A Beautiful English Countryside ~ Part I

After a short stop to see Angel of the North, I was on the road again, driving south along A167 into Durham County. Durham City is another beautiful university town with its fascinating castle and cathedral. But this time around I’m skipping Durham and head straight to Teesdale, an area I haven’t explored before. To be honest I didn’t have a specific plan which made this aimless drive somewhat less stressfull. When I came across a big signboard stating Raby Castle, 2km further up, I made a decision to check it out. There’s an entrance charge of £6 to the parks and garden or £10 if you want to enter the castle too. I decided to do some short walks around the castle parks and garden and paid the £6 charge. I was a given a small pamphlet with a map and a short history of the castle. The castle sits on 200 acres land and said to be one of England’s finest mediaeval castles. Even from the car park, the 14th century castle do look great, a fortress that stands proud and defiant.

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“King Cnut also known as Canute II the Great owned the Estate in the early 11th Century but it was the Nevills, one of the most powerful families in the North who built the castle. After Charles Neville, 6th Earl of Westmorland, led the failed Rising of the North in favour of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1569, Raby Castle was taken into royal custody. Sir Henry Vane the Elder purchased the castle in 1626 from the Crown. The castle is currently owned by Lord Barnard”.

The first part of the castle that I explored was its beautiful English garden. Parts of the garden are walled that provide one with privacy. If this is my garden, I could see myself spending my free time seating in one of the benches with a good book to read. There are the two fine old yew hedges, formal lawns, an ornamental pond, garden filled with roses, heather and conifer.

With 200 acres of park land, there are a few paths one could take. The footpaths are uneven but can be easily walked. After walking for about 20 minutes, I could see from a distance a herd of deer sitting under the shades of trees. I walked slowly towards them for a closer look. However, some seem to be bothered by my presence and started to walk away. Hiding behind a tree, prepared with a Sigma 150-500 mm zoom lenses, I was able to capture some shots without getting too close to them. There are two types found in the park; the Red deer is the largest British wild land mammal, and the smaller Fallow deer, both herds are said containing the descendants of deer preserved in this area since Norman times.

On the other side of the park, there’s a large lake which gives a fantastic view of the castle. It’s one picture perfect spot not to be missed. I wished the water in the lake had been calmer for me to get a beautiful picture of the castle with mirror like reflection.

There’s also a story that the castle is haunted by Charles Neville, who was once the Earl of Westmorland. Charles was forced to surrender to Henry VIII after the unsuccessful Rising of the Northern Earls. His ghost is often seen heading for the Barons Hall, where in 1569 he and his men were deciding whether to stand up against the King, They were interrupted by Mrs Neville who hearing their discussion called them a bunch of sniveling cowards. In response to this provocation, the men went to battle and lost. The Earl was forced to flee to Scotland, and then on to Holland where his body is now buried.

The story goes that Hamish McGool, a paranormal researcher, when he visited the castle he taunted the spirits by shouting, ‘Hey Charlie – will you now come out and have a wee fight with me?’
When nothing happened after ten minutes of this taunting a ghostly voice was heard that of Mrs Neville. She said, ‘Once a coward always a coward.’
Angered by the persistent humiliation by his dead wife, Charles’ ghost did appear, giving Hamish a proper Glasgow Kiss for his efforts.

I had an early lunch at the castle’s cafe, tuna sandwich and lime juice to quench my thirst on a very hot day before continuing my journey to a historic market town the locals called “Barney”. About 2 miles from the town centre is Bowes Museum. I didn’t enter the museum but instead admire the beautiful setting of the magnificent French style château from its garden.

From here I made my way to Upper-Teesdale. The road is good but it can turn out to be dangerous as I had difficulty in keeping my eyes on the road. The beautiful scenery of rolling hills with grazing sheep, isolated farmhouses and cottages were a big distraction and I almost drove into a ditch. I reached High Force Hotel hoping to get a room for the night. But I was unlucky as it was full. Blimey!!! My fault for not making any reservation. It’s Bank Holiday Monday and it seems all the B&B in the area had no vacancy. The only plan B that I had was overnight in the car.

Not deterred by this shortcomings, there was still about 4 hours before night fall. I parked my car at Bowlees Nature Reserve to do some short walks. Upper Teesdale looks even better while walking as I was able to stop and admire the views without slamming into a ditch. I made a short detour to the Summerhill Force, one of the many waterfalls that can be found here. Over the years, the force of Summerhill had undercut the limestone behind it to form the picturesque cavern known as Gibson’s Cave. Even though Summerhill is only a small waterfall, but I like it. I found a perfect spot where I can just sit and enjoy the beauty of this God’s creation and feel the tranquility of the area. Somewhat the place inspires me and quietly I was humming a poem while taking pictures of the waterfalls…

I have a place where I can go;
Like the river all my troubles flow;
A place to sit and dream a while;
Of pleasant things that make me smile…

I was done with taking pictures of Summerhill. To get back to the footpath I need to climb up the slippery rocks, the same way I had come down. The say accidents come without warning. I slipped and tumbled down 6 foot into the river. I was fine with just minor bruises but couldn’t save my DSLR camera. The water had damaged the electronics. Dusk was nearing and it was a long walk back to where I parked my car. I was all wet and it’s getting colder…

Oh!!! What an end to an almost perfect day. After cleaning up and putting dry clothes on, I was able to put things into perspective. Firstly, I thank God that I’m still in one piece without carrying any major injury. I still have my little camera and phone camera to capture moments of the remaining of this trip. The images in the memory card were intact and I’m able to share them here. Things could have been far worse.

I returned to Barney, find a bright spot in the parking lot, had fish and chips for dinner before retiring in my car for a much needed rest.