VISITORS have returned to a County Durham tourist attraction for the first time in more than a year.

Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, along with the nearby Mining Art Gallery reopened on Saturday.

Despite wet weather, heritage lovers were keen to return to the historic venue, with visitors also able to go into the castle's walled garden and orchard for the first time.

They also had a glimpse of archaeological excavations going on at the site, which are being carried out by students from Durham University's Archaeology department.

All of the Auckland Project's venues have been closed since the start of the first lockdown in March 2020.

Edward Perry, chief executive of Enterprise at The Auckland Project, said: “It’s been an incredibly challenging eighteen months for so many people, businesses and charities.

"As we begin to look forward to better times, we are thrilled to be able to open the castle grounds and areas of the walled garden which have never been available to the public before.

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“It’s wonderful to be able to prepare for visitors again, especially at a time when gardens and outdoor spaces are increasingly valued and essential to our wellbeing.”

Plans have been in place to open up the walled garden for more than five years.

The grade II listed garden, which was originally used to provide food for the Bishop of Durham’s household, had fallen into a poor state of repair after it stopped being used in 2010.

It is still some years away from completion but for 2021, rows of seasonal vegetables and a young apple orchard with wide range of summer flowers will be available for visitors to see.

The castle is also staging a new exhibition of Dutch and Flemish masters, which will be on display until October.

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Beauty in the Everyday: Dutch and Flemish Masters at Auckland Castle, which is being displayed in the Bishop Trevor Gallery focuses on scenes of everyday life produced in the Low Countries during the seventeenth century.

With ongoing restrictions in place, some parts of the castle and its grounds remain closed for the time being.

Timed tickets are on sale for the castle and grounds.

Full details about what is open and information about tours are available from