Raby Castle interior
(revised , 6/2/06, see below)
(error revised, 3/2/08 )
South of Northumbria and Newcastle-on-Tyne, County Durham is renowned for its heritage sites, the magnificence of its castles and the outstandingly rugged beauty of its comparatively average size in relation to many other counties in England. Durham packs a lot into a small area and could be the most active vacation you will ever take in England.
If you are a veteran walker this will be the mecca you’ve been looking for, because it has one of several public footpaths in England. Just south of Hadrian’s Wall, the North Pennines Tour crosses the country’s most rugged and remote tracts of moorland circles and meets the south Tyne River at Bardon Mill. Check out the map in the Durham album to see the details of this walk which is one the longest in England. This walkway becomes Pennine Way and stretches all the way into the northernmost part of Northumbria! The walk shown in the map takes in two castles, Stanhope and Langley Castle Hotel, and Hexham Abbey, with Langley being the closest to Hayden Bridge.
The major castles are Raby, Auckland, Barnard and Durham. In addition, Bowes Museum, the Auckland Castle Deer House, Crook Hall, Rokeby Park, the Weardale Museum and the Roman Heritage site on the Dere Street Trail– all, along with the city of Durham itself, which is a unique historic college town, will run you off your feet, no matter what shape you’re in, marathoners excluded, of course. LOL
Going from the northwestern part of the county from the Pennines tour, the southwestern portion contains Barnard and Bowes Museum just within the southern border and very close to each other.
Barnard Castle (known locally as Barney), a Norman castle which was refortified in the fourteenth century by Anthony Bek, the Bishop of Durham, stands on a craggy escarpment overlooking the River Tees. A substantial amount of the castle endures including a cylindrical twelfth century tower. The Bishop took possession of it and refortified what was originally built by Bernard Balliol around 1125-1140. A town has been built up around the fortification and is quite charming, but the most extraordinary edifice is the Bowes Museum which sits just outside the town. Building of the museum started in 1860 by a local aristocrat, John Bowes, accompanied by his French wife Josephine, who was an artist and actress. This French chateau was never intended to be a residence and was finally opened the the public as a museum in 1892 and is testament to his wealth and her taste. It houses important art from El Greco and Goya in addition to fine art collections of artifacts. www.historic-barnardcastle.co.uk
Moving further northeast, Raby is the crown jewel of Durham. Sitting twelve miles West Northwest of Darlington in Staindrop, Raby is one of the few castles that include apotropaic figures, which are simply stone soldiers erected in the battlements as trompe l’oeil items placed to fool the eye into believing there are guards in place. Many North England castles sport them. It sits in the 200-acre deer park in the foothills of the N. Pennines and its inclusions are walled gardens, ornamental pond, eighteenth century stable block with horse drawn carriage collection and an adventure playground for children. It is a lived in castle, now occupied by Lord Barnard but was built by the Nevill family in the fourteenth century on the site of a manor house. It remained in the hands of the Nevills until 1569 and since 1626 until the present was the home of the Vance family. This was the childhood home of Cicely, mother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III, and was also the scene of the Rising of the North and -impressively- the stronghold during the Civil War. The tours take in an extensive art collection comprised of De Hooches, Herrings, Reynoldses, Tenierses and Van Dycks. To get a firsthand look at this eye candy just click www.rabycastle.com
Moving yet further northeast from Raby is Auckland Castle which is the principle residence of the Bishops of Durham- and has been since Norman times. The Chapel, twelfth century banquet hall, State Rooms, Long Dining Room and King Charles Dining Room are open to the public. The State Rooms house original works of art with a few pieces dating back to the seventeenth century. This is also a corporate and wedding/conference venue which is highly unusual considering that it is owned by the church commissioners. The deer house which was built in 1760 and is owned by English Heritage appears to be a castle in and of itself maintained for the preservation of deer in the region.
Durham City which is an ancient center can be accessed by a number of bridges connecting from every direction. There is a modern outpost outlying this island citadel. The castle and cathedral sit adjacent to each other, both keeping watch on the other, seemingly. The entire Island Hill (or Dunholm) was built circa 995, and the rocky peninsula stays the course of the River Wear, as it was the place chosen for the remains of St. Cuthbert (remember from Northumbria?) and his artifacts were also brought to the site decades later.
Bishop William van Mildert surrendered the Episcopal Palace to found Britain’s third major University which is housed in the Castle. Both the Castle and Cathedral are Norman structures and were constructed after the turn of the first century. The castle is an eighteenth century rebuild, gothicized but done well and the ancient interior of the cathedral is the most eclectic architecture you’re ever likely to see in an English Cathedral. Stroll around the town and enjoy the liveliness on into the night. This is, after all, a college town.
The County boasts of some diverse and unusual museums. Beamish comes to mind as the most unique and if you are wanting information pertaining to the Great North in the 1800s and 1900s, delivered in an entertaining style, you should not miss this little gem in Beamish, which is just northwest of Durham. Another museum that will lure Asian art buffs is The Oriental Museum connected with the University of Durham on Elvet Hill off South Road. It is entirely devoted to Asian art and the displays will be mouthwatering for specialist and non-specialist alike.
Hylton Castle is worth mentioning briefly because the restoration of it was well done, albeit not complete, and was saved by the local community. It is not far from Durham and may be a fitting conclusion as a complete tour of the castles. This is no longer a Durham county castle and will be better covered in my comprehensive future entry on Northumberland. In the duration, check out this web site. www.hyltoncastle.com
Castle Lady note: Hylton Castle has currently been covered in my new
series on Northumberland. Please check Northumberland is Castle Nirvana! Part Six
May 24th 2008 entry.
In bed at morrow, sleiping as I lay,
Me thocht Aurora with hir cristall ene
In at the window lukit by the day
And halsit me, with visage paill and grene;
On quhois* hand a lark sang fro the splene,
Awalk, luvaris, out of your slomering,
Se how the lusty morrow dois up spring.
William Dunbar 15th century “makar”
Happy Castling, all!
The Castle Lady
Here is Brancepeth Castle. It was a bit elusive for information but I have added a great photo of it in the Durham album (on Skydrive), too, and here’s the scoop. It is situated only five miles away from Durham City headed towards Weardale and it was a Nevill Castle, specifically the Earls of Westmorland. If you’ll recall I covered them in the Lancashire entry so just look in last months’ cache for Penrith Castle. Here’s another link for you to check out some landscape engravings of the above mentioned castles and some Northumberland castles, too. www.sine.ncl.ac.uk/site_map/image_list.asp/startdoc+4201&enddoc+4300
Ciao for now!
Thought for the day:
The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men! A weird life it is indeed, to be living always in somebody elses imagination, as if that were the only place in which one would at last become real. -Thomas Merton (1915-1968)