Historic Houses County Durham: Raby Castle

I was completely bowled over by Raby Castle’s towering structure and magnificent interior. The well-tended Walled Gardens and Deer Park walks added to a very memorable visit.

Raby Castle from the Low Pond
Raby Castle from the Low Pond

Raby Castle was built by the 3rd Baron Neville de Raby around 1380, but following Raby’s support for a failed rising in favour of Mary Queen of Scots in 1569, it was taken into royal custody until purchased by Sir Henry Vane in 1626. The Vane family, the Barons Barnard, still occupy the castle as a private home.

We visited at the end of August when most of the site had been re-opened following the lockdown. Social distancing was being well enforced and face masks were required when touring the castle interior. Toilet facilities were very limited with none at the castle or in the garden and deer park areas.

Raby Castle Exterior

Octagon Tower and Bulmer's Tower
Octagon Tower and Bulmer’s Tower

Before entering the castle, we walked around its terrace past the battlements and the nine towers, each with a small plaque giving its name and age.

The highest tower is Clifford’s Tower at 80 ft high, the oldest the 11th Century Nevill Tower, the most recent the 19th Century Octagon Tower and possibly the strongest is the five-sided Bulmer’s Tower.

Other than the Octagon Tower, these were not decorative fortifications, but were built for defence. The final conflict was in 1648 when the castle was besieged by Royalist forces during the Civil War.

Raby Castle Tour

Small Drawing Room
Small Drawing Room

Entry to the interior of the castle is via the fortified Nevill Gateway, which would have had double gates and a portcullis. Once inside, visitors can enjoy a fine range of art and furniture dating from the 17th to 20th Centuries.

The tour initially passes through some of the smaller rooms in the castle, including the intimate Small Drawing Room with photographs of the current owners of the castle on display. The walls are covered with a selection of equestrian paintings.

Next the Library which is divided into two rooms with attractive fireplaces and two magnificent multi-tiered Chinese porcelain pagodas.

Passing through the small Ante-Library leads to what in our opinion is the finest room in the castle, the spectacular Octagon Drawing Room, which dates back to the 1840s. We found the gilded ceiling to be quite breath-taking.

Octagon Drawing Room
Octagon Drawing Room

The tour continued through the Dining Room, with its relatively modest twelve place settings, through the Entrance Hall, with its high roof to allow coaches to drive through, to the historic Baron’s Hall where hundreds of knights plotted the 1569 uprising.

Many chapels in stately houses are small, dark places, so we were pleasantly surprised at the brightly decorated medieval Chapel, with portraits along the walls, including one depicting Cecily, the so-called Rose of Raby, the mother of Edward IV and Richard III.

The final room on the tour was the Old Kitchen dating back to 1360 and, amazingly, in continuous use until 1954.

The Walled Gardens

Ornamental Pool and Yew Hedge
Ornamental Pool and Yew Hedge

The Walled Gardens date back to the 18th Century, but have been considerably refashioned over the last 40 years. Some original features remain, including two high yew edges and an ornamental pond that was built to supply water to the kitchen garden.

A rose garden and heather and conifer gardens are also in this area and a small conservatory has been constructed in place of the 19th Century original.

As everywhere in the grounds, the castle provided a dramatic backdrop as we wandered around the gardens area.

The Deer Park

Red Deer StagThere are 200 acres of the Deer Park to explore, with pathways past the woodland and around the High and Low Ponds. The views of the castle from the Low Pond are superb.

Deer Park well described the grounds when we visited, with many red and fallow deer wandering around, some sporting fine sets of antlers. They seemed totally oblivious to the people approaching quite close to take photographs.

Seniors will be pleased to note that the pathways are well maintained and have no steep inclines.

Overall Impressions

In the Walled Gardens
In the Walled Gardens

Raby Castle provided us with a great day out, with refreshments along the way in the Stables Café.

The castle itself is the overpowering aspect of the estate with great views back from the Walled Gardens and from the Deer Park walks.

There is much to keep children interested, including the deer in the park and a woodland adventure playground.

Entry to Raby Castle, Park and Gardens is £13 for adults, £12 for seniors and £6.50 for children.

If you take up annual membership with Historic Houses, you will get free entry to Raby Castle, plus 300 other heritage sites. Individual membership is £56 a year, joint membership is £89 a year, however if you enter our unique code STEW05 at ‘Add discount code’ and you will receive a £5 discount. This also applies if you wish to give annual membership as a gift.

Raby Castle is open throughout the year, but check the Raby Castle website before setting off and pre-book visits to the castle interior.

We have reviewed several other properties under Historic Houses and see also: Historic Houses versus National Trust – Which to join? and Historic Houses – Winter Openings 2020-2021.

Additional Photographs

Raby Castle: The Battlements
The Battlements
Ceiling of the Octagon Drawing Room
Ceiling of the Octagon Drawing Room
Raby Castle: Dining Room
Dining Room
Raby Castle: Entrance Hall
Entrance Hall
Raby Castle: Baron's Hall
Baron’s Hall
The Chapel
The Chapel
Old Kitchen
Old Kitchen
Rose Garden and Conservatory
Rose Garden and Conservatory

POSTED 17th OCTOBER 2020 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.