The Durham Dictionary (part two!)

Jessica Kelly

While there’s already a blog post about some of the most-used Durham jargon – read it here you truly could fill a dictionary and still have more to share!

So here goes…

College buzzwords

These were the words that I constantly came across while applying to Durham, I spent ages trying to decipher what people meant when they proudly told me about their “ungowned, catered, hill college”. So hopefully I can help you make sense of this nonsense!


The Hill and the Bailey are two areas of Durham that each have lots to offer!

The Hill is home to a collection of colleges that sit about a 5-10 minute walk from the library and about 20 minutes from the town centre. You can expect big colleges with lots of facilities and green space!

an event at one of the hill colleges

The Bailey, while also being about a 10/15 minute walk to the library, is right in the historic centre of Durham city. Expect smaller colleges and facilities, cobbled streets and cathedral bells!

Bailey colleges are usually near the Cathedral


This simple distinction denotes the colleges that do or do not wear black gowns (think harry potter!) for formal dinners and matriculation. It’s worth noting that everyone wears a gown for congregation!


This is the most important distinction between Durham’s colleges in my opinion, it impacts accommodation costs, size of corridors/flats and overall can really change your first-year experience!

Catered colleges provide three meals a day, meaning you don’t have to cook for yourself! The corridors/flats in the accommodation blocks are typically larger as there’s no shared kitchen to become overcrowded and meals are taken in a large communal dining hall.

Self-catered colleges don’t provide any food, giving you much more freedom over what and when you eat. This means that flats are typically much smaller with communal living, cooking and dining spaces which you wouldn’t find in catered colleges.

Well-known spots

When asking for directions you may run into a few issues typing these place names into google maps, so let’s translate!

The Science Site

This is another name for the Lower Mountjoy site, home to the Bill Bryson library (or the “Billy B” if you’ve read the original blog), lots of department buildings and the palatine centre where you’ll find lots of student support services.

Looking over the science site


This is a pet name for the “Teaching and Learning Centre”, our big beautiful multi-use space on the “science site”. Here you’ll find lecture theatres, seminar rooms, a wonderful café and lots of study spaces! (you may also hear it referred to as the Tilly C despite much protestation)


A simple acronym for Maiden Castle, the university’s Sports and Wellbeing park. This is the home of Team Durham sport as well as hosting college sport, an awesome gym, independent fitness classes and more!

Cardiac hill

This infamous hill is one route that connects Lower Mountjoy to Upper Mountjoy (where you’ll find biology, psychology, maths and computer science). As the name suggests it’s quite a steep incline which runs from the back of the engineering department up to biology.


College, society, sport and university events can become some of the most treasured memories of your time here… but also come with a whole new vocab list!

Ents and decs

A really easy one, simply entertainment and decorations!


Officially known as “Big Organised Parties” these are events that colleges throw occasionally which typically involve some kind of ents, themed decs and usually a silent disco (a Durham staple).


These two events bookend your time here at Durham, and both take place at the gorgeous Durham Cathedral!

Van Mildert college mascot at Matriculation

Matriculation is your official welcome to the university, it happens in your first week here and marks the beginning of your studies.

Congregation is just our word for graduation, and you’ll definitely hear the two used interchangeably!

Discover more

Read part one of the Durham Dictionary here

Download our latest prospectus and college guide here.

Follow our students on Instagram, TikTok and YouTube.

Jessica Kelly

Hi, I’m Jess! I’m a 2nd year Engineering student in Van Mildert College. I came to Durham from Ireland and have been having a blast at my college, university and the UK!

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