While sitting outside last night, catching the sun’s rays and possibly the last of the summer (only joking I hope), Daughter and I commented that nobody else was doing the same. All our neighbours had holed themselves up in their caravans, some with doors shut tight! It’s so weird. That’s what camping is all about – being outside as much as you can, but everybody here had gone inside. Strange.
The next morning was our last day of the trip and also it seemed to be our immediate neighbours too, who were busy packing away as we rose. We watched them for a while before putting our bed away and having some breakfast. It was a beautiful sunny warm morning- typical, the last day of our break and it’s the best day. After demolishing the last of the crumpets and bagels, we packed up our final bits. We had a plan.
We had initially agreed on going to Raby Castle, a 20 minute drive up the road, but discovered that the House part was closed and only the deer park was open. We didn’t fancy driving or paying just to wander a deer park, so we knocked that on the head and decided to go to the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle itself. We didn’t want to take The Van into town, so asked the campsite if we could leave it in their visitor car park as we had to vacate our pitch. They were happy with that, so with a final check of everything, we moved The Van some 100 yards, parked and set off down our track to the equestrian centre.
Boy, it was warm. There was still a breeze, but instead of moaning that it was chilly, we were delighted in its cooling effects. What a day makes. We patted a couple of the horses as we passed and finally dropped into the woodland, along the path til we reached the bridge over the River Tees. We trotted up to the High Street and turned left at the end, heading out of town. About 1/2 mile up the road, was the Bowes Museum.
It’s set behind a magnificent set of gates and you expect some municipal square heap, but as we turned the corner we gasped. Set back across lawns, landscaped gardens and a pond, was a palatial building more suited in the middle of the countryside as a stately home. It was stunning. We wandered in through the box hedges and pond (alas shallow and no fish) to the gravel apron, admiring the architecture. Turning around the way we came, it actually overlooked countryside. We were impressed.
We went inside and paid our entrance fee. It was full of tall ceilings and wide staircases. Wow, this was some pad. We went upstairs to the first room where it’s history was explained. Our first thoughts was it was originally a stately home of some super wealthy coal mine owner that got passed down the generations until deep debt and huge bills made the last owner sell it to the council. The council then turned it into a Museum, but we were totally wrong. John Bowes, the illegitimate son of the titled landowner, though stripped of the title, inherited his dad’s wealth. In turn he married a French woman called Josephine and together, they purposed built the Bowes Museum as a museum for the people of Barnard Castle and spent years stuffing it with artefacts from all over the world. John and Josephine had designed the building along the lines of a French chateau which was now obvious – we couldn’t quite work it out when we first arrived. We wandered around each room – one was dedicated to fashion through the years, another full of silverware. Crockery, toys, three magnificent galleries of paintings, bedrooms and dining rooms set up for show. We came across The Swan, a beautiful creature made of silver that was one of the very first automatons ever made. Unfortunately, it wasn’t working after a recent overhaul – it’s delicate workings seemingly too fragile to continue moving. The experts were pondering what to do next with it. We watched a film about it instead. Considering it’s 250 years old, the mechanics were unbelievable- the neck moved, the swan swallows a fish and even the water moved (a series of glass rods rotated giving the impression of moving water). What a genius to even think that one up, let alone make it reality. We wouldn’t even create one like that today – the cost would be a major stumbling block!
We carried on, investigating every nook and cranny before heading to the cafe for a well deserved coffee and scones, overlooking the gardens. We decided to have a walk around the grounds after our refreshments and popped out into the glorious sunshine again. The grounds were big, but not extensive, now hemmed in by modern buildings abutting the high wall. A sliver of woodland hugged the wall as we wandered the periphery, coming across a children’s play area, a bowling green and tennis courts. We found the memorials to the Queen Elizabeth, The Queen’s Mother who was a direct descendant of the Bowes and the local regiment. It also mentioned the graves of John and Josephine so we went to look for them. We searched the area of the grounds on the map, but only found small plaques against trees dedicated to other people until it dawned on us that over the wall was the Catholic Church. The path went past the back of the church here and conveniently there were railings so we could peer in. The back of the church was literally a small triangle of shingle and tufty grass and abutting the back of the church, a low granite tomb with John and Josephine’s names and dates. We looked at it with some disappointment for them both. It looked like there had been no room for them elsewhere in the graveyard and they had been unceremoniously put here as an afterthought, squashed between the hulking church and their garden wall. There was a faded inscription that gave the impression they had been moved here and on more reflection, perhaps they asked to be buried here, only a few feet from their beloved purpose built museum, the closest they could get to it. It all kind of made sense.
Feeling happier and on that note, we wandered back to the road and into town. Our adventure was nearing its end, but we weren’t quite finished. We found a takeaway cafe, bought paninis and crisps and wandered to the Castle where we ate them in the sunshine, enjoying the fine weather and people watching. Reluctantly we packed up after a while and strolled the 1.5 miles back to the campsite to pick up The Van. From here we meandered down to Richmond and along Wensleydale back to our home in the North West. It had been a brilliant few days away together and vowed that we would do it again.