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Raby Castle

Staindrop DL2 3AH

One of England's finest castles, Raby was at the heart of medieval northern politics and intrigue from the earliest post-Norman Conquest days. The present castle dates from the 14th century and it's been in the hands of the same family since 1626, so there's an extraordinary sense of continuity here, with history and heritage pretty much oozing from the walls, towers, turrets and fortified gates. The renovated interior rooms are magnificent, from Gothic hall to Victorian drawing room, and there's an overwhelming collection of art, textiles and furniture – though informative guided tours (and knowledgable guides present on self-guided days) really help to bring the place alive. It's not all toffs and nobles, either; the servants' hall and servants' bedrooms are part of the experience, while the echoing medieval kitchen (built in 1360) is perhaps most remarkable, in that it remained in use until the 1950s. The park and gardens almost require another day's exploration, from Deer Park and Coach House to walled ornamental gardens and woodland adventure playground. Just note – it's self-guided 'freeflow' in the castle on Sundays, bank holidays and daily in July and August; otherwise, you'll catch the guided tours (just turn up – they last an hour and 15 mins) on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

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