Barnard Castle is a beautiful market town in County Durham in the North East of England; just a forty minute drive from the city of Durham. I’ve wanted to visit for a number of years now but for some reason it just never transpired. My intrigue for the town grew with every drive through on the way to the A66 and on to other areas of the country. However, Barnard Castle shot to fame (and I was going to try so hard not to mention this) during the Covid-19 pandemic as THE place Dominic Cummings drove to specifically to check his eyesight…
With the relaxing of lockdown rules, I was finally able to have my family visit for the first time in 18 months and we spent a lovely Sunday exploring Barnard Castle. Now I’m sure that you will have heard of this town in County Durham but what you might not know is that it is absolutely amazing. As I’m trying to show with my ‘It’s Not Grim Up North’ series, there are many many places in the North of England that are worthy of visiting. I’m sure that if Barnard Castle was in a different area of the United Kingdom it would be insanely popular. Barnard Castle is definitely a place that’s worth a weekend visit; full of pubs, antique shops and a ruined castle overlooking the River Tees.
You can’t come to Barnard Castle without experiencing the castle. The ruined castle sits atop a huge rock with the River Tees passing by below and is beautifully picturesque; the best views being from the south side of the river across the 16th century bridge. The castle was built in the 12th century and was once in the hands of Richard III before he went on to be the King of England. If you have a keen eye, you’ll spot Richard III’s boar badge carved into the castle. Unfortunately, following his death, the castle fell into disrepair and is now managed by English Heritage.
If you’re a member of English heritage, this castle is included but, if not, you can visit the castle at a cost of £7.60 for an adult ticket. During Covid-19, you must pre-book your tickets online! Click here to visit the English Heritage website.
Barnard Castle is a great place to visit if you like shopping. You’ve got plenty of independent shops all along the high street including those that sell antiques, homewares and vintage clothing as well as great delis and butchers. Three great shops to start with would be Ruby & D, Ranters Yard and Niche Living. Barnard Castle is actually well known for its antique shops so you’d be hard done by if you can’t find something interesting to take home with you.
There’s also a farmers market along the high street on the first Saturday of each month from April to December; think artisan breads, organic meat and local cheeses.
Food & Drink in Barnard Castle
I was pleasantly surprised with just how many pubs are in and around Barnard Castle’s high street. For those with a thirst for real ale or a gin and tonic, you will be spoilt for choice here. Some of the pubs look questionable but I could see myself having a few beers at the Blue Bell, the Golden Lion and definitely the Three Horseshoes Hotel. For something a little quirkier and (much) smaller, you could check out Firkin Alley; a lovely hidden micropub.
Most of the pubs in town offer your standard pub food but can get busy, especially with the various Covid-19 restrictions in place. We drove a little out of town to the Red Well Inn which is a beautiful stone pub offering quality food. I really enjoyed eating here and will definitely be back.
If you’re not in the mood for pub grub then check out Babuls (think coffee, curry and cocktails), McNabs Books (a bookshop/cafe), Blagraves House Restaurant (500 years old & Oliver Cromwell even dined here) and Andalucia. Andalucia is a five minute walk from the high street in a quieter part of town and is a lovely little deli serving food, coffee and selling plants! What more could you need.
This is definitely the jewel of Barnard Castle; something that should bring you to this beautiful part of the country all by itself. This building is absolutely beautiful but, if you’re curious like me, what on earth is a historic French Châteaux doing in Teesdale. This building was purpose built by Mr and Mrs Bowes in the 19th century with the intention of it being a museum. The couple bought 15,000 objects between 1862 and 1875 to be displayed within the museum. Sadly, neither Mr nor Mrs Bowes survived to see the completion of the building and the museum finally opened to the public in 1892.
The piece de resistance (in keeping with the French theme) is a 240 year old silver swan purchased from a Parisian jeweller. I haven’t seen the swan in action but it is essentially mechanical and a huge draw for the museum. The Bowes Museum website states that Mark Twain saw the silver swan in 1867 and described it as having ‘a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes – watched him swimming about as comfortably and unconcernedly as if he had been born in a morass instead of a jeweller’s shop.’
The Bowes Museum also houses beautiful artwork, costumes and other very decadent historic items.
I would highly recommend a visit here and you can buy tickets in advance directly from the Bowes Museum’s website for £15.60 (adult). This is an annual pass so you can return as often as you so wish!
Getting to Barnard Castle
As I mentioned above, Barnard Castle is situated south west of the city of Durham, a forty minute drive away along the A688 past the impressive Raby Castle and through the lovely village of Staindrop. If you’re coming from further afield, the best way to get to Barnard Castle would be by car coming off the A1 at junction 53, along the A66 before a short drive north. The nearest mainline train station would be Darlington which is on the East Coast mainline stretching from London to Edinburgh.
Hopefully you’ve seen enough from this article to begin planning your trip to Barnard Castle but, at the very least, this should be heading straight on to your list of places to visit. If you need any more inspiration, check out my ‘It’s Not Grim Up North’ series or check out This Is Durham’s website here.