The times are a changin' in Barnard Castle
PUBLISHED: 00:16 21 November 2011 | UPDATED: 20:20 20 February 2013
Things are definitely changing in Barnard Castle but, thankfully, the changes are mostly for the good, as Andrew Smith discovers
Bob Dylan would have liked Barnard Castle these days. For not only does the ethos of the attractive market town endorse his evergreen hit, The times, they are a changin, he would also find the perfect outlet for performing his songs accompanied only by his guitar and mouthorgan.
Dylan would discover an appreciative audience at the ancient Old Well Inn, a hostelry dating from Tudor times just outside the walls of the Norman castle.
Here, landlord Peter Cockerill is packing them in on his newly-created Thursday Acoustic Nights, when all-comers can bring along their instruments and strum and sing to their hearts content.
Peter, who took over the Old Well Inn last year, is no mean performer himself, accompanied by his guitar. He recently dressed as Elvis for a quiz night devoted to The King in aid of Butterwick Hospice and no opportunity is missed to bring live music into the inn, which also boasts ten well-occupied ensuite rooms that attract, walkers, cyclists, canoeists and a steady stream of tourists who visit the town.
I am competing with peoples firesides, said Peter, who worked for several decades in the brewing industry before taking over the lease of the Old Well Inn in July last year. I try to give customers what they cant get in their own home to make it worth their while coming out to the pub.
We are a traditional English pub, offering wholesome, unpretentious
food, real ale and good company. We have a very popular quiz night every Tuesday. You cant get the banter sitting in your own home.
Almost like Barnard Castle itself, Peter, who chose to live in the town eight years ago when he could have moved anywhere in the North East, shuns the temptation to follow fleeting crazes. We dont do Bacardi Breezers, juke boxes or fruit machines, he says, proudly, and I dont need door staff. Were not that kind of place.
People come to Barnard Castle, as I did, because its a rural, small town but with the commercial edge that comes from having large employers like the Deerbolt young offenders institution and Glaxo in the town. Its not some sleepy backwater.
Situated in the heart of Teesdale, Barnard Castle makes an ideal centre for touring, with the fantastic Bowes Museum only a ten-minute walk from the town centre, Raby Castle and High Force waterfall a short drive away and the Yorkshire Dales, Upper Teesdale and Weardale all within easy reach.
Its an historic town, the imposing ruined castle having links with Richard III, who inherited it through his wife, and the Kings Head Hotel and nearby Rokeby Hall being regular haunts of Charles Dickens and Sir Walter Scott respectively. Dickens based himself at the Kings Head while researching Nicholas Nickleby and Scott was a frequent visitor to his pal John Sawrey Morritt at nearby Rokeby Hall.
One of the organisations charged with bringing an occasionally reluctant market town into the 21st Century is Barnard Castle Vision which, for the past five years, has been the driving force behind a range of projects aimed at boosting retail trade, tourism and business opportunities in the town.
And having recently secured further investment, the Vision is set to build on a number of economic regeneration projects which have already been completed. These include the installation of floodlighting to light up the castle after dark, work to improve access to a town centre car park and the conversion of a former car showroom to create NeST, an art gallery, caf, studio and hot-desking workspace, which is already proving hugely popular.
The Shop Front grants have been particularly successful in bringing empty shops back into use, with shop vacancy rates falling from 19 per cent to seven per cent, nine new businesses being established and 20 new jobs being created in the last two years.
This year two substantial projects will start that will see the town make the most of its cultural and heritage assets.
The Heart of Teesdale Landscape Partnership has just had its Heritage Lottery Fund bid for 1.9 million approved. The Partnership aims to highlight the unique character of the area and its work will include over 50 projects across the area, many of which have been proposed by local community groups and organisations.
Major redevelopment of the Witham Hall will also begin soon, which will include extensive restoration and conservation of existing buildings as well as work to make them more accessible.
One of the newest businesses in town is the Stars of Sport Memorabilia Shop, managed by Paul Emerson. Established in part of Barnard Castles YMCA, it was officially opened by Sir Ian Botham in September.
Selling high quality sporting memorabilia such as signed shirts, photographs and other sporting items, this is a unique charity shop, with all profits going back to help the young in the community through the YMCA.
Paul said: Sir Ian Botham was most impressed with the shop, its layout and the high quality, genuine material on display. There are many forgeries in this kind of material, but with the authenticity certificates attached to each item, he was only too pleased to back and support us.
Finally, Barnard Castle offers a treasure trove of attractions for lovers of antiques. Addisons busy auction schedule consists of nearly 30 live auctions per year, all held at their Barnard Castle saleroom, which boasts ample on-site parking and coffee shop.
In addition to fortnightly general antiques sales and quarterly catalogue sales the firm also holds bi-annual country sports auctions and a garden sale in the spring.