Less than five miles north of Durham, on the banks of the River Wear, lie the ruins of Finchale Priory. One good thing to come out of the repeated Covid-19 lockdowns was the opportunity to re-focus and explore much closer to home. Finchale Priory being the perfect example of what you can find when you really look for it.
Finchale Priory (pronounced Finkle FYI) is an English Heritage site that’s free to enter and you’re even free to explore the very extensive ruins. The priory was founded back in 1196 on the site of the spiritual retreat of St Godric. It was later used as a holiday retreat for the monks of Durham Cathedral and I struggle to think of anywhere (at the time at least) more peaceful and relaxing with the river passing by and surrounded by woodland.
The walk through Cocken Wood is beautiful and takes the sting out of the steep steps (from the unofficial car park) down to riverside.
Nowadays, it’s a great place to visit for a few hours exploring the ruins and wandering through the woods on the opposite side of the river. There’s a shop on site selling ice cream, drinks and scones etc for a quick lunch or alternatively you could bring a picnic and find a comfy spot on the grass. It wasn’t that busy when we went with little Chester but I can imagine it being a bit rowdy (ha, not sure that’s the right word) as it’s very popular with families and children playing hide and seek. To be fair, if I was a kid, I’d love to play hide and seek in the ruins!
I’ve heard of many people paddling in the river and dogs swimming here which clearly sounds idlyic. There are many signs however warning of just how strong the currents can be so please be careful. When we visited, there were a few dogs that had been swimming but I honestly have no idea how as the River Wear was hurtling past with some venom.
If you’re coming from further afield and visiting the general area, you could do much worse than spend a few nights at the caravan park (Finchale Abbey Touring Park) literally right next to the ruins.
Directions & Parking
Using any Sat Nav or Google Maps, just use the postcode DH1 5SH. The proper way to get there is drive past HMP Frankland to the ruins itself and park onsite for £3 all day. It’s not a huge car park so you may struggle. If you can’t get in to the main car park or don’t fancy paying £3, park up on Cocken Road to the north (you won’t be able to miss the laybys) and wander down through the lovely woods.
I’d highly recommend Finchale Priory to both locals and those visiting the area, it’s a lovely place for history buffs and just those who like a good day out in beautiful settings. We regularly visit now with our cockapoo but are yet to take our little daughter. I can’t wait to see her face as we explore all around these ruins. Hopefully this post shows you exactly why you need to visit.
If you need any tips at all or more information, please leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you!