Jo’s Monday walk : Auckland Castle

The Deer Lodge

The Deer House

I’ve visited the Deer House and park at Auckland Castle many times, but seldom have I seen it lit by the sun.  I felt especially privileged to have timed my arrival, intending to view the castle, with a glorious, blue-sky, December day.

Known locally as the Bishop’s Palace, Auckland Castle has been a seat of power since the time of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century.  The original building was a manor house or hunting lodge constructed in the late 1100s, but 100 years later it was to become the seat of the Prince Bishops.  The king had granted the Bishop of Durham enormous power.  As the Prince Bishop, it was his job to protect the north east of England from Scottish marauders.  In order to do this, he could raise money from taxes, mint his own coins and lead his own army, so long as he remained loyal to the king.

The then Bishop of Durham, Bishop Beck, established himself at Auckland Castle because he preferred the vast hunting grounds, that went with the estate, to Durham Castle.   Today the park and grounds are open to the public and still retain elements of the Medieval deer park.  Have you ever seen a Deer House?  Well then, let’s go!

We start from the Market Place in Bishop Auckland

We start from the Market Place in Bishop Auckland

Bishop Auckland is a small market town in County Durham, 12 miles south-west of the city of Durham.  It sits at the confluence of the River Wear and its tributary, the River Gaunless.  Entry to the castle grounds is through the 18th century gatehouse, just off the Market Place.

St. Benedict's Gate

The Robinson Clock Tower and Gatehouse

Pass by the castle gates. We'll come back later

Pass by the castle gates.  We’ll come back later!

The Bishop's Stroll

The Bishop’s Stroll

The River Gaunless meanders through the estate, and is crossed by several bridges.  In 1760 the park’s most charming feature was built.  The Gothic Revival style folly was built to provide shelter for the deer and a place for them to be fed.  Guests could watch from a viewing area.  Today sadly there are no deer, but the folly is a romantic backdrop for strolling and picnics.

The path drops away from the castle walls

The path drops away from the castle walls

And suddenly you can glimpse it through the trees

And suddenly you can catch a glimpse, through the trees

Isn't it beautiful?

Isn’t it beautiful?

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Within the grounds there is also an Ice House.  Ever practical, after they’d been hunting, the Bishops needed to keep their meat chilled.  On this occasion I didn’t walk far as I was eager to see inside the castle, but there is a network of paths to enjoy throughout the park.

I was particularly keen to see inside the palace.  I knew very little about the contents, but the one thing I did know was that some very special religious artwork resided there.  The 13 paintings by Spanish master Francisco de Zurbaran have hung in Auckland Castle for 250 years.  They were painted between 1640 and 1644 and 12 of them were bought by Bishop Richard Trevor in 1756, for £125.  He was outbid at auction for the thirteenth, but commissioned Arthur Pond to produce an exact copy of ‘Benjamin’.

The paintings hang in the Long Dining Room, which was redesigned specifically to house them. They depict chapter 49 of the Book of Genesis, and represent Jacob’s death-bed blessings to his 12 sons.  Each son would become a founder of the 12 Tribes of Israel, the beginnings of the Jewish faith.  This was a very deliberate act by Bishop Trevor. Religious tolerance, especially towards the Jews, was in short supply in the 18th century.  Displaying the paintings publicly was an appeal by him for greater consideration of our fellow men.

In 2001 the Church Commissioners planned to sell off the artworks, whose estimated value was £20 million.  A staggering £15 million donation from Yorkshireman and investment banker, Jonathan Ruffer, secured their future, and the Auckland Castle Trust came into being.  Exciting plans for the castle are afoot.

Shall we go inside?

Shall we go inside?

Not wishing to tease, but the first place I’m going to take you to is St. Peter’s Chapel.  Widely acknowledged as the largest private chapel in Europe, it started life in the 12th century as the Banqueting Hall, with buttery, wine cellar and minstrel gallery.  The original chapel was demolished following the English Civil War, but when the Prince Bishops were restored to power, Bishop John Cosin set about the rebuild, in 1660.  Isn’t history a roller coaster?

From the chapel you enter the castle proper.  This has been decorated for Christmas in the old style, with dried fruits and foliage.  Mounting the stairs to the first floor, my eye is drawn to the lovely view framed in the elegant window. Throughout the house, the views to the parkland and beyond command attention.

The entrance hall

The entrance hall

Something of a surprise next!  The Paradise State Bed, used by the Tudors, and an elaborate and unique piece of 15th century oak carving.  Click on the link for more details.

A surprise bed!

The Throne Room follows, and a feature that made me smile.  The 200 year old windows (designed by James Wyatt) are of very pale green and pink tinted glass, ‘to make the ladies appear less pale in the bright sunlight’.  I’ll just flutter my fan a little!

The view to the lawns

The view to the lawns

The moment has arrived- the Long Dining Room and Zubaran’s paintings.  I cannot pretend to do them justice.  You need to see them yourself.  The links give more detail.

Four of Zubaran's masterpieces

Four of Zubaran’s masterpieces

While I browsed around the room, one of the guides approached with a tray.  Ginger wine with apple juice and warm mince pie (a Medieval recipe) seemed a nice seasonal gesture.


The guide explained that the size of the cake related to power and prestige.  There was obviously no shortage.  I am delighted to have been able to feature Auckland Castle in my Monday walk this week.  I was lucky enough to catch the last weekend of the year and it will now be closed to the public until February.  The grounds are still open if you fancy an invigorating walk meantime, and, of course, there’s a tearoom.

I realise that this post is a little long, but hope that you have enjoyed it, and can find time to check the links to see how special this place is.  I feel sure that it will repay time and investment.

walking logo

It’s my last chance this year to thank everybody for making Jo’s Monday walk a success.  I have had some really wonderful contributions and hope that they will continue next year.  Let’s have one last cuppa and a good read :

With all that was happening in Sydney I was so relieved to find Jude fit and well in the Botanic Gardens :

The Royal Botanic Garden Sydney and the Domain, Part 1

While Paula showed me the glory of the Ginkgo tree in Autumn :

Daily walk to Work

Drake always has a sunny disposition, even in the fog!

Foggy, raw- cosiness 

Lovely to have Suzanne join us, with a rather unsettling walk.  Please do welcome her!

The hawk

Amy’s doing a blogging round up of her walks.  There are some real beauties :

A Walk through my Monday Walks

I wasn’t at all familiar with Portsmouth, till Ana took me on a guided walk :

A self-devised and self-guided walk round Portsmouth 

Forest walks are always popular and it’s wonderful to have Indah (and her dog Dante) show us a Rotterdam park. Welcome to the walks, Indah!

Winter walk in Kralingse Forest  

And where better than NYC for a walk at Christmas time?  Thanks, Suze!

New York City- Falling for the High Line

Or for a dash of culture, join Joan, in London  :

A walk at The Wallace

Want to see how they celebrate in Canada?  Then join Colline!

A festive walk

If you’re not too tired (and full!) I hope you manage to get out for a walk over the Christmas period.  I plan to!  Till then, have a wonderful Christmas.


  1. Another lovely walk, Jo. I’m intrigued by the green-tinted windows that were installed to make the ladies a little less pale. I would think they might look rather sickly with the green hues!! I can just see you fluttering your fan (and your eyelids) a little. 🙂 It looks like a gorgeous place, but pray, do tell, what is a folly? It doesn’t sound like your use of the word is a meaning I’m familiar with.

    By the way, I still haven’t received your card. I’ve gone to check numerous times. Maybe things sent by regular post take forever to get here. When Mike mails a package from the U.S. it’s with priority mail and tracking and all that, so it only takes a week. But it costs a pretty penny! I will continue to be on the lookout for it. 🙂

    1. I’m so sorry about the card, Cathy! The GPO lady said it normally takes 5 days! That was 2 weeks ago 😦
      A folly is something that is built purely for pleasure, just to look at, without much of a purpose, so in the strictest sense of the word this isn’t one 🙂 It’s one of those funny old English words for funny old English buildings 🙂 🙂

      1. Don’t worry, Jo. I really appreciate your sending it and it’s definitely the thought that counts. It may make it here yet; nothing surprises me here in China. Who knows where it might be drifting around either in China at large or here at the university. I’m also waiting for a box Mike sent to me which should have been here by now and hasn’t yet arrived. Thanks so much for educating me on yet another English word, used by the Brits but not by Americans generally. Maybe some Americans do use it, but I’ve never heard of it with that meaning before. 🙂

  2. What a beautiful regal walk Jo! I loved to learned about it! (perfect header) Marry Christmas to you and your family!

  3. This was such a lovely walk this evening, I’m glad you were able to visit on a clear winter’s day! What a beautiful life led on those grounds and between those castle walls. One can only imagine the beautiful surroundings that were there back in the day. I love those paintings and hope to one day see them. Wishing you and your loved ones a blessed Christmas and a restful holiday!! xxx

    1. Thanks a lot, Karen 🙂 It is a beautiful place and I was so happy to be able to show you the inside as well as the grounds. A very happy Christmas to you and the family and best wishes for 2015. 🙂

  4. What a wonderful walk it was! A glorious set of photos, Jo. This snow looks surreal on this sky 🙂 Have a blessed Christmas! Wesołych Świąt!

    1. I hoped you’d like it, Paula 🙂 Are you going to be fit for Christmas? I hope so. I’ve been at Dad’s cleaning today and putting him a few cards up. The Polish ones are beautiful. I have a little treat arranged for myself tomorrow morning then it’ll be a lot of ‘homework’.
      Sretan Božić! I hope your Christmas is beautiful 🙂

  5. Jo, I feel transported back through time to a magical time and place, where you can still capture the castle (at least through photographs)! Thank you for once again taking me along on your journeys. Merry Christmas!

  6. I had to go back two times to feel like I was surrounded by the magical castle with such lovely decorations, Jo! It was wonderful seeing the green slopes outdoors, along with the details you elaborated in your guide tour through your words. So elegant and wonderful! I have only been to one American castle and one Spanish one, I yearn to go to England… someday! Hoping you have a special and memorable holiday, Jo! I may be back, hopefully, but one never knows how one will get sidetracked, this time of year! Wink, smiles!

  7. What a stunning building Jo and such a lovely walk too – I’ve been tied to my desk for far too long now and that really made me feel like I’d got out for a walk today! That cake puts my Christmas cake to shame….! Have a lovely Christmas Jo and I look forward to catching up again in the New Year x

    1. It’s a good-looking cake, Suze, but I have the feeling it’s not real 🙂 There- you feel better now! Have a good Christmas! I know you’ll enjoy what follows 🙂

  8. Gorgeous photos Jo. We live in such different worlds where you can just go see ancient castles. So glad to experience it through your lovely narrative and eyes. The trees looks so twisted and spooky especially naked in their winter dress. 🙂

    1. No matter how I yearn for foreign parts (and I do, Sue. I do!) I can’t help but love the history and magnificense that this little island of ours has. I try not to wish I was somewhere else (but this Nat Geographic programme on Thailand isn’t helping 🙂 I’d love to see those temples!)
      Thanks, hon. 🙂

  9. Wow – you couldn’t have picked a nicer day, Jo. That sunshine is fantastic. I can’t help but wonder what happened to all the deer that used to live there. I’m thinking they were probably hunted out of existence.

    Have a wonderful Christmas xxx

    1. There are a couple of estates with deer in the same area, Dianne, so maybe they hopped a fence or two? I would if someone was hunting me! 🙂
      A very wonderful Christmas to you too!

      1. I am okay. Though the back has been a bit of a pain [pardon the pun] lately. Busy trying to get all the clutter gone from my house and life.

      2. People on their own, and these days there are a lot of people in NZ who can’t afford things like Christmas dinners anymore. Hugs to you too Jo.

  10. This post isn’t long, it’s fabulous and I never tire of seeing these ancient properties. I enjoyed all the links, the paintings must have been amazing to see – what a forward thinking man creating them and thank goodness they weren’t sold. The bed too, beautiful, and the chapel. You picked a good time to visit with mince pies and wine 🙂 thanks Jo.

    1. Thanks a lot, Gilly. That’s so good to hear. I thought maybe I should have split it but I didn’t really want to. I’m so hopeful for what might happen in the future. Bishop Auckland is quite run down and needs a bit of a boost. Ruffer is the man! 🙂
      A very happy Christmas to you, hon, and best wishes for 2015.

  11. Lovely photos Jo! We haven’t see. The sun much at all this month which is very unusual. It has been much warmer but rainy and gray instead of sunny and cold. Wishing you the best for the holidays!

    1. This was a most unusual day for us, Nicole, but I’m glad I was in the right place, for once 🙂 Thanks and I’m pretty sure your gang will have a fabulous Christmas 🙂 Very best wishes for 2015!

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.