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Lying between the Yorkshire Dales and Northumberland National Park, the Durham Dales are part of the North Pennines, one of England's largest official Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
The Dales, which make up over a third of the County, offer some of the country's finest scenery - a blend of rugged upland, impressive waterfalls, gentle river valleys, wildflower meadows and drystone walls. Weardale was once the hunting ground of Durham's Prince Bishops. Today, quiet moorland roads open up panoramic Pennine views.
In the 19th Century, the lonely hills buzzed with activity, for the North Pennines was at the very heart of the world's lead mining industry. Today that industry has long since disappeared but Killhope Lead Mining Centre, with its giant working waterwheel and underground visitor mine, enables visitors to experience something of the life and work of the Victorian lead miner.
Teesdale, with its wooded valleys and characteristic white-washed farm buildings has long inspired artists, including Cotman and Turner and supports some of Britain's rarest plant communities. At High Force, the River Tees thunders 70ft over the largest waterfall in England.
Historic Barnard Castle is full of character with its cobbled Market Place, attractive shops and associations with Charles Dickens. The Josephine and John Bowes Museum is a French style treasure house of European paintings and decorative arts. The town is named after its 12th Century castle, now a craggy ruin. In contrast, nearby Raby still stands as one of England's finest medieval castles.
Throughout the Durham Dales, attractive stone built villages offer good bases for exploring the area. There is plenty of scope for walking, cycling and other outdoor activities which can all be enjoyed in the impressive North Pennine scenery.
Durham City is one of the most exciting visual and architectural experiences in Europe. For 900 years the magnificent Norman cathedral and castle have dominated the City's dramatic skyline. Their peninsular setting, high above the River Wear, provided a defensive stronghold for Durham's Prince Bishops. Today the castle and cathedral are a World Heritage Site, officially recognising their exceptional quality and character.
The Cathedral is widely acclaimed as one of the world's finest buildings. It was built to house the shrine of St Cuthbert and the original church took 40 years to build. Since then the Cathedral and Cuthbert's shrine have attracted pilgrims and travellers from all over the world.
Durham Castle is one of the country's largest and best preserved Norman strongholds and one of its grandest surviving Romanesque palaces. It now houses University College, foundation college of Durham University and during vacations offers visitors some of the most atmospheric bed and breakfast in Britain.
At the foot of the Castle and Cathedral, Durham's medieval layout is still evident in the narrow winding streets and alleys. Away from the bustle of the busy shopping centre, the beautiful wooded riverbanks offer a haven of peace with pleasant walks and boat trips. Interesting specialist museums and the University's Botanic Garden add to the enjoyment of visitors.
Around the County, the visitor is constantly reminded of the area's rich heritage and nowhere more than at Beamish, The North of England Open Air Museum, which is one of the Region's most popular and fascinating attractions. Staff in period costume invite visitors to experience life in the North East of England in the 1800s and early 1900s at the Town, Colliery Village, Railway Station, Home Farm and Victorian Pockerley Manor.
As Beamish demonstrates, County Durham played an important role in the Industrial Revolution and the development of the railways. Close to Beamish are Causey Arch, the oldest surviving railway bridge in the world, and Tanfield Railway, the world's oldest existing railway. There is a railway museum at Shildon on the former Stockton and Darlington Railway, opened as the world's first public passenger line in 1825.
Bishop Auckland is home to Auckland Castle, principal country seat of the Prince Bishops since Norman times and still the official residence of the Bishop of Durham.
Nearby 7th Century Escomb Saxon Church was built using stone from the Roman Fort at Binchester, one of four forts on the Roman Dere Street road to Hadrian's Wall, which are now linked by a motor trail.
North of Durham, Chester-le-Street is home to the new County Cricket Club. On the coast, there are sandy beaches at Seaham and Crimdon, together with Castle Eden Dene, the largest of Durham's coastal ravines, now a National Nature Reserve.