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Barnard Castle

Walking round and about old Barney.

Distance 4.2 miles (6.8km)

Minimum time 2hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 165ft (50m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Town streets and good paths, 6 stiles

Landscape Riverside and market town

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL31 North Pennines

Start/finish NZ 051163

Dog friendliness Dogs should be on leads

Parking Pay-and-display car park at end of Queen Street between Galgate and Newgate

Public toilets On Market Place

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1 From the car park go through the passageway signposted for the river. Go across Newgate Street and continue through another little ginnel, which leads through the churchyard of St Mary's and then out on to the riverside parkland of Demesnes.

2 Here turn left along a stony path, which angles down to the river. It passes Demesnes Mill, then follows the north bank of the Tees, with the river on your right.

3 You pass (quickly if the wind is in the wrong direction) the sewage works. Ignore the upper left fork of two paths and stay by the river to enter pretty woodland, which allows glimpses of the remains of Egglestone Abbey on the far banks. Go through the gate on to the road and turn right over Abbey Bridge.

4 Turn right at the junction on the far side of the bridge, then go left up the access track to view the abbey. Return to the road and follow it left, to pass Bow Bridge. A squeeze stile in the hedge on the right marks the start of the path along the south bank of the Tees. On the approach to a caravan park the path crosses fields and veers slightly away from the river.

5 Turn right along a surfaced track, down to the caravan park and take the second drive on the left, which eventually leads to the continuation of the riverside path.

6 Turn right over the footbridge back into Barnard Castle and go straight ahead into Thorngate. Turn left along Bridgegate. Where the road crosses the County Bridge go straight on to follow a path that rounds the castle walls to the entrance. After visiting the castle continue past the Methodist church to the start of Galgate.

7 Turn right along Market Street and continue to the Market Cross. Carry on down The Bank then, at the top of Thorngate, go left to Demesnes. Retrace earlier footsteps back to the car park.

Approach Barnard Castle from Bowes and you'll see the imposing nature of its fortress, which tops a bold 80ft (25m) crag and towers above the River Tees. The castle was built in 1112 for Bernard de Baliol, whose father Guy had fought side by side with William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings. The Baliols would become a powerful force in the north, and John Baliol, with a little help from Edward I, would become King of Scotland in 1292. In the same century the little town that had grown around the castle was granted a charter for a market. The medieval layout of streets, yards and back alleys still exists today and many of the older buildings have survived. Our look around the town, affectionately known as old Barney, will reveal this to the full.

The walk begins with back alleys that take you past St Mary's Parish Church, founded in the 12th century. You continue down to Demesnes, open parkland by the Tees, where springs once supplied the town with drinking water. On the leisurely walk by the Tees you'll see grey marble riverbeds, a stone that has supplied building material for the locals, including a fine font in St Mary's. The pretty riverside woods may also reveal beds of anemones and primroses. Through the trees Egglestone Abbey appears. You may have seen it in one of Turner's paintings.

Abbey Bridge takes you across the river, which hereabouts has formed a deep gorge, and gives you a closer look at the old abbey, founded around 1196 by Ralph de Multon for the Premonstratensian order. After the dissolution of the monasteries the abbey was sold to Robert Streeley, who converted the cloisters into a house, which has long since been in ruins. Today the best-preserved part of the abbey is the church, which stands on a grassy knoll above the river. As you make your approach you will be impressed by the elegant double-lancet windows and its unusual mullioned east window.

A quiet lane takes the route past Bow Bridge, a 17th-century packhorse bridge across Thorsgill Beck. Just beyond this you're back on field paths above the Tees. Two majestic buildings come in and out of view over the treetops. One is the Bowes Museum (PWhile You're There) and the other, Barnard Castle School.

And so you come back to old Barney, over the footbridge to Thorngate. At the top the route heads for the castle. A visit here will inform you about its colourful history. It was captured by one of the Prince Bishops of Durham and in 1569, during the Rising of the North against Elizabeth I, it was subjected to an 11-day siege. The damage inflicted made rebuilding necessary, though the round keep, added in the 14th-century, survived.

Beyond the castle you come to Galgate, a wide street that used to be called Gallowgate, a place where the gallows stood. It was also the course of a Roman road linking forts at Bowes and Binchester. Market Place on the right is the commercial centre of Barnard Castle. Here you'll see the former Kings Head Inn, now called the Charles Dickens, where Dickens stayed while researching for his novel, Nicholas Nickleby (1839). At the end of Market Place you come to the octagonal Market Cross building of 1747. They used to hold town council meetings and courts on the first floor and use the lower part as a lock-up.

Last but not least on this journey through history is a street known as The Bank. Among the fine old buildings you'll come across is the town's most famous, the 4-storey 16th-century Blagraves House, now a restaurant. Oliver Cromwell is supposed to have stayed here during his visit to the town in 1648.

While you're there

When John Bowes married French actress Josephine Coffin-Chevalier they had Jules Pellechet to oversee the building of a 'French château', on Newgate Street in Barnard Castle, to house their immense collection of arts and treasures. Here, at the Bowes Museum, you can view elegant furniture and ceramics; paintings by Canaletto, Goya and Turner; extensive gardens and a life-sized silver, musical swan.

Where to eat and drink

There are lots of pubs, cafés and restaurants in the town. If you want a restaurant meal and are willing to splash out a bit, follow Oliver Cromwell into Blagraves House. For a bar meal in the nearby countryside try the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge. It's a welcoming old coaching inn. In summer you can eat in the gardens: in winter there's a fire in the Dickens Bar. Children and dogs welcome.

What to look for

The County Bridge, beneath the castle, has different stonework on its upper and lower parts. This dates back to damage caused by the great floods of 1661. The floods left the south bank of the river so eroded that travellers needed to use a ladder to get on to the bridge. Before those floods the bridge had a built-in chapel where Bible clerk Cuthbert Hilton conducted numerous illegal marriages.

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