If you visit Barnard Castle you’ll be pleasantly surprised if all you’re expecting is a sleepy little town. It’s a thriving community with a bustling market held every Wednesday ‘on the cobbles’ in Market Place. That phrase alone will tell you that it’s an historic place. You will also find a farmers’ market held on some Saturdays.
Barnard Castle is named after the castle which protected it. Rebuilt by Bernard Balliol in 1125, the castle is cared for by English Heritage, who open it to members of the public. The ruins, set in beautiful grounds, are certainly worth seeing.
Walk down the main street, and, along with its many shops (quirky or otherwise), pubs, clubs, B and Bs and restaurants, you will also see the Market Cross or Butter Market, a small octagonal building. This was used, as the name suggests, to sell dairy produce, but interestingly, it has also been the Town Hall and Courthouse, and, no doubt, to the chagrin of some former citizens, it has also been used as a lock up, or temporary jail.
This is quite an impressive sight. It sits high above the River Tees, and has a circular tower which inspired Sir Walter Scott for his novel ‘Rokeby’. It also has a three storey keep and a 14th century great hall.
It takes its name from the man who rebuilt it, and it was his family stronghold for many years. One of the de Balliols was actually King of Scotland for a short time, but his castle was taken from him by Edward l (known as ‘the Hammer of the Scots’) who deposed him.
In 1569, the castle surrendered to 5,000 rebels during the Rising of the North. This was a rebellion against Queen Elizabeth l by supporters of the ‘Old Religion’ (Catholicism). Nearby Raby Castle was partly built with stone taken from the castle after this event.
When visiting Barnard Castle there’s one place you really shouldn’t miss, and that is the Bowes Museum.
The Bowes Museum
This is a magnificent Grade l listed building, constructed in the style of a French chateau. This museum has a wonderful art collection, with works by legendary artists such as Canaletto, Goya and El Greco. It opened as a museum in 1892 and has fascinated visitors and art enthusiasts ever since.
It has other artifacts too, such as an amazing life size silver swan; a musical automaton which is played every day, and remains an abiding memory for visitors.
After a visit to the museum itself, what could be better than a stroll round the gardens and parkland in which this amazing building is set? Then, perhaps, a visit to the Cafe Bowes which serves wonderful food. Have a look in the gift shop too – you’re sure to find the perfect souvenir of your visit!