Compare and contrast castles on either side of the North Yorkshire/County Durham border on this varied and interesting ride.
I love Richmond – and I’m not the only one. It’s been named by Country Life as one of the top 10 places to live in the UK and, in 2009, as Great Town of the Year by a group of academics and town planners. The castle, the River Swale and the huge cobbled square where I parked merit a few hours in themselves but, sadly, on this visit I couldn’t linger as I had many miles – and a fair few hills – in front of me on a journey to Richmond’s equivalent in Co Durham, Barnard Castle.
One of the biggest hills came right at the start and took me past woods and up to the first of several points of interest, the hamlet of Kirby Hill. Around the green are several old buildings including, Dakyn House, a listed 16th century almshouse which, after renovation, was re-opened by local MP William Hague three years ago.
I then passed through the villages of Gayles, Dalton and Newsham, keeping the high moors on my left, before arriving in the biggest in the series, Barningham. The Milbank Arms closed a few years ago and is now private house and the former post office is now Post Cottage with a peculiar green telephone box in front of it. The village also features a grand arched well, quoits pitch, hall and tall chapel set back from the road.
Soon after Barningham the landscape changes. Suddenly I was out in the open with broader, more Pennine-type views. The route goes past the medieval Scargill Castle, purchased as a ruin by the present owner, an archaeologist, as a wedding present for his wife in 1999 and currently undergoing restoration and conversion into a luxury holiday home. The place certainly needed some TLC. It was used by the Home Guard for target practice in the second world war!
At the bridge over the river in Rutherford I came across vintage cars participating in the Beamish Run coming from the opposite direction. Named after the open air museum where it starts, the Run included 150 cars and some military vehicles all at least 50 years old and mainly from the 1930s by my reckoning. The convoy provided extra interest as I pedalled onwards towards the A66.
A stretch of this busy trunk road was unavoidable but thankfully only lasted for a quarter of a mile before I was back on a minor road for the final approach to Barnard Castle. The A66 feels like it is the border between Co Durham and North Yorkshire but the boundary actually lies largely to the south of the road. Further confusing the geography the signs hereabouts refer to Richmondshire which, while it sounds like a county, is a local government district within North Yorkshire. The ancient county boundary followed the course of the River Tees which I crossed via the County Bridge with the castle looming imposingly above. Illicit weddings were once held in the centre of the bridge where neither the bishops of Durham or Yorkshire would object. Once firmly and finally in Co Durham there were many subtle reminders that I was in another region. This is the land of the the Newcastle Building Society and the men wearing black and white football shirts.
I had my sandwiches on the lawn in front of the entrance to the castle which gives the town its name. Barnard Castle seems to mimic its cross border twin. Both are gaunt ruins that, perched high above fast-flowing rivers, dominate the surroundings and define their respective towns. The other main building in Barnard Castle is the butter market which has been a town hall, courtroom, lock-up and fire station. Up to the 1930s farmers’ wives sold varied produce around the veranda hence its name.
I began my return with an easy cruise east and past the Bowes Museum towards Whorlton. A sharp, wooded descent from the village brought me to its suspension bridge over the Tees, a little gem of civil engineering reminiscent of Clifton suspension bridge albeit it on a far smaller scale. The original crossing was swept away in a storm in 1829 just four months after its foundation stone had been laid and the replacement – complete with toll keeper’s cottage – was completed two years later.
On the other side I passed the site of Whorlton lido, a swimming spot in the river. No chance of old fashioned water fun these days. The pool closed in 2005 and signs specify in no uncertain terms that the riverbank these days is private. There’s no problem, though, with access at the Stanwick Iron Age fortifications a little further around the route. Dating back to Roman times, today they take the form of a four-mile bund enclosing about 300 hectares. On the day of my visit the bund added topographical interest to an equestrian event – as a good vantage point for spectactors and an extra obstacle for riders.
In the main the landscape is much flatter on the return route compared to the outgoing and I made quick progress down country lanes to Aldbrough St John. The village has an air of importance about it as befits a place or person with a ‘St’ in their name. It boasts two huge greens, one large enough for a football pitch, and the golden crown on top of a white clock outside a house nearby positively gleams.
The last two villages in the trail, Melsonby and Gilling West, have both been put on the map in tragic circumstances in recent years. In March this year, the postmistress of Melsonby post office was murdered in the premises and, in July 2007, Gilling West was hit by flash floods which sent three feet of water gushing through the village. Both incidents seemed so far away on a sunny day.
I’d zoomed into Gilling West on the best freewheel of the route. Payback came right at the end of the ride with a stiff ascent to the outskirts of Richmond. Just at the point where I wanted a rest I spotted the perfect place to have one, the Olliver Duckett, a Grade II-listed castellated folly dating back to the 18th century. Built as an eye-catcher for Aske Hall, which I’d passed on my ascent, the folly fortress is accessible only from first floor level and originally formed part of Richmond Castle.
Ain’t nothing like the real thing, though, I mused on my return to the town centre, tired but fulfilled after an absorbing day’s ride and already planning another visit.
Distance: 38 miles.
Time: Full day (five hours excluding stops).
Leave Richmond via King St just to the side of the Kings Head pub. Pass over two roundabouts and follow the road (the A6108 to Catterick) as it bears right. At the lights turn left signed to Ravenscroft to leave the town.
Just after Whashton Green turn left to and through Kirby Hill and Gayles. Shortly after the Travellers Rest in Dalton as the road bears right turn left signed to Newsham. In the village turn left at a t-junction signed Barningham and Scargill. Pass through both villages and Thwaite and over a bridge to reach the A66. With care cross over and turn right for a quarter of a mile then left on the B6277 to Barnard Castle. At junction with A688 turn right, over County Bridge and up to the butter market. Continue ahead to visit the castle and high street or turn right at roundabout (and begin to follow signs for the National Cycle Network Route 52). Pass the Bowes Museum and through Westwick. At the crossroads in Whorlton turn right to pass through the village and over the suspension bridge.
Turn left at a t-junction signed to Ovington and Wycliffe. At a t-junction beside a small triangular green turn right signed to Hutton Magna. Turn left at next t-junction junction then right just outside Caldwell. Pass through the village and fork left signed to Eppleby. Take the next right turn to pass through Forcett. Turn left a t-junction then, after the sign for Stanwick Camp, take the second right (leaving Route 52 at this point) to Aldbrough St John. In the village turn right to and through Melsonby (and straight over the crossroads in the centre along Moor Rd). With care cross over the A66 following the sign for Richmond and Gilling West. In Gilling go over the crossroads and continue ahead on the B6274 back to Richmond. At the roundabout with the A6108 turn right and retrace your route to the square.
Hack and Spade, Whashton, DL11 7JL. Tel 01748823721.
Shoulder of Mutton, Kirby Hill, DL11 7JH. Tel 01748 822 772.
Travellers Rest, Dalton, DL11 7HU. Tel 01833 621225.
Stables Café, Barnard Castle, DL12 8LX. Tel 01833 630575.
Café Bowes (at the Bowes Museum), Barnard Castle, DL12 8NP. Tel 01833 690606.
Brownlow Arms, Caldwell, DL11 7QH. Tel 01325 718 471.
The Bridge Inn, Whorlton, Dl12 8XD. Tel 01833 627341.
Stanwick Inn, Aldbrough St John, DL11 7SZ. Tel 01325 374258.
Angel Inn, Gilling West, DL10 5JW. Tel 01748 823811.
White Swan, Gilling West,DL10 5JG.Tel 01748 821123.
Lots of options in Richmond and Barnard Castle.