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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 :
While Paula showed me the glory of the Ginkgo tree in Autumn :
Drake always has a sunny disposition, even in the fog!
Lovely to have Suzanne join us, with a rather unsettling walk. Please do welcome her!
Amy’s doing a blogging round up of her walks. There are some real beauties :
I wasn’t at all familiar with Portsmouth, till Ana took me on a guided walk :
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!
And where better than NYC for a walk at Christmas time? Thanks, Suze!
Or for a dash of culture, join Joan, in London :
Want to see how they celebrate in Canada? Then join Colline!
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.