Blue Badge Guide Tom Keating on group friendly attractions in and around Barnard Castle in County Durham. 

Blue Badge Guide Tom Keating

Tom Keating.

Barnard Castle is one of 51 UK towns and cities with a very special government designation of “gem town” based on quality of a town’s environment. Surveys in the 1960s considered layout, historic street plans and buildings, urban quality and other special characteristics; in general, the look and feel of a town.

Known locally as ‘Barney’, this beautiful traditional County Durham market town in Teesdale is located on a plateau overlooking the River Tees and an important crossing point since Roman times.

After the Norman Conquest, the town took the name of the castle built there, now maintained by English Heritage. Barney has a delightful mix of shops and a reputation for antiques. The main market day is on a Wednesday, held on the cobbled marketplace.

A woman taking a photo of High Force Waterfall in County Durham

Described as one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the UK, the 21-metre cascade is just along from The High Force Hotel.

The street layout follows its medieval plan around the castle walls. The main through roads, Galgate (the road to the gallows), Horsemarket, Market Place, Butter Market and The Bank contain many historic buildings with amazing architecture.

Did you know?

One of England’s finest artists, JMW Turner, painted a riverside perspective of Barnard Castle in 1825. And author Charles Dickens visited the town and the Teesdale area in 1838, to research Nicholas Nickleby. 

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Famous visitors include Richard Duke of Gloucester, Oliver Cromwell, Daniel Defoe, Walter Scott, Charles Dickens, JMW Turner, William Wordsworth and, in more recent years of course, Dominic Cummings!

The Bowes Museum

The Bowes Museum contains a cafe, gift shop and reading room, as well as its renowned art collection.

Attractions include the Castle itself, Bowes Museum, St Mary’s Parish Church, rebuilt and extended by Richard Duke of Gloucester, Blagraves House, the oldest house after the castle, Witham Hall Art Centre and the Antiques Centre.

Looking west across the great ditch towards the Round Tower of Barnard Castle

Source: © Historic England / English Heritage Trust

Looking west across the great ditch towards the Round Tower of Barnard Castle. 

A visit combines well with the Bowes Museum or a Teesdale villages tour visiting High Force Waterfall.

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This column was first published in the 2024 Coaching Venues & Excursions Guide, offering GTOs and coach operators top tips and inspiration for the best coach visits. You can read this publication by clicking here.