There are plenty of reasons to visit County Durham’s historic market town when appropriate, says our well-acquainted digital editor Elizabeth Atkin. Though testing your eyesight isn't one of them...
Barnard Castle’s been in the news a lot lately, though not under the best of circumstances. It’s a shame that its taken a political scandal for this quaint, historic town – known to locals simply as ‘Barney’ – to get the attention it deserves.
Many in the north-east of England, and indeed elsewhere in the country, will already know Barnard Castle as a charming place to spend a day wandering through cobbled streets, enjoying independent shops and markets, peaceful riverside walks and even a cheeky drink or two in one of the local pubs.
But if you don’t, here’s why you should visit when it’s appropriate to start exploring again…
In the early 12th century, Bernard de Balliol built what is now known as Barnard Castle. The fortress, as was common at the time, was a focal point for settlers. It later belonged to King Richard III in the late 13th century.
Today, it’s a popular spot for visitors thanks to its rich history and lovely view over the Tees Gorge. Interestingly, you can still see Richard III’s white boar badge above one of the windows in the inner ward.
It seems that most roads in Barnard Castle lead towards a calming, riverside stroll along the Tees. Indeed, there’s a walk to be found just beside the castle itself.
One nature walk locals recommend is Flatts Woods, which Explore Teesdale calls Barney’s ‘green lung’. This circular walk takes you from the town out into nature. During spring, the woods bloom with bluebells, primroses and wild garlic, while the colder months bring holly and snowdrops.
What they say about friendliness in the north-east of England is absolutely true. People here are open and chatty – and you’ll definitely feel the warmth from the locals in all of the independent shops, cafes and pubs that line the main street.
Stops should include the Chocolate Fayre, an old school chocolate shop filled with confection, and Number 15, the highest-rated coffee shop in town. Blagraves House on The Bank dates back to the times of Richard III and is now one of the finest restaurants in the area.
Every Wednesday, market stalls are set up on the cobbled streets, with crafts and local food produce for sale. The perfect place to interact with residents and visitors alike.
The beloved Bowes Museum, founded by not-quite-aristocrats John and Josephine Bowes, and its tranquil gardens, have been the pride and joy of Teesdale since it was opened in the late 1800s.
The museum building itself was dreamed up by two architects, a Newcastle-based John Edward Watson and French architect Jules Pellechet. The result? A grand and chateau-esque manor, perfectly-placed to be an art and fashion museum.
In addition to a range of exhibitions and live events (including talks, practical workshops and events for families), you’ll also find permanent collections featuring 18th century artwork, ceramic and glass designs, textiles, furniture, pieces of archaeological significance and even a collection of silver.
Giving away Barney’s identity as an antiques hot spot might be a mistake. We’d hate for all of its literal hidden gems to be snapped away. Alas, the savviest collectors already know. Antiques Road Trip’s David Harper even owns an auction house here.
The best place to start is the Mission Hall Antiques Centre on The Bank, which consists of over five stores stuffed full of treasures suited to every different type of collector – everything from quality vintage furniture to valuable pottery, dazzling jewellery to rare, unusual comic books.
Speaking of which, Barnard Castle also does bookshops well. If you’re interested in rare, unusual or secondhand finds, do pop into Curlews on the main street running through town. Note too the Butter Market, a striking octagonal structure built in the mid-1700s, is just a few steps away.
The best of County Durham is just around the corner, a short drive away. Firstly, head 10 minutes out of the town and you’ll arrive at Raby Castle, which is surrounded by picturesque green fields usually filled with herds of deer.
More castles await, such as Auckland Castle in the nearby town of Bishop Auckland. Another historic market town, you’ll find Binchester Roman Fort one mile to the north, plenty of shops and cafes to enjoy, plus Kynren: a live show, held outdoors during August and September 2020, detailing the history of England.
If the Roman history has piqued your interest, then you won’t want to miss the village of Piercebridge, home to its own fort on the banks of the Tees. Unsurprisingly, the remains are part of an old Roman bridge.
North Yorkshire isn’t far, either. A 40-minute walk (around one and a half miles) away lies Egglestone Abbey, the remains of a small monastery, on a bend of the River Tees.
High Force is regarded as one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the UK, as well as being the tallest in England at 70m high.
Its dramatic drop, flooding the natural pool below is convincing enough, yet the area, recognised as part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is similarly lush, teeming with wildflowers, offering roe deer sightings and rabbits bopping about.
A walk from Low Force to High Force is highly recommended. The aptly-named High Force Hotel offers cosy accommodation in a Victorian setting nearby – dog-friendly, too – meaning you’ll have longer to enjoy the north-east’s spectacular, sometimes overlooked, countryside.
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