With eyes firmly fixed on the spectacular vista from his office in Raby Castle – Lord Barnard talks to Christine Raymond about what makes Durham a premier place to live and work and offers a tantalising glimpse at the future for the 900-year-old castle bought and sold just once in its long history

WITH a tone as easy and down to earth as the landscape surrounding him the man known locally simply as Harry still remembers his first impressions of the castle that his father grew up in.

“As a very small child I recall having tea with my grandfather in the castle’s Great Hall. He seemed ancient and somewhat taciturn. There was a stuffed crocodile under the sofa that fascinated me. I loved the atmosphere here and I still do.” Laughing, he continues: “I know that crocodile is still here somewhere and I rather look forward to finding it!”

Drawing inspiration from the contrasting waters and landscapes of Teesdale, Lord Barnard is clearly still wowed by the “enormous diversity” of the uplands. The “awesome natural phenomenon” that is High Force (one of the most visited attractions in the region) – and the rich mix of plant and birdlife in Upper Teesdale.

“There is a sense of space in Durham and a feeling of freedom here. and yet you are within easy reach of London and Edinburgh by rail. I am only 20 minutes from the East Coast Main Line in one direction and in the same 20 minutes I can be walking in the Durham Dales with its unique mix of botany and wildlife.

“For many small and medium-sized businesses quality of life for employees is really important. You can operate anywhere today with huge leaps forward in connectivity and transport links, but it’s the people that make a place as much as the history and landscapes. The people of Durham have real integrity and reputation is crucial. Trust remains an essential part of doing business here.’ Turning his attention to the breathtaking castle he inherited on the passing of his father last year, Lord Barnard speaks with refreshing honesty: “I am getting to know Raby Castle better. It’s rather like Durham – it has so many different layers, historical layers.

With real passion he continues: ‘I want to shine a light on something that is really special and perhaps not as well-known as it should be.”

And this season promises a wide range of attractions to draw visitors to the castle. Highlights include an Easter crafts and trail for children in the castle gardens, the annual orchid show featuring lectures and demonstrations from April 29 to May 1 and the Flower Power Plant & Gift Fair on Sunday May 28.

New this year is a specialist tour of the work of James Paine at Raby on Friday, May 12. This special event marks the 300th anniversary of the architect James Paine’s birth and the event is being celebrated in a number of houses where he worked, including Raby Castle.

The curator will lead this special tour highlighting Paine’s work at Raby. Guests will be given privileged access to see some of his work in areas of the castle not normally open to the public, as well as having an opportunity to see some of his original plans.

The heritage of Raby Castle is something that Lord Barnard holds dear. He says: “I have huge respect for the unique history and heritage of the castle, its collections and the whole of Raby estate. During medieval times, the castle was the great powerhouse of the Neville dynasty and was the birthplace of Cecily Neville, mother of Richard III and Edward IV. But it also played a prominent role during the Civil War period. Delightfully, the castle has ‘hidden but intact’ spectacular Georgian interiors, Victorian grandeur and a touch of early 20th Century austerity.”

There is a wonderful natural elegance about the castle which last year featured in a variety of scenes for the ITV series Victoria.

Raby is a jewel in the crown of the Durham Dales, and while there are plans to rightly make it one of the go-to visitor attractions in the north of England, building commercial relationships with local businesses is also close to Lord Barnard’s heart.

“Investment and strengthening links with local business will most certainly be a priority for us going forward”, he says.

Asked to home in on a specific USP for Durham Lord Barnard’s thoughts return to the wild and rugged Dales, the contrasting rivers and moorlands and the sense of pride amongst the people that live there.

It’s clear he is proud to call Durham his home and that he is focussed on illuminating what he believes is an understated place of romance.

“Durham has a special quality. It’s hard to put your finger on a single characteristic. For me it’s the landscape, the people and the sense of space that combine to offer such a high quality of life.”

Raby Castle is opening on a Saturday for the first time and is open to the public Wednesday-Sunday from April 15-October 1. It is also open bank holiday Mondays and every Tuesday in July and August. Park and gardens: 11am-5pm. Castle: 12.30pm-4.30pm. For more information, call 01833 660202 or visit www.rabycastle.com