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Published: August 10th 2020
They say, if you fall off a horse, it is best to get straight back on. Is it for our benefit to overcome our natural fear or is to show the horse, we are in charge? I currently feel like I have fallen of the mythical travelblog horse. It has been nearly 5 months now and I haven't so much as written a single word, except in an employment setting or taken the camera out of the case. COVID 19 has meant it hasn't been possible to journey far for quite a significant period and even if you did, there wasn't a great deal to do at any destination. There was certainly no football to watch and anybody who has read any of my previous blogs will realise that has a significant impact on my life. Football remains off limits in any meaningful way at present. As a person who can easily only have a close season of 4 weeks or so, I ruefully reflect on not having been to a match since early March. A few pre-season games were available from 1st August onwards, but all mainly at a low level where clubs play on something akin to just a
field and not in a recognized football ground with turnstiles. TFB put paid to any tentative plans for my weekend on Tuesday 4 August, when the FA released new clarity on their original guidance. It basically meant all clubs were forced behind closed doors. All this aside, I thought carefully about where to recommence my Traveblog. There were some air routes opening up, but logic and health caution suggested staying in the UK. At the planning stage, even Spain was on the option list for would be foreign excursions. The "spike" or start of the "2nd wave" soon put paid to that notion, unless you wanted to risk it with no travel insurance. The choice was narrowed to the UK, assuming you were happy to cross Blackburn, Bradford, Leicester, Preston and Aberdeen off your intended list of destinations.
One of the biggest controversies in the UK during the "lockdown" was the decision by a "Senior Advisor" to TFB to isolate himself and his family at a "cottage" on his parents farm in County Durham. A "cottage", it later transpired that had seen a few shortcuts in the recognised planning process. The vast majority were following the clear rules laid
down and restricted our outings to essential food shopping and a spot of daily exercise in our immediate locality. However when you set the rules, it transpired that you could also interpret them in a different way and set of a change of events leading to a 270 mile journey out of London. As part of this unique interpretation of isolation, it was also deemed within the rules to have a drive out to Banard Castle to see if your eyesight was good enough to drive! Is there any logic to this mindset? If the eyesight wasn't up to it, perhaps that would have been noticeable after a few hundred yards. It seemed fiction at its finest and inspired by the elaborate tales, I decided Barnard Castle would be a great place to recommence my Traveblog. "Barney" is often overlooked, but the unexpected lockdown visitor had rekindled much interest. A multitude of reviews on social media mimicked an advert for a well known opticians, as eye sight test graphics were overlaid on the photos of the 12th century castle.
It was a warm August morning, when I set off for Barney. Arguably, too warm. A forecast temperature of up
to 25 degrees Celsius prompted most to head in the opposite direction. The coast would be in fashion today, as the rest of the country tried hard to recreate the Bournemouth version of social distancing on the sands. Barney lies in the valley of the River Tees. A strong point and river crossing, the original castle settlement branched out into a thriving market town. It has links to the NEPSR. The original entrance portico from their 1st railway station still sits in the Valley Gardens, having being removed to the seaside in 1863. I descended into town and parked up. A great many head straight through towards arguably the greatest attraction, Bowes Museum. We'll return to that latter. At first glance, Barney is just a nice place to live. The relative proximity to the A66, A1 and Scotch Corner gives access to employment. However, look a little closer and one finds a huge GlaxoSmithKline plant tucked away on the road to Middleton in Teesdale. I say tucked away - it employs 1200 people. The potential vaccine for the COVID 19 pandemic could be under development just under my nose. One of the more unusual conspiracy theories floated for the decision
of the "Senior Advisor" to pick the town for his eyesight test was some form of secret mission to the plant. Funnily enough, 2 days later - who should sign a Government contract to manufacture a vaccine? Yes, you've guessed it - GSK.
My next port of call was the cricket club. The North Yorkshire South Durham League is a cut above village green status - many an international Test star has cut their teeth on the green wickets in a County Durham summer. The setting was tranquil enough, except for the bleating of sheep and clinking of gates closing from the adjacent livestock market. A flock were busy being loaded on to a transporter for their journey to Scotland. They weren't going quietly. An old pavilion occupied the far side of the ground. The nearside was dominated by a very swanky club house, opened by none other than Sir Ian Botham. Beefy is best remembered for his spell with Somerset, but wound down his playing career helping Durham establish their County status. The clubhouse and pavilion was inscribed with "Barnard Castle Cricket Club. Established 1832". They were slow starters. The first NYSD title was only clinched in 2016.
I noted a couple of fledgling Yorkshire CCC players had been recruited in to assist the Premier Division club in pursuing more glory in this shortened COVID 19 hit season. I walked back to Galgate - a wide tree lined road, which heads down towards the town centre and the Castle. The road is lined by fine properties, now mostly converted into business premises. The finest of them all is the house, where a blue plaque confirms that it was once the property of Roderick Murchison. Murchison was an ex Army Officer turned geologist, who patronized various expeditions to the far flung parts of the world. The expeditions resulted in his name being transplanted across the globe. The 2nd longest river in Western Australia, a town in New Zealand, a Sound in Greenland and a waterfall on the Upper Nile in Uganda are among those named after him. It turns out that this was the home of the man, who was twice the President of the Royal Geological Society. I regretted the fact that I had not known these details, as I gazed through Nature's Window at the Murchison Gorge on a foray to Kalbarri, WA, many moons ago. Today,
David Harper antiques shop
Muchison's house is a legal office. A small note fluttered from the empty bottles on the doorstep. "No milk today". In a world where old traditions are disappearing, it was good to see Barney was still supporting their milkmen.
I had derived my Murchison information from the blue plaque, so it was sad to see that 99% just walked straight past with no interest. Barnard Castle likes a blue plaque, although it clearly helps when distinguished characters have either resided or passed through the town over the years. I downloaded a map with a route of such plaques in town for further guidance, as I wandered. I crossed over towards the imposing Methodist Church on the corner and headed towards the Castle from which h the town derives its name. The Castle was built as a Norman fortress and named after Bernard Baliol - hence the name, which has been corrupted to Barnard. Staycation Britain was much in evidence, sitting on the benches in the sunshine opposite the main entrance.
I walked down to the River Tees below in pursuit of a photograph. The steep descent had put most off and they settled for eating their ice creams
Former Kings Head Hotel - Charles Dickens lodged here in 1838
up top. This is a very different River Tees, to the one most associate with heavy industry downstream near Middlesbrough. The waters are fast flowing. Signs warn of the danger of the strong currents, despite the relatively shallow appearance. I paused by a weir. An information board highlighted the potential wildlife and fish that inhabitant this stretch. Atlantic Salmon, Brown Trout, Otters, all received a mention. I waited 5 minutes and watched. I saw a seagull! He too had probably given up on the coast. The leftover fish and chips probably taste just as good in Barney, as they do in Whitby and there is likely to be a lot less competition from your peers. I crossed the footbridge further upstream, from where the best vantage points of the Castle are to be seen. The sun was at the wrong angle, but provided a nice reflection in the waters by the weir. The bridge was empty except for an older couple, who were revisiting the town as part of the new wave of visitors inspired by the "Senior Advisor" effect. "We came a couple of years ago. It rained all day", they advised. "The view of the Castle looks a
Roderick Murchison House
lot like Newark", they added. I can confirm that this is a much better view. I was now on the south bank of the river and technically out of town. This is Startforth, but only the sign gives it away and it merges with the larger neighbour. I paused on the road bridge back into town and watched what a HGV with continental number plates would make of the single file, camera controlled crossing with a weight limit. He eventually realised the errors of following a satnav and turned back for the A66 and Scotch Corner. The current Grade 1 listed bridge dates from 1596. It was down here that the "Senior Advisor" was first spotted in lockdown times. In blue plaque tradition, a temporary record of events was put up. I could find no sign of it today. The story goes that it was just a random drive to sit on a bench at this destination. There is another story that suggests the Grandfather of the said "Senior Advisor" lived at one point just across the river. Coincidence? Who really knows?
I walked on and turned back towards the river on Thorngate. I admired some of the renovated
houses leading down towards the old mill on the riverside. I chewed the fat on the merits of one with a local inhabitant, who had swapped her native South West for the delights of South West Durham. The mill was used up until the mid 1980s by the Northern Chamois Leather Company to manufacture protective clothing for the steel industry and here was me thinking chamois leathers were only good for the car washing business. The mill is now some expensive looking riverside apartments. The lower end of town is dominated by antique dealers. A cluster of shops occupy the business premises on The Bank. The TV personality, artist and antiques dealer, David Harper, has his shop here. He was formerly too busy on his TV projects - Bargain Hunt, Antiques Roadtrip etc - in the pre COVID period, but has now re-established the shop business. The old tenant has gone and the shopfront has had a makeover. It simply states 'David Harper" in bold red letters on a white fascia. Alas with many of the neighbouring shops, the closed signs were on display. An old, red telephone box stands adjacent. He will surely get a.blue plaque one day. The
blue plaque on the Old Well Inn opposite suggested that the Durham Militia refused to be billeted there and the landlord was charged with heinous crimes for keeping an unfit house. An old couple studied the menu of the Blagraves restaurant, which is reportedly the oldest building in town. They concluded that there "nothing there for us". Lord Protector and scourge of royalty, Oliver Cromwell, thought differently and dined there on his way through town. He doesn't appear to have left a review on TripAdvisor.
The octagonal Market Hall sitting in the centre of the road at the top of The Bank dates from 1747. The 2 storey building contains a civic chamber or meeting house and a covered walkway around the exterior. The structure now acts as a traffic island at the turn to Bowes Museum and shows the scars to prove it. The impact of a high sided vehicle or two could be seen at the roof line. I acquired some cash from the bank on the corner. In an increasingly contactless society, it was possibly only my 2nd withdrawal since lockdown began. Banks now seem to be in short supply in Barney. I counted at least
three empty premises, which all appeared to have been financial institutions until recently. I wandered along to the most impressive building in town, Bowes Museum. It resembles a huge French chateau, although one unkind description suggests it resembles provincial French town hall.. An impressive sweeping circular driveway greets you as you enter from the road. The project was conceived as a public art gallery by John Bowes and his French wife, the Countess of Montalbo. A joint architecture project between a Frenchman and a Geordie has left a truly impressive structure, though it would come as a surprise find in a small English market town should you visit purely by chance. The cost was eye watering. In today's money, it cost £9.3 million. The couple died before it was completed in 1892, but fortunately left an endowment of over £11 million plus their personal collection of 800 paintings. The best known exhibit in the Bowes Museum is an 18th century Silver Swan automation, which was acquired from a Parisien jeweller in 1872.
The building next door is the Barnard Castle School. I say building - it sits in a 50 acre site. The current school dates from 1883 and
Dotheboys Hall School ..... inspiration for the Charles Dickens novel, Nichola Nickleby
was originally the North Eastern County School. Today it is co-educational, but was originally an all boys establishment. I have no doubt it has a good educational record, but is well known for producing rugby union players. The most recognised would be England internationals, Rory Underwood, Matthew Tait and Rob Andrew and Scotland international, Tim Visser. I would ironically be looking later at Underwood's framed England rugby shirts in the Acklam Park clubhouse of Middlesbrough RUFC (which is shared with the Cricket Club and the reason I was there). The surprise former pupil to me at least and nothing to do with rugby. I discovered in research, Kevin Whately. He might of Inspector Morse and Lewis fame to you, but will forever be Neville from Auf Weidersehen to me!
I wandered back to town, where within sight of the Market Hall arguably the most famous visitor to the town lodged. Charles Dickens and his illustrator, Hablot Browne, spent 2 nights at the former Kings Head Hotel, whilst researching for his Nicholas Nickleby book. As you see, Barnard Castle was an inspiration for fiction as far back as 1838. Opposite the Kings Head are the former premises of William Humphreys
..... as seen from the River Tees
clockmaker. Dickens is said to have named his new weekly publication Master Humphreys Clock, after a visit to the shop. What would he make of the shop today? An Indian restaurant for many years, it now operates under the title of Babul. The concept has moved on it seems from a curry after the pub and the marketing slogan printed on front of the premises states simply, but rather confusingly, "Coffee. Curry. Coctails". My immediate reaction was that it was a strange mix in a strange order. The menu is apparently developed through the brains behind Waitrose indian meal offerings, so it is aiming high. I climbed high out of the town to continue the Dickens theme. The small village of Bowes provided Dickens with further inspiration for his Nicholas Nickleby book. He lodged at the Ancient Unicorn pub. A few socially distant drinkers were scattered on the outdoor tables on probably one of the better weather afternoons you would ever find here. Bowes weather could best be described as changeable. The Roman name for the village was Lavatrae, which sets the mind racing as to what they thought of the village! The name actually translates to summit. At the
far end of the village, you will find the former Bowes Academy or Dotheboys Hall. Dickens used the school as the basis for his tale of evil headmaster, Wackford Squeers and the unfortunate pupil, Smike. The graves of both real life characters can be found in St Giles in the centre of the village. The graveyard also features that of "Emma and Edward", the basis of a 1750s poem entitled the Bowes Tragedy. The ruined Bowes Castle sits just behind with a commanding view over the valley. The road through the village is simply called The Street - check out the impressive Bowes Hall at the eastern end before you leave. I called in at the ruins of Egglestone Abbey on the way back. What marauding Scots started, Henry VIII finished with Dissolution of the Monasteries. Appendix
Football was behind closed doors, but where there is a will there is a way. After a couple of hours watching cricket, I caught the pre-season friendly between Grangetown Boys Club and Northern League, Northallerton Town. The raised section of the Trunk Road that runs adjacent to the ground, provided a perfect vantage point for the 16 socially distanced souls deprived
Former Kings Head Hotel- Charles Dickens lodged here in 1838
of their sport fix by current pandemic. The club recognised the effort of those concerned to be there in spirit on their Twitter account. North Yorks South Durham Cricket League Premier Division Middlesbrough CC 137 for 4 (38.2 Overs) Stokesley CC 136 All Out (40.2 Overs) Date
: Saturday 10th August 2020 Venue
: Acklam Park, Acklam, Middlesbrough. TS5 7SL Attendance:
Est 40 Pre-Season Friendly Grangetown Boys Club FC 0 Northallerton Town 2 Scorers:
0-1 Smith (Northallerton Town), 0-2 Rae ( Northallerton Town) Date: Saturday 10th August 2020 @1400 Hours Venue: Grange Farm Road, Grangetown, Middlesbrough. TS6 7HP Attendance:
Behind Closed Doors due to COVID 19 guidance. Estimated number watching from Trunk Road bridge: 16
Tot: 0.37s; Tpl: 0.025s; cc: 44; qc: 189; dbt: 0.0483s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 1;
; mem: 2.1mb