The Castle

The Castle

Market Cross

Market Cross


Barnard Castle is a market town in Teesdale, County Durham, England. It is named after the castle around which it was built. It is the main settlement in the Teesdale area, and is a popular tourist destination. The Bowes Museum has the best collection of European fine and decorative arts in the North of England, housed in a magnificent 19th-century French-style chateau. Its most famous exhibit is the 18th-century Silver Swan automaton, though art includes work by Goya and El Greco. Barnard Castle sits on the north bank of the River Tees, opposite Startforth and 21 miles (34 km) south-west of the county town of Durham. Nearby towns include Bishop Auckland to the north-east, Darlington to the east and Richmond in North Yorkshire to the south-east.

Before the Norman conquest the upper half of Teesdale had been combined into an Anglo-Norse estate which was centred upon the ancient village of Gainford and mortgaged to the Earls of Northumberland. The first Norman Bishop of Durham, Bishop Walcher, was murdered in 1080. This led to the surrounding country being attacked and laid waste by the Norman overlords.

Further rebellion in 1095 caused the king, William II, to break up the Earldom of Northumberland into smaller baronies. The Lordship of Gainford was given to Guy de Balliol. The earthwork fortifications of the castle were re-built in stone by his successor, Bernard de Balliol I during the latter half of the 12th century, giving rise to the town's name. The castle passed down through the Balliol family (of which the Scottish king, John Balliol, was the most important member) and then into the possession of Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick. King Richard III inherited it through his wife, Anne Neville, but it fell into ruins in the century after his death.

The remains of the castle are a Grade I listed building, whilst the chapel in the outer ward is Grade II* listed. Both sets of remains are now in the care of English Heritage and open to the public.

Walter Scott frequently visited his friend John Sawrey Morritt at Rokeby Hall and was fond of exploring Teesdale. He begins his epic poem Rokeby (1813) with a man standing on guard on the round tower of the Barnard Castle fortress.

Charles Dickens and his illustrator Hablot Browne (Phiz) stayed at the King's Head in Barnard Castle while researching his novel Nicholas Nickleby in the winter of 1837–38. He is said to have entered William Humphrey's clock-maker's shop, then opposite the hotel, and enquired who had made a certain remarkable clock. William replied that his boy Humphrey had done it. This seems to have prompted Dickens to choose the title "Master Humphrey's Clock" for his new weekly, in which The Old Curiosity Shop and Barnaby Rudge appeared.

William Wordsworth, Daniel Defoe, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hilaire Belloc, Bill Bryson and the artist J M W Turner have also visited the town.

The Bowes Museum, housed in a chateau-like building, was founded by John Bowes and his wife Josephine, and is of national status. It contains an El Greco, paintings by Goya, Canaletto, Boucher, Fragonard and a collection of decorative art. A great attraction is the 18th century silver swan automaton, which periodically preens itself, looks round and appears to catch and swallow a fish.

John Bowes lived at nearby Streatlam Castle (now demolished). His Streatlam stud never had more than ten breeding mares at one time, but produced no fewer than four Derby winners in twenty years. The last of these, "West Australian", was the first racehorse to win the Triple Crown (1853).

Although never a big manufacturing centre, in the 18th century industry centred on hand loom wool weaving, and in the early 19th century the principal industry was spinning and the manufacture of shoe thread.

** – Visiting the Castle – **

There is no car parking available at the site. The nearest parking (not managed by English Heritage) is located in the town itself. There is some 2 hours-free parking in the town, as well as pay-and-display parking in the central car parks. The nearest about 500 metres away from the castle. Visitors with limited mobility may be set down at the main gate.

Food And Drink. Hot and cold drinks, ice-cream and a selection of small snacks are available. You are welcome to bring a picnic to eat in the grounds which have fantastic views over the Tees Gorge. There are some picnic benches on site and in the garden. There is a shop selling a selection of English Heritage gifts and themed souvenirs, including toys, books, drinks and small snacks.

There is one disabled/unisex toilet behind the shop. Dogs on leads are welcome, as are assistance dogs. There is a dog bowl outside the shop.

Gardens. Sensory Garden containing scented plants and tactile objects. Suitable for disabled access. Plenty of room to run and play, ball games allowed but please be considerate of other visitors. Kites allowed. Level access with ramps in places. Fairly smooth grass and compacted gravel paths. There are braille guidebooks available.


Location : Flatts Rd, Scar Top, Barnard Castle DL12 8PR

Transport: Bishop Auckland (National Rail) then bus. Bus: Arriva services 75 and 76; Classic service 352; Hodgson services 70, 71, 72, 73, 79 and 79X; Cumbria Classic 572; Scarlet Band services 83, 84, 95 and 96.

Opening Times: April - October, 10:00 to 18:00 otherwise weekends, 10:00 to 16:00.

Tickets: Adults £5.90;   Children (5-17) £3.50 ;   Concessions £5.30.

Parking: see above.

Tel: 01833 638 212


Bowes Museum

Bowes Museum

Silver Swan

Silver Swan


** – Bowes Museum – **

The Bowes Museum has a nationally renowned art collection and is situated in the town of Barnard Castle, Teesdale, County Durham. The museum contains paintings by El Greco, Francisco Goya, Canaletto, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and François Boucher, together with a sizable collection of decorative art, ceramics, textiles, tapestries, clocks and costumes, as well as older items from local history.

The early works of French glassmaker Émile Gallé were commissioned by Joséphine, wife of the founder John Bowes. A great attraction is the 18th-century Silver Swan automaton, which periodically preens itself, looks round and appears to catch and swallow a fish.

The Bowes Museum was purpose-built as a public art gallery for John Bowes and his wife Joséphine Benoîte Coffin-Chevallier, Countess of Montalbo, who both died before it opened in 1892. Bowes was the illegitimate son of John Bowes, the 10th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne.

It was designed with the collaboration of two architects, the French architect Jules Pellechet and John Edward Watson of Newcastle. The building is in a grand French style within landscaped gardens, an early account described it as "... some 500 feet in length by 50 feet high, and is designed in the French style of the First Empire. Its contents are priceless, consisting of unique Napoleon relics, splendid picture galleries, a collection of old china, not to be matched anywhere else in the world, jewels of incredible beauty and value; and, indeed, a wonderful and rare collection of art objects of every kind."

Among those with less favourable opinions was Nikolaus Pevsner, who considered it to be "... big, bold and incongruous, looking exactly like the town hall of a major provincial town in France. In scale it is just as gloriously inappropriate for the town to which it belongs (and to which it gives some international fame) as in style". The building was begun in 1869 and was reputed to have cost £100,000. Bowes and his wife left an endowment of £125,000 and a total of 800 paintings. Their collection of European fine and decorative arts amounted to 15,000 pieces.

A major redevelopment of the Bowes Museum began in 2005. To date, improvements have been made to visitor facilities (shop, cafe and toilets); galleries (new Fashion and Textile gallery, Silver gallery and English Interiors gallery); and study/learning facilities. The three art galleries, on the second floor of the museum, were updated at the same time. The museum hosts an internationally significant programme of exhibitions, recently featuring works by Monet, Raphael, Turner, Sisley, Gallé, William Morris, and Toulouse-Lautrec.

The BBC announced in 2013 that a Portrait of Olivia Boteler Porter was a previously unknown Anthony van Dyck painting. It had been found in the Bowes Museum storeroom by art historian Dr. Bendor Grosvenor who had observed it on-line at the Your Paintings web site. The painting itself was covered in layers of varnish and dirt, and had not been renovated. It was originally thought to be a copy, and valued at between £3,000 to £5,000. Christopher Brown, director of the Ashmolean Museum, confirmed it was a van Dyck after it had been restored.

** – Silver Swan – **

The Silver Swan is an automaton dating from the 18th Century and is housed in the Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle. It was acquired by John Bowes, the museum's founder, from a Parisian jeweler in 1872. The swan, which is life size, is a clockwork driven device that includes a music box. The swan sits in a "stream" that is made of glass rods and is surrounded by silver leaves. Small silver fish can be seen "swimming" in the stream.

When the clockwork is wound the music box plays and the glass rods rotate giving the illusion of flowing water. The swan turns its head from side to side and also preens itself. After a few moments the swan notices the swimming fish and bends down to catch and eat one. The swan's head then returns to the upright position and the performance, which lasts about 32 seconds, is over. To help preserve the mechanism the swan is only operated once each day at 2pm. The mechanism was designed and built by John Joseph Merlin (1735–1803) in conjunction with the London inventor James Cox (1723–1800) in 1773.

The swan was described in a 1773 Act of Parliament as being 3 feet (0.91 m) in diameter and 18 feet (5.49 m) high. This would seem to indicate that at one time there was more to the swan than remains today as it is no longer that high. It is said that there was originally a waterfall behind the swan, which was stolen while it was on tour – this could possibly explain the height which is now 'missing'.

It is known that the swan was sold several times and was shown at the World's Fair (Exposition Universelle (1867)) held in Paris, France. The American novelist Mark Twain observed the swan and recorded his observation in a chapter of the Innocents Abroad, writing that the swan "had a living grace about his movement and a living intelligence in his eyes." The Bowes Museum believes that the Swan is their best known artefact, and it is the basis of the museum's logo.

** – Visiting – **

  • Parks and Gardens.
  • The gardens were originally designed by John and Joséphine Bowes and the formal parterre garden complements this unique building. Today you can explore acres of parkland, enjoy a picnic or go for a peaceful stroll around the grounds, where there are specimen trees from all over the world. There is also a new childrens' play area for families to enjoy which includes a climbing frame, balancing log and bars, a slide, large bucket swing, stepping stones and a bridge beam.

    The woodland walk has been enhanced with new wheelchair and buggie accessible paths. Woodland areas have been reinvigorated and seasonal planting increased. The park is more attractive to wildlife with many bird and bat boxes. Wooden totem poles carved by Dave Gross are placed at the entrance to the children's play area, and the redeveloped park was opened by David Bellamy OBE in September 2012.

  • Café Bowes.
  • The acclaimed Café Bowes is a superb place to spoil yourself, either whilst visiting the Museum or simply as a stand alone dining destination. Café Bowes serves high quality fare, featuring locally sourced ingredients. They are renowned for their homemade cakes and scones, and friendly efficient service. In addition to their lunchtime menu, breakfast, light bites and afternoon tea are available.
  • View the Menu.
  • Groups and Coaches.
  • The Bowes Museum welcomes groups and coaches, and has a dedicated Groups Co-ordinator to help you plan a fantastic day out, designed especially for your group. For more details about their Groups offers and menus go here. Entrance to Café Bowes is free of charge, you do not need to be a paying visitor to the Museum, and it is open daily from 10.00. Last orders 4.30. Closed only 25, 26 December and 1 January.

    ** – Access and Facilities – **

    The Bowes Museum welcomes all visitors with disabilitithei and our friendly staff will do everything possible to ensure a hassle free and enjoyable expeience. However, access to and around the building can be complicated as the Museum was built in the 19th century and is Grade 1 lTheyd. We do have a range of accessible services including wheelchair loan fac andlities, wheelchair access to most areas and If you have any special access requirements or questions please contact the Museum before your visit. You can call them on 01833 690606 or email them at

  • Arrival by Car.
  • The Bowes Museum is situated in the historic market town of Barnard Castle, County Durham. (Please note: the Museum is not situated in the nearby village of Bowes). 4 accessible parking bays are located directly behind the museum building towards the eastern rear corner of the building and within 15 metres of the accessible entrance. Visitors may be dropped off on the terrace immediately outside the main entrance; however the Museum asks that the entrance and the perimeter road are not blocked in order to allow for access by emergency services vehicles.

    From the A1 take the A66 westbound at Scotch Corner interchange ( just south of Darlington). After approximately 11 miles, and just after Greta Bridge, signs will indicate a right turn towards the town of Barnard Castle. Follow this road for approximately 3 miles, crossing the River Tees via Abbey Bridge, to reach Barnard Castle. As you approach Barnard Castle, signs will indicate The Bowes Museum on the right hand side of the road.

    From the M6 follow the A66 eastbound from Penrith via Brough and Bowes. At Bowes follow the A67 into Barnard Castle (about 4 miles) and cross the River Tees via the County Bridge. Continue along this road and up the steep bank towards the round stone Market Cross.Turn right at the cross into Newgate and the museum is about 400m further and on your left.

    If travelling south via the A68, stay on this road until you reach West Auckland where you should take the A688 towards Barnard Castle. On arrival in Barnard Castle take the 2nd exit from the mini roundabout near the petrol station and follow this road through the centre of Barnard Castle, past the cobbled market place, until you reach the round stone Market Cross. Turn left here into Newgate and the museum is about 400m on your left.

    If travelling from Durham via Bishop Auckland take the A688 from Bishop Auckland towards West Auckland and continue on this road to Barnard Castle. On arrival in Barnard Castle take the 2nd exit from the mini roundabout near the petrol station and follow this road through the centre of Barnard Castle, past the cobbled market place, until you reach the round stone Market Cross. Turn left here into Newgate and the museum is about 400m on your left.

    If travelling from Darlington take the A67 via Gainford. On arrival in Barnard Castle take the first exit from the mini roundabout near the petrol station and follow this road through the centre of Barnard Castle, past the cobbled market place, until you reach the round stone Market Cross. Turn left here into Newgate and the museum is about 400m on your left.

  • Arrival by Public Transport.
  • The nearest railway station to The Bowes Museum is Darlington (17 miles). Situated on the East Coast Main Line, the station is approximately 2.5 hours by train from London, or 35 minutes from Newcastle. Bus services run regularly to Barnard Castle from Darlington. Arriva services 75 and 76 leave for Barnard Castle from stand M in Tubwell Row at half hourly intervals and Compass Royston service 70 leaves from stand H, also in Tubwell Row. Tubwell Row is a 10 minute walk from the rail station. Taxis are available at the rail station.

    Bishop Auckland rail station is 16 miles from Barnard Castle. To travel from Bishop Auckland by bus, Arriva service 8 leaves from Bondgate in Bishop Auckland at 2 hourly intervals.

    To travel from Richmond in North Yorkshire, Hodgson's service 79 leaves Richmond market place at 2 hourly intervals.

  • Entrance and Reception.
  • There is a terrace laid with gravel at the front of the building. To avoid the gravel visitors can take a York stone path which runs around the perimeter of the terrace and across to the Museum’s entrance. Four broad steps then take you up to the main doors. An alternative accessible entrance is located at the East end of the building for those with mobility issues, fitted with an intercom system that links to reception. Once reception is aware, a member of staff will direct you into the building and the front desk.

    Large Print information is available from the Reception desk. Gallery plans (free) and Museum guidebooks (£4.99) can be obtained from the Reception desk. The Museum has two different sized wheelchairs available for use. They can be found in the main entrance area. It is recommended that you book in advance to ensure availability.

  • Public Areas – General information.
  • The Museum is served by a grand staircase to both public gallery levels. It has handrails to both sides. A lift is available for those who prefer to use it. The floors of most of the galleries are constructed of wood, laid in a herringbone pattern, and are part of the Museum’s heritage listing. Due to the age of the building, the floors do move a little when walked upon. On the first floor, there are areas of flooring constructed of small, multi-coloured ‘terrazzo’ marble chips. Carpet is also used in small areas.

    Many of the galleries have rope or elastic cord barriers at about 30 cm high from the floor around the displays to help protect the collections. On the ground floor, there is level access to the Reception Desk, The Streatlam Galleries, Shop and Café Bowes. There is seating provided throughout the public galleries.

    Lighting levels can vary in different parts of the building and at different times of the year. Due to the sensitive nature of some objects in the collection they must only be displayed in very low levels of light, which can be an issue for visually impaired visitors. Some rooms allow daylight to enter, the strength of which can vary depending on the month of the year (the Museum is South-facing).

  • Public toilets.
  • The Museum has fully accessible public toilets on the ground and first floors. Pictograms are used to identify the toilets.

  • Outdoor Facilities.
  • The Museum is set in beautiful grounds. In some areas there are gravel pathways and steps which may present an access issue. The Museum has tried to make alternative access where possible. There are park benches at regular intervals throughout most of the grounds.

    ‘Bags of Fun’ (£5 refundable deposit) containing games and an Orienteering Trail (free of charge) are available from reception during opening hours. The Museum has a picnic area to the East side of the Museum in front of the tennis court. Access to this area is obtained by small steps. The Museum grounds contain tennis courts maintained by Barnard Castle Tennis Club. These courts can be booked and paid for at the Museum reception. There are several routes or pathways throughout the attraction suitable for visitors with limited mobility and for wheelchair users.

  • There is an audible fire alarm system throughout the building, and audio and visual fire alarms in The Streatlam Galleries on the Grounloor.
  • Glass doors are marked with indicator strips to increase their visibility.
  • Large Print labels are made available in the Painting Galleries.
  • Guide and assistance dogs are welcome to the Museum. A water bowl can be made available from Reception. Dogs on leads are welcome in the grounds.


    Location : The Bowes Museum, Barnard Castle, Co Durham DL12 8NP

    Transport: Darlington (National Rail) then bus (see above). Bus: see above.

    Opening Times: Daily, 10:00 to 17:00.

    Tickets: Adults £14.00;   Children (5 - 18) £5.00;   Concessions £13.00   Students £6.00.   Carers and Children under 5 are Free.

    Tel: 01833 690 606