Stationmaster Alex Nelson has been suggesting places to go by train every month for ten years. This month, he’s headed to Bishop Auckland…


Great things are afoot in Bishop Auckland!

Last year I spent an hour with Jonathan Ruffer, the visionary wealth manager and barrister who bought the 13 paintings of Jacob and his Twelve Sons in Auckland Castle from the Church Commissioners, and then bought the Castle to keep them in. The Castle and tearooms have been closed for winter maintenance during January, but are now back open. Throughout the year, they are open every day except Tuesdays, and the admission is £6 for adults, free for under 16s.

Auckland Castle offers guided tours at 11.30 and 14.30 every day (no extra charge), excluding Tuesdays, where you can see the splendid rooms and vistas, as well as the paintings by Francisco de Zurburan (1598-1664). There are other events throughout the year (details on the website), including the popular Bishop Auckland Food Festival, which this year is on 23rd/24th April. A walk in the park costs nothing, although you might get your shoes rather muddy, so take boots. The Deer Shelter is in the care of English Heritage, but there is no charge to walk round it.

Ten trains a day run to Bishop Auckland, which is a branch from the main line at Darlington. So to get there, head for Darlington first. A visit to Bishop Auckland can easily be combined with a free visit to Locomotion, the branch of the National Railway Museum. On arrival at Bishop Auckland, walk up Newgate Street, which is the straight shopping street heading north to the Market Place, and turn right for Auckland Castle where the Bishop of Durham still has an office (although he lives elsewhere in the town).

It takes about 15 minutes to walk to the Castle, which is the focal point of a one-man effort to regenerate a whole town. Even the mediocre old Postchaise and Queen’s Head hotels are being remodelled to create one single mid-market boutique hotel. Already there are 30,000 visitors a year now, compared to 800 when the Bishops were in residence.

Jonathan Ruffer said to me: “I don’t want it to be interesting. I want it to be astonishing.”

This summer, there’s something really astonishing: an epic production on the land to the north of the Castle called KYNREN, the epic story of England, covering 2,000 years on a 7.5 acre stage including a large lake, and 1,000 performers and crew. The scale is truly breathtaking. I saw progress on the site even during my hour with Mr. Ruffer. KYNREN will be performed on 14 occasions over the summer of 2016, starting from Saturday 2nd July until Saturday 17th September. It’s on various Fridays, Saturdays and one Sunday (28th August), and tickets are available now. This is a live action night show that starts as late as 21.30 and finishes 90 minutes later. If you think ‘2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony’, you’ll be thinking along the right lines.

In other news…

Keep the date: Sunday 13th March!

I’m organising a mass visit by train to Teesside Airport station, to ensure it is not the least used station on the National Rail network in 2015/16. The only train of the week leaves Darlington station at 11.05, and you can spend just over an hour at the airport before joining the only train back at 12.35. For one of the weirdest excursions of the year, suitable for children, led by an experienced team… full details soon!

Alex Nelson

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