County Durham is home to many magnificent Castles, including Barnard Castle and Raby Castle, which are just a stones throw from one another.

Perched above the river Tees, the remains of the once imposing Barnard Castle, found in the Teesdale market town of the same name, can be seen from the riverbank.

Just a few miles away in Staindrop, is the magnificent Raby Castle, a popular visitor attraction, with extensive walled gardens and deer park. Impressive in their own right, there is much that links these two sites.

Barnard Castle, was built by the Balliol family who were given the land during the upheaval following the Norman Conquest. The castle had a succession of owners before passing into the hands of the Nevill family by marriage in the 15th century. The powerful Nevill family owned nearby Raby Castle among other vast properties and estates. With only seven miles between the two castles, both sites feature prominently in the story of the Wars of the Roses.

Richard Duke of Gloucester (who later became King Richard III) acquired the Lordship by marriage to Anne, the widow of Richard Neville, the Earl of Warwick (known as ‘the Kingmaker’). Richard had strong associations with County Durham and significant support in the north. His mother Cecily Nevill was born at Raby Castle, and his father Richard Duke of York was brought up there as a ward of the Earl of Westmorland. Barnard Castle became the favourite residence of Richard Duke of Gloucester who had planned to expand and develop the castle after becoming King. His plans never came to fruition as he was killed at the battle of Bosworth Field in 1485.

Along with Raby Castle, Barnard Castle remained under the ownership of the Nevill family until 1569 when their lands and property were confiscated by the Crown after the failed ‘Rising of the North’; a plot to dethrone the protestant Queen Elizabeth I and replace her with her Roman Catholic cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. Both castles remained the property of the Crown until they were sold to the courtier and MP, Sir Henry Vane the Elder in 1626. After this time, Barnard Castle, was gradually abandoned as a residence.

Raby Castle is one of the most intact castles in the North of England. Its completeness is of national significance as a largely single-phase structure, with one twelfth century survival (Bulmer’s Tower). Some of the stonework from Barnard Castle is thought to have been re-used in alterations and extensions at Raby. Writing in 1870 the Duchess of Cleveland’s Handbook for Raby Castle notes that an old inventory taken in 1593, describes Barnard Castle as “… bare of all furniture, and some of the locks of the doors carried away to Raby”. It would be fascinating to research whether these glimpses of Barnard Castle incorporated in Raby Castle can be traced.

The collections at Raby Castle also show many links with Barnard Castle. This little watercolour of Barnard Castle by an unknown artist shows the charming views of Barnard Castle that can be seen from the riverside, giving a sense of how impressive the original structure would have been.

The painting is displayed in one of the rooms at Raby Castle that visitors can experience as part of the ‘Behind the Scenes’ tour. Although the castle is currently closed, we look forward to welcoming visitors to find out more about the links between the two castles when we reopen to the public.

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While we’re staying at home we’ve been using our imaginations to escape on exciting adventures, exploring Castles, meeting Knights and Princesses, and encountering fearsome Dragons along the way. Here we share 5 of our favourite Castle inspired stories:


The Castle Mice by Michael Bond (Author), Emily Sutton (Illustrator)

This is one of our favourites! This beautifully illustrated book tells the story of the Perk family, a family of mice who live in a much-loved dolls house inside a Castle. Mr and Mrs Perk love living in the Castle with their 13 children, and their lives seem perfect, until one day the children decide to do a spot of spring cleaning which doesn’t quite go to plan. Don’t forget to see if you can find the Castle Mice in our interactive image on Facebook this May Half Term.


The Knight who said NO! by Lucy Rowland (Author), Kate Hindley (Illustrator)

Young Knight Ned is a lovely boy who always does exactly as he’s told, until one day when a strange feeling comes over him. This is a great story, particularly for little ones – it’s about finding friendship, understanding emotions and feeling a bit cross, and how doing good things can help you feel brighter.


The Cook and the King  by Julia Donaldson  (Author), David Roberts (Illustrator)

We love a good Julia Donaldson story, and her books are often used as inspiration for our popular story trails. From the author of The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom and the Snail and the Whale, comes the story of a hungry, and rather fussy King and his search for someone who can cook his food just the way he likes it. Cue Wobbly Bob, a hapless chef who’s scared of everything! But maybe he’s not quite as clueless as he makes out?


Sir Lilypad

by Anna Kemp (Author), Sara Ogilvie (Illustrator)

Sir Lilypad is the delightful tale of a small frog with big ambitions. Lilypad dreams of being a fierce brave knight but finds that no one seems to take him seriously. If only he could find a princess willing to give him a kiss!


The Princess and the Peas

by Caryl Hart  (Author), Sarah Warburton (Illustrator)

Lily-Rose May refuses to eat her peas.  Her Dad tries everything to get her to eat them but nothing works – fortunately the doctor knows just what to do. When Lily is diagnosed with Princess-itis, there’s nothing for it but for the little girl to go and live in the palace. But living the life of a princess might not be all it’s cracked up to be! This great rhyming story has a ‘book within a book’, and is great for anyone who doesn’t like eating their greens.


Why not have a go at writing your own Castle story for our story competition? Find out more

We hope you enjoy these stories as much as we have – we look forward to reading these and other stories with you when our Story Time sessions in the Stables Café resume.

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What better way to get to know more about local sights, scenery, history and wildlife than by downloading our fun family activity sheets?

Discover fascinating facts about Raby’s majestic Deer and Upper Teesdale’s graceful Curlews, test your observation skills with our Waterfall Wordsearch and have fun colouring in some of the familiar places and creatures of County Durham.

Our activity sheets are free to download. Simply click on the image to download it in PDF format.

We’d love you to share the link to this page with friends and family.

If you would like to be kept up to date with news, events and activities from Raby Castle and High Force you can sign up to our newsletter here.

We’d love to see pictures of your own creations. Share them with us on Facebook.


Raby Deer Activity Sheet (click image to download)


Curlew Activity Sheet (click image to download)


Waterfall Wordsearch (click image to download)

As the use of carriages increased from the late 17th Century, the Grand Entrance Hall at Raby Castle underwent a major transformation.  In this Feature Focus, our curator Julie Biddlecombe-Brown shares the stories of visitors arriving at Raby’s Grand Entrance, and how this magnificent arrival at Raby Castle has been featured in recent filming at Raby Castle.

Raby is surely one of the most impressive intact castles in the North of England. Situated near the village of Staindrop in County Durham it was built in the 14th century by the powerful Nevill family. Originally moated and accessed via a drawbridge, the Castle was built as a palace fortress.

The Nevills lived at Raby until 1569 when, after the failure of the Rising of the North, the Castle and its lands were forfeited to the Crown. In 1626, Sir Henry Vane the Elder, Member of Parliament and important member of Charles I’s household, purchased Raby from the Crown. The Vane family still own Raby, the present owner being the 12th Lord Barnard.

Today the stables, coach house, coach and carriage collection are popular with visitors, providing a snapshot of life before the advent of the combustion engine. Before railways, travelling to Raby Castle from London could take four days, with horses being changed every twenty miles. The unpredictable weather of the north-east and the varied condition of the road network meant that long journey could be uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. Visiting the castle in the late 1700s the dramatist George Colman recalled;

“… it rained heavily and incessantly, and we had met with delay, and petty accidents, and vexations, at every turn. In the last seven miles, after sunset, a fog arose; one of the horses cast a shoe, and his rider dismounted to grope for it in the mud and in the dark…  we were chilly, hungry, impatient, comfortless, sitting dinnerless in a post-chaise, and waiting the issue of a hunt after a horse-shoe”.

His arrival was a decidedly more cheerful experience as the chaise entered the Castle’s impressive Entrance Hall. Originally a medieval structure, it was adapted by architect John Carr for the 2nd Earl of Darlington to celebrate the coming-of-age of his heir in 1787.

Pevsner describes this alteration to the building as “an unorthodox transformation”. It was driven by the development and increasing use of carriages from the late-17th century. These vehicles had become too large to turn in the castle’s medieval inner courtyard. Rather than enlarge the courtyard, Carr adopted a “drive-through” approach, thereby eliminating the need for turning space. To do this, he created a carriageway that ran right through the Castle’s Grand Entrance Hall, exiting through a gateway below the Chapel. His scheme resulted in significant alterations to the 14th century building; the Barbican was demolished and additional height was achieved in the Entrance Hall by raising the floor of the first-floor Chapel and Barons’ Hall. On the ground floor, Carr created a vaulted ceiling supported by stunning octagonal scagliola pillars.

This transformative scheme made it possible for carriages to drive straight through the hall, eliminating the need to turn in the courtyard and providing an impressive welcome. Picking up on Coleman’s account;

“As we passed through the outer gateway of the Castle the vapour was dense upon the moat, and we were enveloped in the night-fog … but, lo! On the opening of a massive door, a gleam of light flashed upon us: crack went the whips, as we dashed forward at full trot, and in a moment drew up, not to a piazza, nor a vestibule, nor a flight of steps in a cold courtyard, but before a huge blazing fire in a spacious hall. The magical effect of this sudden transition, from destitution to luxury, has never occurred to me anywhere else…”.

His wonder at this lavish and unexpected welcome was echoed by Sally Stevenson. The wife of the American Ambassador was the guest and a good friend of 1st Duke and Duchess of Cleveland. Writing in 1838 she describes,

“…astonished travellers find themselves in a magnificent Gothic Hall, the carriage way passes immediately through it, the roof of which is arched and supported by 6 pillars – on each side of the carriage way … there are two fire-places, and when the Hall is lighted up by 4 large and brilliant chandeliers.

… The carriages & horses with innumerable liveried servants, headed up by the groom of the Chambers, the lights, the splendour and above all the novelty is quite bewildering and makes on almost fancy themselves in an enchanted castle”.

The alterations to provide the ultimate arrival experience were less popular with one of Raby Castle’s later residents. Writing about the Entrance Hall alterations in 1860, the 4th Duchess of Cleveland quips,

“I have said more than enough of the holy horror with which I regard tampering with ancient buildings” although she does concede, “It is such a hospitable welcome to all-comers”.

Raby Castle’s unique entrance was recreated in recent years when the Castle served as a location for filming. In 2016 the ITV television series Victoria saw carriages delivering ‘royal guests’ to the Entrance Hall once more, including actress Jenna Coleman in the title role, experiencing a similar welcome to her 18th century namesake.

Julie Biddlecombe-Brown


©Peter Atkinson Photography

The Entrance to Raby Castle through the impressive 14th Century Nevill Gateway led to a small inner courtyard with insufficient space to turn the increasingly impressive coaches and carriages of the 18th century. Rather than enlarge the courtyard, a ‘drive-through’ approach was adopted by the 2nd Earl of Darlington’s architect, John Carr.


©Raby Estates

The Entrance Hall today still provides a warm welcome for visitors. Here the State Coach built for the Duke of Cleveland c.1810-20 utilised the ‘drive through’ arrangement.


©Raby Estates

The Entrance Hall at Raby Castle depicted in a watercolour of 1858 shows comfortable carpet runners and a roaring fire to welcome visitors.

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During lockdown the Raby Estate has been turning a different one of its prominent landscapes and buildings blue digitally every Thursday in support of the NHS, Carers and other Key Workers.

With the help of our friends at Fundamental Design and Marketing we have transformed some of our most iconic images to honour all those who have been working hard throughout the coronavirus crisis to keep us safe.

We have shared images of Raby Castle and High Force Waterfall in County Durham and the Wrekin, which is part of the Raby Estate in Shropshire.

The campaign has been shared by hundreds of people and was featured by Historic Houses as part of their Historic Houses Go Blue campaign.

We have also been actively promoting the government’s message to Stay at Home, Save Lives and Protect the NHS and by turning these images blue digitally and sharing them on our social media channels we are ensuring that everyone can enjoy them from the comfort of their own home without having to go outside.

Thanks also to Gary Lintern Photography who has provided some of the images for us to use.

Here are a few of the images we have been sharing during our campaign  #ThankYouNHS #ClapforCarers #ClapforNHS #ClapforKeyworkers

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