Raby Castle’s new curator Julie Biddlecombe-Brown cannot wait to uncover some of the untold stories behind the fascinating family collections. Here she tells us about the knowledge she brings to the role and what she is looking forward to most about being part of the Raby team.

How long have you worked as a curator?

I have been a curator since the mid 1990s. Before joining Raby I was exhibitions curator at Durham University, a role I held for 9 years. During my time there we arranged many fascinating exhibitions including the Lindisfarne Gospels in 2013, which was a huge step change for the county and really helped to put our region on the historical map.

Tell us about your first impressions of Raby Castle

I’m a local girl so I grew up in Durham and have driven past the Castle many times. It never fails to take my breath away and I don’t think that sense of wonder will ever wear off. My memories from visiting as a child are dominated by the armoury in the Entrance Hall which really grabbed my attention. I moved back to the North East around 14 years ago after working all over the country and visited the Castle again on a beautiful sunny day. The  thing that really struck me then was Raby’s idyllic setting and the vista of the Castle. It is one of the few castles in England where the surroundings are still open and unspoilt and we can see it as it would have been viewed centuries ago.

Do you have a favourite period in history?

Working in exhibitions I have become used to researching many different eras and aspects of history. The thing that matters most is the enthusiasm I can bring to help engage audiences with the stories behind the topics and this is what I really enjoy.

Has anything in particular caught your attention since you arrived at Raby Castle?

I have been really struck by the enthusiasm and passion of the people here. The volunteers and guides are so knowledgeable and they’re fantastic at communicating Raby’s past with the public.

What have you already discovered about Raby’s history?

Pockets of research have been done and there is so much I want to follow up on. I am looking forward to digging around in the archives to uncover more untold stories. One of the things I will be working on is pulling together all the information that already exists into a database so that it is much more accessible.

As you embark on your new role what are your priorities?

The collections are amazing and I can’t wait to find out more about how they came to be at Raby Castle. For every piece of art and every decision made, right down to which wallpaper was chosen for a particular room, there is a story behind it. I am fascinated to find out how and why these things have come into the family collection, whether it was personal taste or fashion, and by exploring these things I hope to shed light on life in the Castle and the people who have lived here over the years.  The process of research never stops and by exploring different angles and perspectives we can build a wonderful picture of life at Raby over the centuries.

To find out more about our team at Raby, view our other blogs below, or visit our vacancies page to see our latest opportunities.

Meet our Events Executive Sophie Brown

Meet our Estates Ranger Andy Gibson

Meet one of our Volunteers

Meet Mike our Children’s Castle Tour Guide

The High Force Hotel in scenic Upper Teesdale has completed the final phase of a six-month refurbishment programme led by Lady Barnard and designed to enhance its country inn heritage.

Work on the ground floor bar, dining and reception areas was completed during the autumn and introduced traditional framed art prints, period furniture and the Raby Estate tweed to the interior décor scheme. The final phase of the programme completed last week, has transformed the hotel’s six boutique ensuite guest bedrooms, each one individually decorated to include antique pieces of furniture.

Claire Jones, Head of Leisure and Tourism for Raby said; “The High Force Hotel is in such a breathtaking location opposite England’s highest waterfall and within the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and our ambition has been to create a restful and stylish rural retreat in this very special place.

“We were keen to retain the heritage features of the building, whilst adding modern touches to bathrooms and guest bedrooms, creating a cosy but traditional feel,” she added.

Just a stone’s throw from the magnificent High Force Waterfall and with miles of country walks through
scenic Upper Teesdale on the doorstep, the High Force Hotel is well known for its warm welcome and
wholesome food.

The fully dog friendly hotel is part of the Raby Estates and is run by enthusiastic managers Andrew Lindsay and George Dunn, along with their dog Toby. Andrew and George have been heavily involved in the refurbishment and developing the new menus.

Andrew said: “The new look bar, restaurant and reception areas have gone down really well with customers and we have established quite a reputation as a Sunday lunch destination, with visitors enjoying a stroll across to the waterfall either before or afterwards.

“We have also had excellent feedback from our first overnight guests in our refurbished rooms and we are looking forward to introducing them to more visitors, both old and new over the coming months.”

Book a stay at High Force Hotel

Raby Castle’s Behind the Scenes Tours are a chance for visitors to step straight into rooms and corridors from a bygone era and glimpse rooms that have been locked for decades and suspended in time. We caught up with one of our Senior Guides Robert Hillary to discover why these special events are such an enthralling and unique experience and what visitors can expect.

What is different about the Castle’s Behind the Scenes Tours compared to a regular visit to the castle?

Visitors who come on our Behind the Scenes tours are usually quite speechless because they are literally stepping into the past. We go into rooms, stairways and corridors that the public never normally see and many of them have been untouched for years. It’s like waking up in a different age and you can almost sense the servants scurrying past.

Where does the Behind the Scenes tour take people?

Some of the most historic rooms such as the Hunters Gallery and bedrooms were created for the family in the mid 1700s and used during the 1800s but have been barely touched since. They are caught in time and you get a real feel for the lovely lifestyle that they had back in those days. There is such an air of mystery and excitement as we explore these rooms and others that were in regular use until even more recently.

What is your favourite part of the Behind the Scenes tour?

I love the whole place but my absolute favourites on the Behind the Scenes tours are the Billiard Room and the Duke’s Study. Both were frequented by Lord Barnard’s grandfather until his death in 1964 and the study still smells of tobacco when you walk in. As with the other rooms, you can close your eyes and imagine that you are back in the time when it was in regular use. Lord Barnard is keen to open up more of the Castle to the public and I think these tours are probably a sneak preview of some of the magic that awaits visitors in the future.

What can people expect to learn when they visit?

Whether people come for the Behind the Scenes tours or regular tours of the Castle we are able to give them a fascinating insight into Raby’s 1000 year history which began when it was part of the estate of King Canute between 1016 and 1035. One of the great appeals of the Castle is its art collection and when we go Behind the Scenes we have a chance to view many unseen paintings that are not part of the regular tours. The wonderful thing about Raby is that whatever people are interested in – art, silverware, porcelain, furniture, fabrics and history – they can find it here. Visitors love the fact that it is still family owned too.

Why do you love sharing Raby’s stories with visitors?

I was brought up in Barnard Castle so I have grown up with Raby Castle and have always had a fascination with it. I came here regularly as a child and brought my own children here over the years. However, it was when I brought my grandchildren here 12 years ago, just after I had retired, that I rediscovered my passion. I was fortunate that they were looking for guides at the time and I have been here ever since. I love seeing the reaction of visitors when they look around and hear tales from the past. Our visitors are always so fascinated and love to chat and share their own stories about Raby.

Behind the Scenes Tours of the Castle will be back in October. 


Volunteering at Raby Castle can be a rewarding and fascinating hobby and our volunteers play an important role in helping us build a sustainable future for this important historic site.Everyone on the Estate values the important contribution of time and enthusiasm that our volunteers give so generously and we are always pleased to hear about their own positive experiences of being part of the Estate team. We spoke to one of our volunteers Val about why she loves being part of the visitor experience at Raby Castle and how much she’s discovered about its rich history.

Val Fawcett has lived on the doorstep of Raby Castle, in Staindrop village, for many years and has always been fascinated by its history. When she spotted a leaflet in the local shop asking for volunteer stewards she knew it would be the perfect hobby for her.

“Raby is a big part of everyone’s lives around here and I have been a regular visitor over the years but there was so much about its past that I didn’t know, particularly about the family history,” says Val.

Val has a real interest in history and loves visiting cathedrals, churches and historic houses so she was thrilled to have the opportunity to go behind the scenes at Raby and learn all about the castle, its people and its past.

One of the things she remembers most about joining as a volunteer is the warmth of the team and the way she was made to feel welcome at Raby from the very first day.

“Everyone was so friendly and made me feel at ease straightaway,” she says. “The staff and other volunteers are all such lovely people and I really enjoyed getting to know them during training.”

The training itself has given Val a fascinating insight into life at the castle over the centuries.

“We were taken through the castle several times during our training, covering different subjects in detail. We learnt about the furniture, the paintings, the porcelain and much more. I have discovered so much and I am still learning every day. I love sharing some of the facts and stories with visitors and it’s so rewarding to be able to give them a glimpse of the castle’s past and bring its history to life.”

Our volunteer room stewards play an important role in creating an engaging and welcoming visitor experience and Val says she enjoys helping to answer people’s questions. She says  she particularly likes the fact that the volunteers move from room to room regularly, which means she can keep refreshing her knowledge of each part of the castle.

“I love all the rooms, there’s something unique and intriguing about all of them, but my absolute favourite is the kitchen. When you stand there and think that it was in continuous daily use for 600 years it’s quite remarkable. It must have been red hot in that room when all four fireplaces were burning.”

Val says she would recommend volunteering at Raby to anyone who is interested in history and being part of a team.

“It’s such a lovely place to be and the more I’m here, the more I learn. I feel involved and part of things, I enjoy chatting to people throughout the day and when I go home I’m full of it.

“If anyone is thinking about volunteering at Raby Castle I recommend they do it – if not, they’ll miss out on a wonderful experience.”

Find out more about volunteering at Raby Castle

There has been a Longhorn herd at the castle since the 1970s. Over the years our cattle have won numerous trophies at various agricultural shows and we have had a number of Breed Champions at the prestigious Great Yorkshire Show.

The herd was established and managed for many years by the late Peter Boylett whose hard work and dedication as farm manager at Raby Estates helped to create one of the country’s premier Longhorn herds here at the castle.

Longhorn cattle originate from the north of England and are well known for their easy-going temperament, hardiness and longevity.

Last summer we welcomed the arrival of a new bull, Raby Southfield Puma to our herd of Longhorn cattle at Raby Castle.

People tell us that they enjoy seeing the Longhorn cattle grazing in the castle grounds over the summer months. They are a welcome seasonal spectacle along with the deer in Raby Park and we feel they enrich the experience for our visitors.

Look out for the Longhorns when you’re visiting the castle this season.

Book a Castle, Park & Gardens ticket

Special interactive tours of the Castle for children were introduced for the first time this year at Raby, led by Mike our Friendly Footman. They have been a huge hit with families and they are back again for October Half Term 2019. We caught up with Mike to find out what visitors can expect from these fun events.

How are the children’s tours different to other tours of the Castle?

They are not a history lesson – although there will be plenty of tales from the past. These are fun events, full of activities and laughter. Time flies for the adults and the children and there is a chance for everyone to have a go at each activity, whether that’s sitting in the stocks or being knighted.

What will families see on the tour?

We start off in the coach house with the carriages and then walk up to the castle. Before we even go inside the gates there is plenty to talk about as we walk past the moat and through the gatehouse. There might even be a chance to play bows and arrows before exploring inside, where nobles and knights once lived.

Are you in character as Mike the Footman?

I am definitely not in character. If I was playing the role of footman I wouldn’t be able to identify with the children and their modern world. I can tell them how things were different back then when apps, phones, gadgets and games consoles didn’t exist. The costume adds to the sense of fun and makes me easy to spot as we make our way round the Castle.

What about the adults?

Children must be accompanied by an adult on the tour so I make sure I don’t leave them out. The activities are geared towards children and are most suited to 4 to 8-year-olds but I include enough interesting information for the adults to make sure they leave feeling that they’ve had a good time and learnt something too.

What is the most popular thing about the tours?

Children love all the activities and I find that a bit of toilet humour always goes down well with the children. They are fascinated by the horrors of medieval sanitation! Above all, I think it’s the fact that its light-hearted and interactive. I make sure I have fun and that means everyone else does too.

How to book

Children’s Tours of the Castle are available on selected dates during October Half Term 2019. The Castle will be closed to the public during October and November and will only be open for pre-booked Children’s Castle Tours and Behind the Scenes Tours.  To book a place on either of these events visit https://www.raby.co.uk/raby-castle/whats-on/.

To find out what other tours are on offer visit our Guided Tours page.

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