Darlington, England Hotels, Resort Accommodations

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DARLINGTON hit the big time in 1825, when George Stephenson's Locomotion hurtled from here to nearby Stockton-on-Tees, with the inventor at the controls and flag-carrying horsemen riding ahead to warn of the onrushing train, which reached a terrifying fifteen miles per hour. This novel form of transport soon proved popular with passengers, an unlooked-for bonus for Edward Pease, the line's instigator: he had simply wanted a fast and economical way to transport coal from the Durham pits to the docks at Stockton. Subsequently, Darlington grew into a rail-engineering centre, and didn't look back till the pruning of the network and the closure of the works in 1966.

It's little surprise, then, that all signs in town point to the Darlington Railway Centre and Museum (daily 10am-5pm), housed in Darlington's North Road station, a twenty-minute walk up Northgate from the central market place. The museum's pride and joy is the original Locomotion , actually built in Newcastle, which continued in service until 1841 - other locally made engines superseded it, and some of these are on show, too. Darlington's origins lie deep in Saxon times, following which it enjoyed a long history as an agricultural centre and staging post on the Great North Road. The monks carrying St Cuthbert's body from Ripon to Durham stopped in Darlington, the saint lending his name to the graceful central, riverside church of St Cuthbert (Easter-Sept daily 11am-2pm; Oct-Easter Fri 11am-1pm), where the needle-like spire and decorative turrets herald the delicate Early English stonework inside. One of England's largest market squares spreads beyond the church up to the restored Victorian covered market (Mon-Sat 8am-5pm, with a large outdoor market Mon & Sat), next to the clocktower.

The town's helpful tourist office is on the south side of Market Place at 13 Horsemarket (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 10am-4pm; tic@darlington.gov.uk ). Central accommodation options include the New Grange Hotel , a smartly refurbished, 200-year-old mansion on Coniscliffe Road, the continuation of Blackwellgate west from the Market Place (tel 01325/365858), and the more reasonable Balmoral Guest House , a grand Victorian town house at 63 Woodland Rd, five minutes' walk northwest of the centre (tel 01325/461908). Cheap and basic board is available at the town's Arts Centre (tel 01325/483271), about half a mile west of the centre in Vane Terrace - follow Duke Street from central Skinnergate. Heading west from the Market Place a short way up Blackwellgate, Joe Rigatoni's (tel 01325/464642) is the town's most reliable Italian restaurant , in a grand, airy setting on the corner of Grange Road. Check out the highly enterprising Arts Centre and its affiliated Civic Theatre (on a separate site on Parkgate, between the Market Place and the train station), which dish up drama, movies, comedy, exhibitions and live music (bookings on 01325/486555).

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