Streams of Natural Law Diaries : No. 8 : Durham and the River Wear

The latest instalment in our Streams of Natural Law Diaries, is Durham and the River Wear, home to 3 different copies of Magna Carta. As we walk beside the stream, we discover the bounty of bridges and natural beauty in this Cathedral city.

To launch our film, book and recording of Dreams of Peace & Freedom : The Humans in the Telling and preview forthcoming performances, we are walking streams of natural law in the UK. Visit our multi-media hub at


Durham Cathedral has three issues of Magna Carta, dated 1216, a year after the original, 1225 (sealed by Henry III) and the final charter of 1300 (of which the cathedral holds the best preserved of the seven that survive) “…although it is not entirely clear why.” (Durham Cathedral website.)

We don't know how they got there
And their contents are unclear
But the Durham Magna Cartas
Are most definitely here

And here they've always been we think
Safe under lock and key
Near perfect in condition
If you saw them you'd agree

Three issues signed and sealed, intact
And though not on display
These Charters for our freedoms
Still protect us to this day


Next stop on our Magna Carta tour was Durham, where the enormous cathedral is home to 3 different editions of the Great Charter. As a legal document, editions were circulated to centres that could ensure the contents were made widely known and obeyed, so usually earlier issues were destroyed when an updated version was issued to avoid confusion. It’s thought that the cathedral’s large and comprehensive library is what made it possible to archive outdated copies, and although they are not on display, they are noted to be in excellent condition.

As we drove into the city centre, the skyline was dominated by the Cathedral, perched high on the top of its hill, towering over everything below. The river Wear meanders around the cliff below, making it seem as if the cathedral is built on an island of its’ own. Parking at the Princes Bishop car park, we made our way down the stairs and were delighted to find that it was set just beside the river, and the Elvet bridge was visible from the windows.

Down at river level, the air was full of the cheerful sound of ducks quacking and the water had a beautiful delicate movement as if the surface was gently eddying underneath the bridge. The sun was clamouring to get through the clouds, turning them almost every shade of grey, which reflected in the water creating an immense amount of drama. Some tourists were enjoying the imposing scenery with a trip in a rowing boat.

Walking beside the river, we found our way up a flight of steep stairs to the contrastingly modern Kingsgate Bridge, whose height offers amazing views over the landscape from a completely different perspective.

Over cobbles, we made our way up to the Cathedral, where the most important medieval saint of Northern England, St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne is buried. Surprisingly given the number of visitors, there was an almost celestial hush over Palace Green. Until the 12th century this was the market square, marking Durham’s centre, but it’s now an open space flanked by the castle with its’ impressive keep (home of the Prince Bishops in former times) and a number of historic buildings which are part of the university. Once a busy meeting place, it now feels very tranquil to walk around, admiring the architecture.

There was a queue to enter the Cathedral but as soon we were inside it was worth the wait. It was extraordinary to think of all the pilgrims over the centuries who had passed through to visit and pay homage, who are joined by still more today. The sunlight finally broke through the clouds and made a beautiful rainbow of colours through the stained glass.

After our trip to the Cathedral, with a quick pit stop for lunch, we wandered back down to the winding river, now alive with butterflies in dappled sunshine, with the giant green trees towering over us. We chose the side of the river which hugs the base of the cathedral cliff, so although we missed seeing its’ towers above the foliage, we walked past the Fulling Mill, making us aware of the Wear’s industrial history, which with coal and lead mining, and limestone quarrying has contributed to increasing mineral pollution since Victorian times. Over the last ten years much has been done to clean it up, and it is now listed amongst the top ten most improved rivers in the UK. As if to confirm this the verdant green seemed to be everywhere, and whenever you turned around another bend there was always some new wildlife to enjoy. We passed a Weir (on The Wear!) as we returned to our starting point, back with the car.

Then it was time to move on to our next location – come back to read the next instalment of the Stream of Natural Law diaries!

River Wear at Durham

Follow our journey as it happens on Instagram @streamsofnaturallaw and share yours with #streamsofnaturallaw.

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