Visitors flock to Barnard Castle and other historic sites in England | Heritage

The crumbling medieval fortress of Barnard Castle saw record numbers of visitors last year after gaining notoriety as Dominic Cummings’ destination during a lockdown mission to test his eyesight.

Visitors to the 12th century castle on the north bank of the River Tees are up nearly 20% in 2021 compared to 2019, according to English Heritage, the charity which manages more than 400 historic buildings and monuments.

After the Guardian and Daily Mirror revealed Cummings’ trip to his parents’ farm at the height of the first Covid lockdown, the then chief aide to the Prime Minister claimed he drove with his wife and child at Barnard Castle to test his eyesight, which ‘seemed to have been affected’ by his bout with Covid. He wanted to make sure he could fly back to London the next day, he said.

At the time, Covid restrictions banned almost all travel, and the revelation of Cummings’ trip to the North East caused public outcry.

As restrictions eased over the following weeks, residents and businesses in Barnard Castle reported an increase in the number of curious visitors. John Blissett, the town’s mayor, said the controversy had “put us on the map”. “The crowds came…I think the publicity did us good.”

The initial surge in visitor numbers to the Grade I listed fortress – built by Bernard de Balliol and later in the hands of Richard III – has turned into a record year in 2021, English Heritage said.

Barnard Castle is one of a number of smaller historic attractions which saw a boom in visitor numbers last year, with several record high figures, English Heritage said.

The trend was a clear indication that the public “took advantage of the ‘stay at home’ mandate to rediscover heritage on their doorstep”, the charity said.

Boscobel House in Shropshire, where in 1651 Charles II hid Cromwell’s soldiers in an oak tree after the Civil War, has seen an 82% increase in visitors compared to 2019.

Kirkham Priory in North Yorkshire, which was home to Augustinian canons until it was dissolved in 1539 and where secret military research was carried out during World War II, has seen a 75% increase in visitors.

There has been a 30% increase in the number of visitors to Pickering Castle, also in North Yorkshire. The 13th century castle was used as a royal hunting lodge, holiday home and stud farm by a succession of medieval kings.

Kate Mavor, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: “In the past, the lesser-known and more intimate local sites in our care have often been overlooked in favor of our more iconic ones, despite having a whole history. so rich and important.

“It’s been a long and difficult pandemic, but a silver lining seems to be that with people staying closer to home, they’ve discovered historic places nearby.”

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