It’s known for its beautifully rugged countryside, reputedly the highest waterfall in Britain and a surprising French chateau style musuem. But tranquil Teesdale in Couny Durham is starting to make waves, and one organisation is aiming to help put this glorious dale firmly on the visitor map.

The last few years have seen a bit of a change in Teesdale, gateway to the south Durham dales and a mecca for walkers.

Barnard Castle – where, yes, there’s a real castle - is its main town, and other centres scattered across this green and pleasant part of the north east are Middleton-in-Teesdale, Staindrop, Gainford, Cockfield and Evenwood.

The rest of the population is spread thinly across many very small communities - former mining villages in the east of the area and large numbers of agricultural holdings in the rural south/west areas, and it takes in part of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

You would hardly think it, but in what’s been a gradual shift Teesdale has now become a draw for nationally known comedy performers, attracted world class art and artistic exhibitions and Barnard Castle has just been named seventh in this year’s Sunday Times top 50 country locations to live, which called it ‘pretty special’.

So this quietly beautiful dale has a lot to shout about and a project called Explore Teesdale has been working hard to make sure everybody knows it.

Explore Teesdale is a project funded by the Teesdale Action Partnership and put together through Teesdale Marketing Limited, a non-profit making local organisation, and has resulted in an all singing and dancing newly engineered promotional website.

It’s an interactive resource - www.exploreteesdale.uk - launched during English Tourism Week in March, with information covering attractions, events, places to eat, drink and stay and lots of information about what to do and see in Teesdale. A one stop information shop for anyone living in or out of the dale.

Project manager, Angela Whiting, said: ‘We have so much to offer in Teesdale and its’s growing all the time. The new site details the essential information for attractions and activities in the Teesdale area and provides appropriate links to partner websites, such as the Bowes Museum and High Force waterfall

‘It will promote Teesdale to tourists and to provide searchable databases for Teesdale events and accommodation. Event organisers will have free access to an improved events submission form directly from the website, so it’s a truely useable resource.

‘There will also be two new searchable databases for the food and drink establishments and activity providers in the dale.’

One of Explore Teesdale’s partners is community radio station Radio Teesdale. Station manager Peter Dixon also runs Funny Way to Be Comedy, which brings new, exciting, top comedians to the Witham in Barnard Castle, another recently polished Teesdale gem. It’s a Grade Two listed building, refurbished in the last few years to the tune of £3.2million.

Acts have included Russell Howard, Mark Watson, Chris Ramsey, Russell Kane, Jo Caulfield, Phil Cool, Daniel Simonsen, Jenny Eclair, Lee Nelson and Susan Calman.

Peter said: ‘We started in 2010 as a way of supporting The Witham by programming a new genre for them. For many years I'd been interested in comedy in various forms so organising a stand up comedy night was a natural thing to do.

‘We have always tried to stretch the boundaries of what you would normally expect to see at a relatively small rural venue, so we have managed to persuade a number of bigger names than you might expect.

‘Most of the performers are unfamiliar with the area but all sing its praises once they have been. The most common question I'm asked when I pick up comedians and drive them to the venue? ‘Is the gig really in a Castle?’ .’

Bowes Museum is also attracting the big names. This stunning piece of 19th Century Grade 1 listed architecture contains one of the country’s most remarkable collections of fine and decorative arts.

Purpose built as a Museum in the style of a French château to reflect the tastes of its founders, John Bowes and his French wife Joséphine, it is the result of their enterprise, taste and philanthropic imagination.

Announced recently – and to a few yelps of surprise from the southern-based establishment – Yves Sant Laurent brings its first exhibition in the UK to the Bowes from 11 July – 25 October. It’s a comprehensive display of the French designer’s work and life, highlighting the defining elements of his vision, and the significant influence it has had on fashion and the way we understand womenswear.

Joanna Hashagen, Fashion Curator at The Bowes Museum said: ‘We are honoured to host the first exhibition in the UK of one of the most influential fashion designers of all time. This certainly is a great moment in the history of The Bowes Museum, as well as for fashion display in the UK.’

There’s also a lot going on behand the scenes. To reinvigorate the town and surrounding areas a 20 year plan has been developed called the Barnard Castle Vision, an award-winning regeneration partnership which has been operating successfully since 2006.  

It has created and delivered a broad spectrum of projects, including the regeneration of the Witham to become a community and arts centre and the conversion of a derelict car showroom into a gallery, digital hub and cafe.

It will still be a walkers’ paradise, still be the place where you can lose yourself in the beauty of the sorroundings and enjoy a quiet and leisurely time out.

And Teesdale may have one of the lowest population densities in the UK - just 0.3 people per hectare, substantially lower than that of even the county rate 2.3 - but it’s starting to make a lot of noise.