. Some were more trendy but nothing over the top. When I visited, it appeared the population did not fancy any specific pub, which would make one really popular, but appeared that they spread almost evenly across the bar network of the city.

For walks, I like the canal that runs north to south in the middle of the city. It has walkways alongside and modest weirs make it look interesting and relaxing. I know that there is nothing much, but it is a nice touch, and I it is great that authorities provided cycle paths alongside it at as well!

Thai starters
Thai starters
I tried The Royal Thai restaurant at Parkgate street, which is actually lined with a few restaurants serving various cuisines, including Italian and Turkish. The menu was classic Thai, although Pad Thai, the flag dish of any reputable Thai restaurant, was placed at the very end of the relatively long list. I had two starters, both prawn-based wrapped in wonton pastries (£5-£6), chicken red curry (£7), and plain boiled rice (£1.50), and washed it down with Singha beer (£3). I was the only guest. The service was swift and food presentation was great. The starters were really big and delicious. The curry looked and tasted a but like mild-ish yellow curry rather than like the red curry should be - fiercely hot and yummy! The restaurant played instrumental Thai music and lit candles on the tables, so I decided to forgive them, uh and the free prawn crackers helped with the forgiveness as well!

Other recommendations:
By the Market
By the Market
At night, Darlington looks a bit eerie. I do not want to say scary, but a bit spooky and very quiet, which may feel uncomfortable for the first time visitors. One's instinct usually sends signals to stay away from dark and empty alleys at night, and this is what the old town of Darlington is. Apart maybe from the pedestrianised areas, which are still very quiet. I am not sure what the crime record for Darlington is, but the little groups of people scattered around the corners of the city, laughing and fooling around, may send signals of 'attention - trouble makers ahead!'. I guess one has to be sensible anywhere in the world, but I just want to say that nothing happened to me and my large camera swaying from my shoulder...

The train travel to Darlington can be a bliss compared to a 5 hours drive from London. However, the tickets can be painfully expensive, costing over £266 return standard class, which is more than flying to the USA! Better to buy in advance and stick to the itinerary.

Published on Monday June 1th, 2009

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Thu, Jun 04 2009 - 11:31 AM rating by eirekay

Krys, you always succeed in in giving a feel for where you've been. Reading this, I know that you were charmed. Wonderfully done!

Mon, Jun 01 2009 - 11:14 AM rating by porto

Yes Krys,Tony has said it all, another cracker.I have met a few people on my travels from Darlington and they were really friendly,and I like that North-East accent.

Mon, Jun 01 2009 - 10:58 AM rating by jacko1

A great and well informed report Krys, reading this as the (enemy, a southerner) you have certainly reinforced my opinions of the north and your comment on the cost of rail travel is reflected throughout the UK, I like your honesty and ability to find good everywhere, well written!!.

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