Hello again. as you may have deduced from the title we’ve moved – from Durham down and a little bit west to Doe Park near Cotherstone. We had planned to be out and about this morning, on our last full day here, but after some early morning sun it is currently snowing. It looks pretty and it’s not settling much – yet – but time will tell as to whether our travel plans for tomorrow get disrupted. It’s one thing driving on compacted snow – Rosie is an occasional four wheel drive – but quite another with a tonne and a half of caravan sliding around behind you. Anyway, we’ll see. What will be, etc. etc.
Right, on Wednesday we travelled the forty’ish miles down the A1 to Scotch Corner and across into Teesdale getting our first glimpse of Barnard Castle on the way. The site was easy to find, being just a couple of minutes west of the pretty village of Cotherstone. The road has a few inclines after Barnard Castle however so be prepared to work the gearbox if you’re towing and take it steady, particularly through the village.
The setting is great – on a working farm in the grounds of a 17th century farmhouse – and surrounded by moors and dales giving some cracking views.
Check in was friendly and efficient, and unusually – at least in our experience – you aren’t required to pay in advance. A welcome change from some sites who’s main priority – in some cases only priority – seems to be parting you from your cash. Very trusting and I hope nobody spoils it by abusing that trust and doing a runner.
80 or so pitches, mostly hard standing and with electric hook up, subdivided in to 3 paddocks. Pitches are mainly level – we picked possibly the most sloping one, but only because we wanted to be nosey – but most are not big enough to accommodate a car, caravan AND awning. There are two facilities blocks – both kept clean and tidy but make sure you have 20p for a hot shower.
Whilst Caravan Club sites generally provide similar facilities across their network, you never know quite what you are going to get on private sites but this one certainly does not disappoint.
One thing about moving sites is that you get to see different places that you perhaps wouldn’t necessarily travel to otherwise. The downside it that by the time you’ve packed up, hitched up, driven, set up and unpacked most of the day seems to have gone. So it was late afternoon when we headed out, having our first look at Barnard Castle the town and the Bowes Museum.
On the advice of a fellow Twitterer we sought out The Crown at Mickleton, a short drive back past the caravan site. A nice pub, with real ale and a mouth watering menu, but also, unexpectedly a very smart 5 pitch caravan site or CL behind the pub. Electric and water hook up is provided, there is a shower & toilet block and the views are to die for. Add to that, a pub within staggering distance, some great ale – I checked, purely for research purposes, please don’t thank me – and an enticing menu and you have a great set up. Not only that but there is a ‘micro barn’ with double bed, bathroom and lounge with kitchenette so non- caravanning friends can join you. A great set up.
Thursday, and with the morning sun set to be replaced later by rain we decided to stay local and head back to Barnard Castle. The ruins of the castle overlook the River Tees and you wouldn’t necessarily know there is a town behind. But town there is – an pretty place with the old Butter Market in the centre of the road as you approach up the hill. The main road through turns to the right and widens out, but the parade of largely independent shops continues. The only downside is that necessary curse of the modern age, the motor car. They do detract somewhat from what is a very pretty place.
Off the high street a small park area brings you to the castle and you can walk all the way around the outside to the river below. The castle is open to visitors from April onwards.
With caffeine levels restored, along with an illicit fruit scone, we returned to the car and drove the very short distance to the Bowes Museum. The building itself is impressive enough - styled like a French Chateau as you will see, but what makes this place special is that it was built specifically to be a museum. Josephine Bowes was plagued by ill health and was unable to bear children. Encouraged and supported by her husband John, she directed all her energy and passion into creating a wonderful collection of paintings and other art that would otherwise be inaccessible to the general public.
Add to this more recent additions,regularly changing exhibitions and a sensible admission price and you have a museum that’s well worth a visit. Currently there is a room devoted to Saville Row – Henry Poole and the Art of Tailoring - and another featuring the works of Gavin Turk who has created some remarkable objects in Neon lighting – a technology now almost completed superseded by LED’s.
It’s a fascinating and varied collection but the highlight of the visit is the life-sized silver swan automaton. Built in around 1872 it preens itself then appears to scoop up and eat a fish from the running water below. Due to wear and tear on the old and delicate mechanism (I know how it feels) it now runs only once a day – at 2pm. If you’re in the area and visit the museum – which I suggest you do, bear this in mind.
By the time we emerged from the museum the rain had arrived, so we called it a day and headed back to the site. We called in at a supermarket for something before tea before remembering that a fish & chip van visits the site every Thursday night. I have to say it was delicious, and you will also find them at our previous site – Durham Grange - on a Friday night.
Friday, and with the promise of better weather we fired up Rosie and headed east to the coast passing Raby Castle on the way. Our destination was Hartlepool to have a look at the historic ‘Old Town’ or headland. Bright sunshine and a bitter wind greeted us but it was good to blow away them pesky cobwebs – again. The promenade takes you past some old houses with terrific views past the lighthouse and the Heaugh Battery Museum around to the northern beaches in one direction and along to the old quay in the other. A large wind farm array is sited out in the bay and a queue of ships could be seen waiting to load or unload their cargo.
Moving on we had a short drive up the coast but with it being something approaching lunchtime we headed back to the Hartlepool Marina for a baguette and a much needed loo break.
We decided to stop in the town centre on the way back and ended up in the car pack of an old shopping centre. An attempt had been made to revive it but it had clearly seen better days and there were significant number of empty units too, in fact the whole area appeared to be going through some tough times. The number of tracky bottomed and hoody topped young men hanging around suggested there’s a real problem with youth unemployment here too. It was the first sign of hard times we’d seen whilst up north and you really felt for the place and it’s people.
Time was marching on but with the sun still out we decided to take a different route back, calling in on Darlington. On the way we spotted signs for a train sculpture and decided to check it out. Anyway, the directions took us around Will’s mothers, past Fanny’s aunt (twice) and through a trading estate and around the back of a factory before we discovered what we were looking for. It’s a monument to Darlington’s railway heritage and a mighty impressive one at that.
The town itself seemed to be faring much better than Hartlepool and a much more pleasant atmosphere prevailed. Dominating the skyline was the impressive and slightly continental looking clock tower - a gift to the town from local industrialist and Britain's first Quaker MP Joseph Pease.
The village of Cotherstone near the site presented a couple of research opportunities and after dinner we took advantage of this, heading first to the Red Lion. The beer was good - and cheap - but was quiet and devoid of atmosphere. More seriously there was no phone signal for those all important Twitter & Farcebook updates meaning we actually had to talk to one another! The Fox & Hounds a short distance away fared no better signal wise but it was busier and the beer was, again good.
Right back to today. Since I started this, the snow cleared and we’ve been out and around the local area. A recommendation (thanks Gary) took us to see the impressive High Force waterfall about 10 miles away, making a slight detour to the Grassholme reservoir.
On the way back we called in to Middleton-in-Teesdale for some much needed sustenance provided by the local chippy. Very nice it was too.
Right, tomorrow we move on, further south to York. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our time up here, the market towns, big cities, magnificent scenery and friendly people, and only wish we had longer as there’s so much more to see. We’ve hardly scratched the surface, but hopefully next time we will be able to see further up the coast towards the border with Scotland and inland around Kielder Water too.