Last week’s picture of a strange structure covered in butterbur and lost deep in Deepdale wood near Barnard Castle produced a stunning response. Many thanks to everyone who got in touch. Let’s start at the very beginning…

IN late August 1216, Eustace de Vescy, lord of Alnwick, was in Barnard Castle with his half-brother-in-law, the king of Scotland, Alexander II, leading a rising against the English King John.

In fact, Eustace had a turbulent relationship with King John. It is said they fell out in 1212 when the king tried to seduce Eustace’s wife. Eustace tricked the king by substituting another woman in the royal’s bed at the last moment, and then fled to Scotland.

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Eustace was one of the 25 nobles who wrung concessions out of John in 1215 to form the Magna Carta, but the Pope excommunicated him.

So in late August 1216, he teamed up with the Scottish king and laid siege to the castle at Barnard Castle, which was home to the loyal Hugh de Balliol.

Eustace was on a hillock on the Startforth side of the River Tees. He allowed himself to become visible to the defenders inside the castle and was shot through the head by a crossbow bolt.

It is said that the spot on the hillock where he fell, killed by a bolt that was capable of taking out a deer, was called Deerbolt.

TOWARDS the end of the 19th Century, the Durham Militia established a training camp on the hillock at Deerbolt. As the First World War approached, the camp became the home of the 3rd Durham Light Infantry which used a nearby dale for shooting practice.

It was a very deep dale, as you could tell by its name: Deepdale. Deepdale had become famous in railway circles in 1858 when work had started on an extraordinary viaduct, 740ft long and 161ft above Deepdale Beck. It was designed by Thomas Bouch, and it opened as part of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway in 1861.

The DLI didn’t penetrate as deep into the dale as the viaduct when they set up their rifle range, the remains of which can still be found amid the butterbur.

It consisted of a concrete barn with a gallery running off it. One side of the gallery was heaped up with soil to create a berm which gave additional protection.

The targets would be raised from the gallery on to the top of the soil embankment so that they faced the soldiers in the dale. Inaccurate bullets would thud harmlessly into the soil; accurate ones would hit the targets. The men in the gallery would then lower the targets and then count up the scores.

Not only did this train the sharpshooters but it also got the men sheltering in the gallery used to being under fire.

The rifle range was in full use during the Second World War, when there were eight military camps dotted around Teesdale with thousands of men being assembled ahead of D-Day.

It remained in use, along with Deerbolt camp, until the late-1960s. The camp site became a prison, which opened in 1973, whereas the range was abandoned to the butterbur.

LOTS of people sent in information and memories about the rifle range.

“Ex-Barney lad” Dave Allison said: “I can remember as a kid in the 1960s watching solders on the parade ground at Deerbolt, and we used to play in Deepdale woods after they had finished.”

“The road was tarmac with concrete bollards on each side. There were two Nissen huts on the left side and, a little further up on the right hand side, were ditches which are still there but are now filled with bog plants. These used to have barbed wire over them and the solders had to crawl through them.”

David Eason said: “As a kid I used to play in the buildings at Deepdale woods. It was a live army rifle firing range. About six targets were pulled up on hoists. The operators would retire to what you call the “old stone barn” for protection. After the firing, they would change the targets for the next squad. There used to be a large earth bank behind the range to stop the bullets for travelling too far, but this seems to have been removed.”

Charles Lilley of Nunthorpe said: “The Teesdale Rifle volunteers were the original users, followed by the 3rd DLI, and 17th (Training) Battalion DLI. The range fell into disuse after the First World War, and was reconstructed during the Second, from when I suspect the buildings date.

“Many years ago, there was still a steel gantry for the raising of the range targets.

“There were six firing positions in the dale at 100 yard intervals, up to 600 yards from the targets.

“As children in the 1950s, we used to collect the spent cartridges, 303s I believe.”

Steve Liversedge said: “The obstacle course beside the berm was created as part of the preparations for D-Day.”

John Dogson said: “The assault course started at the entrance to the wood and ran up Deepdale beck to the juncture with Raygill Beck. It was still in use in the 1950s as we used to play on it, especially on the aerial ropeway strung up in the trees – who cared about health and safety?”

We were also very grateful for information from Tim Brown of Ferryhill, John Tallentire, Cliff Tunstall, George Hodgson, and Andrew Jefferies, who was another spent cartridge collector in his mis-spent youth.

FINALLY, we should complete the railway element of the Deepdale story. The last train ran over the viaduct from Barnard Castle to Penrith on January 20, 1962, and it was demolished in 1963.

ANYTHING we’ve missed? Please let us know. Email chris.lloyd@nne.co.uk