Summer Outing - ‘Barney Bound’ - Kirby Hill and Barnard Castle

Leader - David Johnson - 14 June 2012
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Driving to the meeting point was the first navigational challenge through fine countryside. From Ribblesdale we drove through Wensleydale on the north side of the valley and through Redmire. Then past the wonderful Walburn Hall (and the Deserted Medieval Village on the opposite side of the road from the Hall), past Downholme and over Downholme Bridge, through Marske, then up the steep Clapgate Bank to Sturdy House. We met at the junction of the roads west to Kirby Hill and east to Whashton with the Richmond to Ravensworth road. Alternatively, by using a sat-nav one could end up wrongly at Kirby in Doncaster.

Kirby Hill

Our first destination was the little village of Kirby Hill. We enjoyed specially-provided refreshments before starting the business, courtesy of the churchwarden and villagers. We were told a curious story of how the churchwardens used to be chosen using wax balls containing a paper slip with a name and a young boy picking one out. In the 17th century, estate property was sometimes divvied up in a lottery of sorts involving scraps of paper concealed in little balls of wax. The system seems to have very early roots elsewhere. The village is tiny and is dominated by three sets of buildings - the church of St Peter and St Felix, a delightful 12th-century church which has been described as ‘one of the most historically important and interesting’ churches in the county. The nave has 12th-century stonework, the porch is from 1397 and the chancel from c.1180. It is a real gem in my humble opinion. Just outside the churchyard is the old grammar school, founded by the will of John Dakyn, rector here in 1535, and across the village green are the almshouses also due to his beneficence. The churchwarden gave us an excellent guided tour of the village. Before we left Kirby Hill, we looked down from the Shoulder of Mutton car park across ancient Ravensworth Park.


From Kirby we headed back to Ravensworth, nestling below Park and Greystone Banks. We stopped at the roadside to have a brief look at the 14th-century park pale and then at the scant ruins of the castle. We then drove past Greta Bridge and turned right at Rokeby Park, a Palladian mansion built c. 1730 and lived in by the Morritt family since 1769. It is open to the public. Then to ....

Egglestone Abbey

This Premonstratensian abbey of the ‘white canons’ in the care of English Heritage was founded between 1195 and 1198. Its founder(s) are unknown, though surviving charters do record land grants to the abbey by landowners, such as John of Brittany, Earl of Richmond, in 1275. The church was enlarged to its present plan around 1250, and domestic quarters were added, the latter including an ‘ingenious toilet drainage system’. The abbey normally housed 15 canons though in 1491 there were only six plus the abbot in residence, with eight others out in the community acting as parish or chantry priests. The abbey never really prospered and never attained the theoretical minimum of 12 canons. Indeed it was occasionally exempted from paying taxes on account of its ‘notorious poverty’. A record from 1327 tells of the depredations of Scots’ raids which left it with nothing to be taxed on. At Dissolution it was valued as the lowest of all Premonstratensian houses. In 1548 it was converted into a residence but soon began to fall into decay. It later degenerated into farm labourers’ housing then became an inevitable local source of building stone. The church contained the huge tomb of Sir Ralph Bowes of Streatham (d. 1482) which has been ‘borrowed’ and taken to Rokeby Park. From the church precinct you can look down on the medieval Bow Bridge over Thorsgill Beck and the rather dramatic Tees Gorge.

After lunch we drove over Abbey Bridge into ....

Barnard Castle aka Barney

Entering the town we passed the public school and the magnificent Bowes Museum to enter the town along Newgate and turn right at the Market Cross/Butter Market (given to the town in 1747) into Market Place. We walked down Scar Top pathway next to the church to meet up again outside the entrance to ....

The Castle

The castle shares with Richmond a fantastic cliff-top setting, this one overlooking the Tees far below.

The lands hereabout were granted by William II to Guy de Baliol, of Picardy, in 1095 following a rebellion by the earl of Northumberland. He built a timber/earthwork castle which was rebuilt in stone by his son and grandson after 1125. The grandson also founded the town, and gave his name in corrupted form to it. The de Baliol family held the estate and castle until 1199 when it passed to a local tenant who changed his family name to de Baliol. One member of this family, John, succeeded to the estates in 1228 and he is the one best known to history becoming one of the country’s richest and most powerful landowners until his death in 1269. One of his sons, also John, was briefly king of the Scots but he fell foul of Edward I, was imprisoned, had all his English estates sequestered and eventually retired to his ancestral homeland, Picardy.

In 1307 the castle was granted by Edward to Guy de Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick and it remained in this family’s hands until the line died out in 1449. It then passed to the Nevill family and Richard III, of that ilk, favoured this castle and made alterations to it. After that the castle was slowly neglected and began to decay, though it played a key role in the 1569 Rising of the North when Sir George Bowes held it for the Crown against the rebels until being forced to surrender after a siege. After this the Bowes family leased the castle but not the estate and after that it passed through various hands until in 1630 much of its material was removed to rebuild Raby Castle, and its walls became a local free ‘quarry’.

We explored the castle grounds until it was time to meet for tea in a local cafe. It was here that David was presented with a delicious-looking large cake made by our President Ethne Bannister to mark David’s 10th Summer Outing for the NCHT and the appreciation of the effort David has made over these years to provide such fascinating and instructive outings to many unusual places of great historical interest.

Cake presentation to David Johnson

Cake presentation to David Johnson