Here’s our guide to Barnard Castle, an ancient fortress on the River Tees, in County Durham, in the north of England.
Barnard Castle History
Barnard Castle‘s origins can be traced back to the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. It was founded by the Picard knight Guy de Balliol, who received estates in northeastern England as a reward for his loyalty to King William II.
The castle initially took the form of a ringwork, with ditches and banks protecting its southern and eastern sides, while the high cliffs formed natural defenses on the northern and western sides.
Over time, the castle expanded and evolved under the ownership of the Balliol family. Bernard de Balliol, nephew of Guy de Balliol, played a pivotal role in enlarging the castle and rebuilding it in stone, leading to its eventual name, Barnard Castle.
During the 13th century, the castle remained under the control of the Balliol family, with notable figures such as John Balliol, founder of Balliol College, Oxford, and his wife Devorgilla leaving a significant impact on the castle’s history.
However, the castle’s fortunes shifted with the changing political landscape. The castle passed into the hands of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick, and later to Richard III, who made several repairs and alterations to the castle during his ownership.
Despite its fortifications, Barnard Castle faced its first major military challenge during the siege of 1216. In dire circumstances, the castle withstood attacks from rebels and the Scottish king, Alexander II.
However, in later years, the castle fell into decline and was effectively abandoned by the early 17th century. Today, the castle stands as a majestic ruin, offering visitors a glimpse into its rich and turbulent past.
Barnard Castle Town
Surrounding the castle, the town of Barnard Castle, affectionately known as “Barney,” is a charming and historic market town. Its cobbled streets and winding lanes are lined with elegant Georgian and Victorian architecture, providing a picturesque backdrop for exploration.
A walk through the town reveals snippets of historical interest, from the Market Place with its octagonal Market Cross to the old Butter Market building, which once served as a shelter for farmers’ wives selling dairy produce.
Barnard Castle town offers a range of attractions and activities for visitors. The Bowes Museum, a world-renowned institution, stands proudly in the heart of the town.
Built in the style of a French Chateau, the museum houses an exceptional collection of European fine and decorative arts spanning several centuries. A highlight of the museum is the Silver Swan, an English silver automaton that still captivates audiences with its graceful movements.
For those seeking more natural beauty, the town is nestled within the Teesdale area, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Teesdale boasts England’s highest waterfall, High Force, as well as stunning open moorland, wooded valleys, and historic market towns. Visitors can explore the picturesque landscapes, embark on scenic walks, or simply immerse themselves in the tranquility of the surroundings.
Visiting Barnard Castle
Barnard Castle is open to the public.
To make the most of your visit, it is advisable to book your ticket online in advance. Not only will you secure the best price, but you will also guarantee entry, ensuring a seamless experience. English Heritage members can enjoy free entry, while non-members can purchase tickets at the entrance.
Upon arrival, visitors will be greeted by the magnificent ruins of Barnard Castle, perched atop a high rock overlooking the River Tees. The castle’s extensive lawns, adorned with sapling fruit trees, provide the perfect setting for families to explore and play. As you wander through the castle grounds, you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Tees Gorge, a sight that has captivated visitors for centuries.
While exploring the castle, take the time to admire the remnants of its once-impressive architecture. The clifftop inner ward showcases the remains of fine domestic buildings, including a remarkable round tower dating back to the 12th century.
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