County Durham is undergoing something of a cultural revolution.
In the summer of 2016, it hosted the first season of the ground-breaking Kynren, an open-air spectacular retelling the history of England over the past two millennia. Earlier this year there was a turbo-charged version of the hit show.
Next year the Bishop of Durham’s historic palace, Auckland Castle, will reopen to the public after 18 months of restoration, and in 2019 a gallery of Spanish art and a museum on the history of faith in Britain will both open.
Next year the Bishop of Durham’s historic palace, Auckland Castle (pictured), will reopen to the public after 18 months of restoration
It’s all happening in and around Bishop Auckland. The projects are the brainchild of Jonathan Ruffer, who wants to establish the town as an international tourist destination, reversing the stagnation that came with the collapse of the local mining industry.
‘I was brought up here and I wanted to do something local,’ says the City investment manager.
Visiting Bishop Auckland, you can see how it could all work.
Market Place, next to Auckland Castle, has neglected but attractive Georgian and Victorian buildings that will house a Mining Art Gallery (it opens on October 21) and, later, the Spanish Art Gallery, which will be partnered with Madrid’s famous Prado Museum.
Durham Cathedral, which dates back to 1093, has been one of the county’s long-standing cultural attractions, with regular exhibitions in the building
While a gallery housing 300 works by and about miners seems a natural fit for the area, one for Spanish art from medieval times to the present-day appears less so.
But in 2011 Ruffer paid £15 million to save for the nation 13 paintings by baroque artist Francisco de Zurbaran that had been displayed in Auckland Castle for 250 years. The works will continue to be on show at the castle.
Durham Cathedral, which dates back to 1093, has been one of the county’s long-standing cultural attractions, with regular exhibitions in the building.
County Durham also boasts the Bowes Museum and art collections at Barnard Castle, as well as the Beamish open-air museum, which tells of the social history of the area.
An ideal place to stay is Rockliffe Hall, near Darlington.
The hotel is surrounded by a championship golf course and the River Tees. With its fine spa it is extremely handy for relaxing after a day of cultural exertions.
Prices include breakfast and use of the spa. Visit rockliffehall.com.