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studying at Durham University

Brunch, quirks and Harry Potter: an insider's view of Durham University

Every university comes with a hoard of stereotypes, and Durham University is no exception. Quizzes and blogs mainly associate it with being posh, full of so-called ‘Oxbridge rejects’, and too small to offer a good party lifestyle. I put these stereotypes to the test with an insider’s perspective to show you what it’s really like to study at Durham.

1. Durham has many unique and quirky traditions

Like many of my fellow Oxbridge rejects, I applied to Durham partly for the element of tradition. The appeal of the gowned formals and living near a castle are part of what attracts many students to the city. But there are other, more surprising, traditions. The rules for formals at my college (St. John’s) include bowing to the high table if you need to leave the room and every year the freshers are woken up early for a ‘five-mile run’ in pyjamas and gowns along the river bank. Every college has its own – seemingly irrelevant – song (Johns’ college song is ‘Country Roads’), and its own drink (some are best avoided though). Other traditions include going to Observatory Hill in the early hours of the morning during your college ball and climbing up the cathedral bell tower (but only after you’ve graduated, or else it’s bad luck).

2. College life is at the core of the university experience

Before arriving at Durham, I made the mistake of assuming colleges were little more than blocks of accommodation. But arriving on Fresher’s Sunday to a sign outside of Hild Bede college bragging about having acres of land that are ‘not Hatfield’, I soon realised the extent of college rivalry and the close-knit college community. Clubs and societies are organised within college as well as by the students’ union, and once a year each college has its own college ‘day’ to celebrate the college, which often involves large amounts of alcohol. Each college has its own stereotype, with Collingwood being the ‘sporty’ college, Castle and the rest of the Bailey being ‘posh’ and Hatfield being ‘disliked’.

3. Durham really is as posh as everyone says it is

The classic Durham stereotype is that it is one of the poshest universities in the country – a bubble of the south in the middle of the north – and people aren’t wrong. You’ll spot many a signet ring and your friends’ Instagram pages will be filled with skiing pictures during the holidays. Everybody is hooked on hummus: there’s even a hummus society and it’s permanently sold out in Tesco Metro.

4. Durham Cathedral is a modern film set as well as a piece of Norman architecture

Durham cathedral may have been built in 1093 to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert, but it’s also featured in some recent popular films – and ones that you’ll probably have seen. Most recently, scenes from Avengers: Endgame and Infinity War were filmed in the cathedral, but it has also been used for The Philosopher’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets in the Harry Potter series. You’ll find that some people refer to the uni as ‘Hogwarts’ and there’s both a Harry Potter and Quidditch society for fans of the franchise.

5. The brunch is unrivalled anywhere else

It may be ‘basic’ to admit, but Durham does brunch better than anywhere else in the UK. Flat White is usually the place to go, especially if you’re looking for pancakes or poached eggs. Unfortunately, it’s not a very well-kept secret and the place is usually heaving with students seeking chai lattes, but places such as Leonards have caught onto the hype and their menu is very similar. It’s relatively affordable too, and visiting friends from other unis have admitted, on more than one occasion, the superiority of the Durham brunching scene.

6. The social scene is actually not that bad

Before coming to Durham, I assumed that there wouldn’t be much going on and that I’d be heading to Newcastle for club nights and things to do. However, a couple of years later and going into my third year, I’ve only ventured out to Newcastle once. Even Klute, which infamously won the title of ‘second-worst nightclub in Europe’ in 1996 (and later became the worst when the club in first place burned down), actually makes a great night out if you’re looking for some cheesy tunes. Aside from the nightlife, you can visit Old Durham Gardens and its alpacas, visit one of the countless coffee shops or row on the river.

7. The university is too big for the city

Sadly, Durham is a changing place. The university has a ten-year development plan and has already relocated the students at the Queen’s campus in Stockton to Durham city centre. There’s been a noticeable difference – especially when it comes to queuing for club nights and popular cafes. Seats in the Billy B Library have always been hard to come by, and the few that the university has added have made little difference.

People go to and love Durham for its sense of tradition, quaint buildings and collegiate community. The ‘smallness’ in Durham’s stereotype makes it what it is – and I hope this unique atmosphere manages to remain unchanged among the university’s countless new developments and building projects.

Eleanor Dye, English student at Durham University

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