What do my mum and Dominic Cummings have in common? They’ve both had life-defining trips to Barnard Castle – or ‘Barney’ as the locals call it.
In my mum’s case, she was born in Barnard Castle and spent a halcyon first three years living in the stable of Lartington Hall (sounds like something out of a Laurie Lee novel but hey, this was the ‘50s).
Dominic Cummings, on the other hand, enjoyed a 15-minute hiatus by a river in the historic market town as part of a 250mile lockdown tour. Classic.
A lot of people (read: Southerners) had never heard of County Durham’s best kept secret until his apparently very necessary and public-minded outing. Broadcasters called it Castle Barnard or Baaaarnard Castle. People furiously Googled where this town was. TripAdvisor suddenly found itself overwhelmed with reviews from users like Dom_Cummings who gave it four stars for being ‘great for eye test and wife’s birthday’.
Hotels.com has spotted an increase of 160% in searches for accommodation near Barnard Castle from 22 May to 27 May compared with the previous week. If all else fails, Dom’s certainly got a future career in tourism PR.
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Jokes and political skirmishes aside, however, Barnard Castle really is a jewel in the crown of the North East. The Guardian named it as one of the UK’s 10 best small towns.
While you can’t visit at the moment (seriously, don’t bother trying), it’s a place definitely worth keeping in your notes because you should visit once we can move around again.
Again, just to make this clear: do not attempt to visit right now. The residents and local tourist body do not want visitors bringing coronavirus into their small town so just hold your horses, bookmark this page and come back to it when we all stop being so infectious.
Here’s why Barnard Castle is so much more than an eye test:
Barnard Castle… the castle
Believe it or not, the Castle in Barnard Castle is the main attraction. Again, it’s currently closed due to coronavirus but English Heritage says that it’ll re-open just as soon as the government advice allows.
Set on a rock above the River Tees, Barnard Castle gets its name from its 12th-century founder, Bernard de Balliol. Richard III later took it over and you can still see his boar emblem carved above the inner ward today. Enjoy stunning views over the Tees Gorge and across the rest of Barney.
Keep tabs on when it’s opening here.
The farmers’ market
I’m told that the owner during the 50s was a fun woman called Olive who drove her Rolls into a ditch.
Book your party here.
Who doesn’t love a monastery ruin? These ruins where once a small monastery of Premonstratensian ‘white canons’ – a religious order of the Catholic Church founded in Prémontré in 1120 by Norbert of Xanten. The remains include a lot of the 13th century church and living quarters – including traces of their ingenious toilet drainage system.
It takes about 40 minutes to walk from Egglestone Abbey to Barnard Castle, falling the river.
Check out directions here.
The Bowes Museum
The Bowes Museum houses one of the most significant collections of fine and decorative arts in the UK. Built in the 19th century by wealthy businessman John Bowes and his French wife Josephine, their romantic story is weaved into every part of this Grade I listed building.
Look forward to seeing paintings by Van Dyck, Canaletto and Goya. Swoon over fashion from the 16-20th centuries. Watch out for collections of delicate porcelain.
Once you’re pottering around indoors, head outside for a walk around the 22 acres of parkland and formal gardens. There’s a picnic area, children’s play area, a woodland walk and tonnes of rolling countryside.
It’s obviously closed right now but check when it’s open again here.
If you’ve gotten into walking during lockdown, head up to Barney once it’s over because the town has been nationally recognised as a Walkers are Welcome town. That means there are plenty of walking and cycling opportunities, footpaths around the town and surrounding countryside are well signposted and maintained, and walking is a fundamental part of local tourism and regeneration.
Get your boots ready and check out the routes and paths surrounding the town.
Eggleston Hall Gardens and nursery
Known as the ‘Secret Garden of the North’, these gardens are made up of 4.5 acres of winding paths and walls. There’s a stream, a 16th-century churchyard. It’s a working garden and nurse which means that you can buy a stack of flowers to plant In your own garden to remind you of your trip to Barney.
Check out the blog here, complete with video garden diaries and How to…guides to keep you occupied until your visit.
Once again, Barnard Castle is super nice but please wait to visit until lockdown is over.
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