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Jul 2018

Barnard Castle Coat of Arms

Still just about in County Durham, the top of Galgate[1] certainly doesn't look or feel like it.

If you're not from the area, the nearby town of Bishop Auckland might sound equally enticing but that's where the Durham coalfield starts and things typically aren't so neat a little way north where mining was the main concern.

[1] Congratulations if you've managed to nab a space in the Hole in the Wall car park just off Newgate. These affordable, long-stay spots mean you're here for the day but that's unlikely, though, so Galgate it is, then.

Here they got rich on the retail and there's been a market every Wednesday since at least the 1600s.

It's likely that was once on the spacious area at the bottom of Galgate where the dog-leg kicks in but there's a perfectly good reason for the kink.

There's a big old castle in the way.

  Three Horseshoes Hotel (Galgate)

Looks to be the only option for a post 3 PM Sunday dinner and if you're lucky, the Barnard Castle brass band might join you for a post-practice plateful, possibly. Thankfully, the only tubas being blown are the roast potatoes, slightly too hot as you ravenously tuck in.

Did somebody just say castle? Of course there's a castle here but if you're not that bothered, history-wise, there's a free feel for it from the outside where you can stroll in the surrounding park and drop down to the river and the 16th-century bridge.

That is, of course, the River Tees, the best river[1] in North East England so away with your Wear and the relative trickle that is the Tyne[2].

This one starts in a remote part of the North Pennines with the first half of its near-90-mile flow through a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and, as should be known by now, they don't hand them awards out willy-nilly.

[1] That can be said with some confidence because a fair old stretch of it was once walked up and down.
[2] That'll be the confluence of the North and South Tyne rivers so the River Tyne, proper, doesn't really get going until it's near Newcastle, man.

This all used to be and could still be North Yorkshire whose famous dales start, sort of, 10 miles to the south and nothing to do with that  boundary extension, neither.

Durham, however, has claimed the dales this side of the  A66 as their own and here in Teesdale, 'Barney' marks the end of its wilder, northern stretch and the start of a much plainer, easterly course, of course.

Sir Walter Scott, no less, and JMW Turner, no lesser, were said to have been fans with Scott's  prose best described as a different kind of flowery.

Turner's work, however, was just plain  sketchy and was done from this bridge or thereabouts to capture the details of the castle.

  High Force (Forest-in-Teesdale)

Thirteen miles or so upstream is High Force, England's biggest waterfall, which means volume, not height, apparently.

There you'll need to pay for the parking and there's a small charge to help maintain the half-mile path to the outpouring but why these fees aren't combined is, quite frankly, outrageous.

For that visiting family of six from down south, that all tots up to nearly a tenner so they're apologetically directed to go left at the road, down the steep steps, along by the river, over the bridge, up the Pennine Way then back the way they came.

That way's free, you see, and rewards you with a view from above whereas the toll road brings you face to face with the  Foss.

Meanwhile, back at the castle, remember last year when you were so beguiled by Belsay that English Heritage™ ended up with two new members? Well, that runs out the day after tomorrow so it's one last chance to get in for 'free' and a little bit of history.

Post-1066, the then Northumbrians weren't overly happy at the result of that particular conquest so went and bumped off a certain Norman Bishop, at least that's thought to have been his name.

 Willie II, by this point, retaliated by breaking up Northumberland into more manageable chunks and ordered the castle's construction to quell any expected bother.

It wasn't until it landed in Bernard de Balliol's lap in the 12th century that it started to resemble a proper castle and by that, it's meant replacing the formerly, flimsy wood with stone.

It was handed down, somehow, to Richard III, no less, but following an unsuccessful field trip near  Market Bosworth, it fell into the inevitable state of disrepair.

It wasn't until 1630 that Sir Henry Vane, whoever he was[1], took hold of the keys but then decided to dismantle it.

[1] An aristrocrat whose lineage would later provide half the name for the Vane Tempest colliery at Seaham.

He used the stone to do up his other pad at Raby Castle, you see, which is a little way north-east and has a much bigger garden. Henry Vane? He does sound a bit, doesn't he?

What he did leave is what largely remains today and there's enough of it left to just about justify an entrance fee.

  Bowes Museum (Newgate)

There's some illegitimate family connection or other here to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, the  Queen Mother, of course, or Helena Bonham Carter if you've got  Sky™ Movies in.

John Bowes' dubious parentage led to him losing the family estates so he toddled off to France and started collecting art. He bequeathed the funds, and the frames, for this purpose-built, public art gallery that isn't quite as old as it looks.

The chateau-style construction didn't open until 1892 and is home to all your big splashers, El Greco, Goya, Canaletto as well as a  mechanical swan. This late-eighteenth-century automaton was picked up by Bowes in Paris and is all that anybody who has ever been here can be heard banging on about.

The history lesson on the castle is this history flunker's version of local events but what isn't known is when and why Bernard became Barnard?

You lot think everyone north of Darlington speaks a generic Geordie, don't you? You do because your bad impression has been heard, when you thought backs were turned, but Durham has its own distinct twang where the vowels start to bounce on their way south to becoming  Geoffrey Boycott.

The local lilt might be the reason behind the rebrand or maybe it's the same way that Mercat became Market although that's more of a Scots thing.

Perhaps there's some overthinking but what is known is that the old horse market isn't on Galgate and if you're looking to buy, these days, you'll need to head west along the A66 to  Appleby in June.

Horse Market, however, is where you will find Specsavers™ and attempts to gauge one's  own eyesight elsewhere in town on one's wife's birthday could be advised against as, at best, short-sighted.

As a slight aside, nobody nowhere has ever has called the place Barnard Castletown, ever, but they didn't question that, eh?

  The Witham (3 Horse Market)

One of the finer examples of the architecture here, the building is a memorial to a local philanthropist and no, it isn't a Wetherspoon™s now.

It's an ideal candidate, however, and even starts to sound like one so it's hoped they don't invade when they'll call it the Withamspoons, probably.

You can help keep this as the town's 'vibrant arts centre' for all things musical, theatrical and cinematic by buying some cake and coffee in their café.

Behind the main street, a maze of lanes lead off although the big Morrison™s soon spoils the antiquated air.

Just a little further on, the Market Cross aka the 'Butter Mart' used to provide shelter for the dairy vendors but the only thing giving whey these days is the constant stream of traffic at what now acts as a roundabout.

If you look closely, the weather vane atop has two bullet holes in it when a pair of gunslingers, they say, competed in 1804 to see whose shooting eye was the sharpest.

All this from the entrance of the Turks Head, which is about a 100 yards away, and you can bet their poorly performing darts team wishes these guys were both still around.

The Market Cross marks the southern city limits where the bank heads down to twist out over the Tees.

Barnard Castle's not been bad so the eyes are now on Stonehenge, English Heritage™'s big hitter. The membership runs out the day after tomorrow, remember, so that's a 650-mile round trip and what with these mpgs, that's at least two full tanks coming in at £120 as well as a hotel.

Oh well, at least the entrance there will be 'free' as well.