Lord and Lady Barnard

A new Chapter for Raby Castle with Lord and Lady Barnard

Lord and Lady Barnard took over the Raby Estate in 2016 and have since worked to honour its history and ensure a bright future with their project, The Rising…

Elysia Fryer

Editor at Luxe

“I had a vision for the lion’s head, but I’m not sure that’s what it was,” Lady Barnard laughs as she enters The Vinery on the day of the estate’s first press preview.

In the final stages of development, it has been a real team effort in pulling things together.

“I’m constantly finding really interesting and amazing things in the castle and asking if we can somehow incorporate it into the development, then next time I come in, it’s hanging on a wall,” she smiles.

“It’s been fantastic to see this project coming together. It’s been a real labour of love, not only for myself and my husband, but for everyone who works here.”

Raby Castle has been an iconic Durham landmark for 700 years, but since Lord and Lady Barnard inherited the estate in 2016, they have massively improved the visitor experience, ensuring that Raby’s fascinating history – and bright future – can be shared with the region, the nation and beyond.

Their latest project, The Rising – spearheaded by Lady Kate Barnard and her husband – has recently opened to the public.

It has brought back to life some of the estate’s fascinating historical buildings, to offer a unique event space, retail offering, and a stylish glasshouse restaurant, all connected by meticulously designed landscaped gardens and enchanting walkways. The perfect way to enjoy and celebrate an estate of such beauty.

Lord and Lady Barnard

Discussing Journey and Plans for the Raby Estate with Lord and Lady Barnard

As we take a seat in the stunning Vinery, overlooking the pristine gardens and castle beyond, Lord and Lady Barnard can’t wait to tell me about their latest project, but first, a little bit about their Raby journey…

“We inherited the estate from my father in 2016,” says Lord Barnard.

“When we first got married, we lived in Shropshire and were involved in managing the land on an estate there. Before that, we were in Gloucestershire and I was in London for a while.

“And I was in Italy!” Lady Barnard jumps in.

“But I’m actually from the North East originally,” she continues.

“I grew up in North Yorkshire, near Chop Gate.”

Their journey spans many counties and countries, but Raby very much feels like home to the couple, who have been determined to put the estate on the map as a destination for local people, as well as those visiting from further afield.

Raby has so much history, heritage and an incredibly bright present and future on its hands, so since it became their home, the pair have been focused on expanding and upgrading the estate as a whole so that every element of Raby can be celebrated.

“We were slightly blind about what we needed to do when we first inherited the estate,” Lady Barnard starts.

Initial Challenges

“We didn’t know the castle and the gardens well at all at that stage, so we set about trying to work out what to do with it and how to make it work. One of the things that was really important was that we wanted the castle and grounds to be the focal point for the estate, but not to be the only thing on the estate.

“We wanted people who lived in the dale to be really proud of Raby. It’s a really good estate to belong to. And I suppose that was where we started our journey.

“At the time, the gardens were a little bit run down, and the castle wasn’t open that often. Very locally, people had never heard of it. So we wanted to become relevant to the area first. And so, we felt that having somewhere that was important to Raby, its history, artwork and its collections, was definitely worth seeing – for locals, but also for people travelling to the area.

“Raby has been open to the public for a very long time,” Lord Barnard adds.

“But not necessarily for that many hours and only on certain days. A lot of local people hadn’t really visited, because you had to buy your ticket to get in even through the outer gate. So we sort of did away with that, and that was one of the first things we changed.

“It meant that you could come in and go to the cafe, go for a bit of a wander, before you hit the payline, if you like. And if you did want to go and have a look around the castle and the gardens, you could.

Lord and Lady Barnard

Local Touch

“We found that there were lots of people driving up and down that road every day, between Barnard Castle and Bishop Auckland, and they’d say, ‘oh, we’ve never actually been in before!’.

“And I think we also felt that there was potential to do a lot more. The visitor facilities were limited, really. The playground was almost non-existent and the cafe was just not big enough.

“The kitchen wasn’t fit for purpose, the car park – fine in the summer – but then you had your Christmas fair, it rained, everyone got stuck, and there would be tractors everywhere trying to get people out!”

Living on the estate, but also getting out and about and speaking to the local people and seeing it from the perspective of others, has really helped Lord and Lady Barnard nail down the visitor experience, and thus The Rising is born.

The name, ‘The Rising’ is a nod to the estate’s deeply rooted history, bringing heritage buildings involved in the ‘Rising of the North’ back to life. The term ‘rising’ also represents growth, improvement and positivity – all key words behind this bold and ambitious development.

What is so incredibly unique and charming about this project is the community behind it. As we wander through the estate and grounds, every builder, planner and member of staff is genuinely excited about the prospects of Raby in this new era, and it’s refreshing to see such a buzz about the place.

The Crucial Role of the Staff

“Our people are so important and have been intrumental in what we have done here,” says Lady Barnard.

“Harry and I were like rabbits in headlights at the very beginning. We didn’t know what to do or where to start. Some of the staff who were already here, actually knew exactly what to do, but just hadn’t done it in the past.

“So, by restructuring and opening up the communication lines, the people that were here came into their own; and the place is now really friendly, because the staff really care about the estate and what it means.

“Fundamentally, that’s what these places were for. They weren’t for one person or one family to sit in, they were built as a community. And now, for me, one of my greatest joys is seeing the way the community works.

“One of the volunteers came here yesterday and said, ‘oh, those tables are brilliant. I have a visually impaired team coming in. I’m going to give them a lecture, and they’ll be able to feel the oak, which has just come out of the park, and I’ll be able to give them that story’.

“And she’s a volunteer, but I know she feels completely part of it, and that’s what makes a massive difference to us. I love that side of it. And the fact that, actually, I don’t have to have all of the responsibility because I’m sharing it!

“They know the area, and they know the people coming in. And actually, as a result of employing a lot of local people, we are now much more relevant in the area.

Lord and Lady Barnard

Bold Decisions

“Getting it through the 20th century, with all of the things that went on historically in the 20th century, was a really difficult time for any family in a big house. The guilt of inheritance and everything shrinking down.

“So I guess it was bold of us to open it up fully and have the mantra of, ‘actually, do you know what? We’re a business here, and we’ve got a story to tell’.”

But it’s exactly what Raby needed, and The Rising certainly marks a re-birth for the estate. As we sit and look over the gardens from our seats in The Vinery – a building that was left derelict for so many years – and take in a spectacular castle view that was hidden by walls and hedges, it has quite literally been opened up to new opportunities. And as local people, it’s something we can be incredibly proud of.

“We are confident that, with the addition of The Rising, we are now a visitor destination that has something for everyone,” says Lady Barnard.

Whether it’s lunch in The Vinery, allowing little ones to let off some steam in The Plotters’ Forest playground, a wander through the Walled Garden, an event in The Riding School or Dutch Barn, or a historical exhibition in the Coach House & Stables, the opportunities are endless, and the experience breathtaking.

All of that, plus the castle, the grounds and the lush landscapes of the wider Raby Estate.

“Our history is at the heart of what we do here,” says Lord Barnard.

“But there are so many other reasons to visit Raby now, and we hope that encourages large groups of people and families to come and experience the estate and all that it has to offer.”

For History Enthusiasts

“If you are into history, tell us which bit, and we probably have something for you,” Lady Barnard adds.

“It’s the most extraordinary place. Whether you’re into certain paintings or a type of porcelain, or carriages, or stone, we probably have a collection of all of it, because it’s just never went away.

“What’s lovely is when experts come in, they each have a different view on what everything is. We’ve been looking at a piece of porcelain recently, and porcelain experts have been coming in.

“One gentleman keeps on bringing his friends to look at it. And it’s really amusing because it’s not as if it’s going anywhere, and it’s not really making a huge amount of difference to my life, except I am now beginning to think it probably should be looked after slightly better!

“But it’s fascinating how everything means something. We find things, and we will continue to find things. Everything has a story – and there are lots of those in the archives. We now have an archivist, and he’s absolutely marvellous. He goes through the archives and comes out with these wonderful documents.

“Julie is our curator, she finds fascinating things. She’ll come in and say, ‘oh my goodness, I’ve just found the Ducal Coronet!’. Turns out one of the Dukes, after carrying the sceptre at the coronation of Queen Victoria, had come home, taken it off his head and stuck it up on the shelf. And there it stayed!

“Until we get to that shelf, we don’t know it’s there!”

Lord and Lady Barnard

Meticulous Planning

The Rising has been an incredibly well thought out process, navigating many obstacles along the way – including, of course, the COVID pandemic.

“Most of this was during COVID,” says Lady Barnard.

“It was a difficult period indeed,” adds Lord Barnard.

“Obviously we navigated a lot of issues getting supplies and getting the people on board to do the work. There was a huge demand for everything and everyone following the pandemic; but looking back, it actually worked out well because we sort of brought in our own workforce and did a lot of it with our own people, and with our own materials.”

“Being an estate, we are lucky enough to be able to use what we have at our fingertips,” says Lady Barnard.

“Those wonderful tables on the terrace, for example, were fallen trees in the park. That ladder (hanging on the restaurant wall) came from 100 yards away.”

“I wouldn’t particularly want to climb it,” Lord Barnard laughs.

“Just think, there would have been some poor boy carrying those ladders,” Lady Barnard chips in.

“It would have been put up against the castle and someone would have said, ‘go on, up you go – just wash those windows’.

“But for us, it was about bringing things back to life in the best way we can. The only new building in the development is The Roundhouse. Everything else is an original building that we’ve cleaned up, restored and turned around.”

Uncovering new Opportunities with Lord and Lady Barnard

It’s safe to say that, since becoming custodians of the estate, it’s been a busy time for Lord and Lady Barnard, but they’ve flourished in finding new opportunities for Raby, based around the estate’s rich history.

“I think what we’ve done slightly differently is that most people or families might do these kinds of developments over a generation or two, we’ve done it all at once!” Lord Barnard says with a smile.

“At first, we were thinking of rolling out different projects in stages, but as work got underway we became aware that these historic buildings needed attention immediately. So there was a moment where we just suddenly made the call to go for it.

“I mean, we haven’t done it all. There’s so much more we could do, but perhaps that’s for another generation, but we like to think we have done a really major part of it.”

Looking back, for Lady Barnard, the most important element of the project has been ‘just making things work’. Something she has done throughout – and is still doing today as we wander around the site and she makes final touches on the way.

Lady Barnard has been incredibly hands-on in spearheading this project and has worked closely with everyone involved. So, being able to sit with me now, on the day they’re unveiling this ‘new piece of history’ for the first time, with a cup of tea and a slice of cake, letting the moment sink in, the couple are feeling incredibly reflective.

Lord and Lady Barnard

Favourite Aspects of the Raby Estate Transformation

“It’s difficult to pick out the best bits,” says Lord Barnard.

“But I have to say, one of the best moments for me was seeing the view from here (The Vinery) open up towards the castle. Of course, we knew the castle was just beyond the hedge, but to visually connect this new area to the old, has just been wonderful.

“My other favourite element is the Dutch Barn. It was a huge old store, storing hay for the Duke’s horses. The scale of it is just remarkable and I’m excited to see it in use.”

“They were very comfortable, those horses,” Lady Barnard laughs.

“I have loved seeing the Walled Gardens come to life,” she says.

“There are various things in there that I absolutely love. I love the topiary in the west, I love the amphitheatre and I love the woodland walk in the east.

“And the Coach House – it was all a bit messy and there were wires hanging everywhere – and now it looks absolutely as it should be. You walk into the building and it really feels like it’s back to life. It’s got an energy to it, which is wonderful.

“I think the thing that I try to remind myself of, if I look at the entire site – including The Plotters’ Forest and the car park – there are 27 acres of which there is nothing that hasn’t been thought about, redesigned and put back.

“Although it might look like it’s always been there, every little detail has been thought of – the routing, the pointing, everything. And I think, as a result, the workforce have done the most wonderful job, they really have.”

Life on the Estate

Life is looking bright on the estate. Not only in the castle, grounds and new developments, but also in terms of bird life, farming, and doing their bit environmentally to look after the rural landscape.

Now is a time to enjoy the new beginnings, but the couple admit that there’s always something bubbling away in the background. A castle upgrade is next on the agenda, they tell me.

But when they find the time, Lord and Lady Barnard enjoy climbing mountains together in the Lake District, exploring art galleries in London, and visiting other. landmarks, attractions and estates across the country.

“To unwind, I like to read – mainly history and current affairs,” says Lord Barnard.

“We like to host and have friends and family round for supper,” Lady Barnard adds.

“Our family dynamic has changed a little bit. Our children were all at home when we started this project, now they’re between 19 and 24-years-old and have flown the nest.”

But what a place to return to. A family home with history at its heart, but always rising, with one eye on the future.