Barnard Castle is a very attractive and largely unspoilt town located on the River Tees, just outside the rugged upper reaches of Teesdale. The town lies just outside the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
From some directions the town is dominated by its castle, which rather confusingly was originally known as Castle Barnard. The castle is surprisingly invisible from the main street, but looms over the Tees and the southern approaches to the town. The castle does directly affect the course of the main road through the town (the A-67), which dog-legs dramatically to the south to avoid the castle, one of the few divertions from the course of the original Roman road. The original castle was built soon after the Norman conquest, but it reached its peak during the late 12th Century,
The hub of the town is the long market street (Horse Market towards the north, Market Place in the south). This runs from Galgate (which actually resembles a traditional wide market street itself) down to the Butter Market, a curious round structure in the centre of the street. The street is lined by stone buildings and interesting shops, including some lovely food shops. From the Butter Market the road continues on down the Bank towards the River Tees, which runs around two sides of the town.
Barnard Castle is the home of the Bowes Museum, a truly impressive collection, but one that is rather overshadowed by the building itself, which resembles a huge French chateau. The museum was founded by John and Joséphine Bowes. He was a wealthy businessman, while she was an actress he met and married in Paris. The first stone of the museum was laid in 1869 and the museum finally opened in 1892, sadly after both John and Joséphine had died. The collection's most famous piece is the Silver Swan, a British automaton built in 1773. The swan is currently in working order, and currently operates once per day (at 2pm as of 2012 but check on their website before visiting). The collection is massive and very impressive, and contains a wide variety of artworks.
There are interesting riverside walks on both sides of the town. Above the town the best paths are on the north bank of the river, and run through an impressive wooded ravine. To the south the best path is on the south bank, and runs through more gentle countryside (although the river itself still runs between sections of cliffs). The easiest routes lead up into the North Pennines and in particular to Middleton-in-Teesdale, although the Dales are also very close, and an attractive road climbs over the hills to drop down into Arkengarthdale and on to Swaledale.