Barnard Castle - where you can enjoy a unique shopping experience

PUBLISHED: 16:24 06 November 2012 | UPDATED: 22:18 20 February 2013

Barnard Castle - where you can enjoy a unique shopping experience

Barnard Castle - where you can enjoy a unique shopping experience

At the Durham Dales honeypot that is Barnard Castle, visitors and residents can enjoy a unique shopping experience without ever setting foot in a shop, as Andrew Smith discovered

The magnificent Bowes Museum is only a five-minute walk from Barnard Castle town centre and is a must-see attraction for both the occasional and regular visitor.

Housed in a French-style chateau, the museum houses priceless works of art by some of the greatest European painters, ceramics and glass, fashion and textiles and furniture, as well as metal work, musical instruments, sculpture, silverware, stained glass, toys and wood carvings. Theres also a very popular caf/restaurant.

Among the most famous and much-loved exhibits is a life-size clockwork silver swan, recently lovingly restored, which preens itself and appears to catch a fish in a graceful movement that is set to music.

The museum offers a programme of exhibitions to complement the display of its permanent collections. These range from major blockbusters often curated by staff to touring exhibitions and works on loan from other institutions.

The shopkeepers in historic Barnard Castle give a whole new meaning to the much-loved pursuit of window shopping. Not content with having visitors peer at enticing window displays within their premises, they take their wares out of the shops and on to the pavement.

From antique furniture to wheelbarrows, and fruit and veg to bird cages, almost anything you might be looking for can be found on the street in this County Durham market town. And thats not just on market day; the unwary can literally trip over the gift or gadget theyve been looking for from Monday to Saturday, all year round.

Add a liberal sprinkling of street cafes, public benches set amid flower boxes overflowing with scented and colourful plants, a market every Wednesday and a monthly farmers market, and its a wonder anybody ever goes inside the varied shops that line the main shopping thoroughfares of Galgate, the Horse Market, Market Place and The Bank.

Of course, what spills on to the street is only an appetiser for the selection and wide choice of goods available inside shops that range from high street names to bespoke and individual emporia.

As winter draws in and the darkest days of the year approach, Barnard Castle offers an antidote to those whose autumn shopping expectations extend only to the supermarket and national chain stores. Barnard Castle is different and unexpected a place to find that special something on a shopping spree that shouldnt be hurried.

Pamela and David Wilson, owners of Wilsons household goods and pet store, are relative newcomers to the town, having moved here only two and a half years ago after running a shop in Durham for 25 years, which is now managed by their son.

Pamela said: We have been made to feel very welcome in Barnard Castle. The people are really nice. Everybody knows everybody else and it is this that attracted us to the town. When these two shops became available we didnt hesitate to take them.

Since moving in, Pamela and David have continued the long established ritual of carrying out racks of goods every day to the frontage of their adjacent properties, ranging from footballs and buckets and spades to wild bird food and firewood.

Everything has its place and we know where it goes, said Pamela. We have never missed a day of street display since we moved in.

The Wilsons have a security camera keeping watch over their pavement offerings but say that crime is rare.

The only real problem we had was during the flash floods that hit the town this July, said Pamela. The storm struck so quickly that we couldnt get everything indoors. We could only watch helplessly as our stock disappeared down the street on a wave of water.

Such remote risks of natural pilfering dont deter the Wilsons or the other traders who happily spend the first and last minutes of the working day carrying display stands, trestle tables and benches outside and back in again, every day of the working week.

At Maxwells hardware store on Galgate, wheelbarrows are lined up on the pavement like horses ready to start a race. Everything for Pets is like an estate agency for the discerning furry househunter, with rabbit hutches neatly stacked and awaiting viewing two-storey dwellings for the larger or expanding family and bungalows for singles and couples.

Floral Charm employs stone ducks, a pig and a tortoise, along with a latticework chicken to add cute interest to its elegant display of plants, ornamental trees and decorative plant holders.

Even more intricate ironwork features outside The Hayloft, at Horse Market, where decorative bird cages are positioned in front of tables laden with fruit and vegetables. Down the adjacent alleyway, the Hayloft Emporium offers lane-style shopping for fresh produce, antiques, health foods, picture framing and more.

More fresh fruit and veg, and plants spill onto the pavement from The Orchard, greengrocers and delicatessen, at Horse Market and, just a few doors along the street, stone garden ornaments, plants and a good selection of greetings cards can all be viewed and inspected without ever stepping foot inside the shop.

A signpost pointing to the narrowest of doorways encourages shoppers to visit Star Yard where, at Star Cobblers, hang plates showing house names and numbers and a glass display of more than two dozen types of sole for those essential footwear repairs, the pavement at this point being almost too narrow for two people to pass and certainly not wide enough for a protruding box of watch batteries or pet identity discs, all available indoors if required.

Downhill over the junction dominated by the old Butter Market, artisan and antique shops dominate on The Bank, along with the fabulous Blagraves restaurant, which occupies a house where Oliver Cromwell once stayed.

While delicate old paintings and furniture dont lend themselves to exposure to the elements, the dealers of The Bank arent averse to displaying their less valuable items of furniture, brasswear and curiosities on the street.

After all the service some of these items have seen, a drop of rain isnt going to spoil them.

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