Under its new ownership great changes have already happened to Auckland Castle and its environment and far reaching developments to support the local economy have already started or are planned.
Some of these changes can be appreciated on this easy 6 mile walk which takes in aspects of the area's earlier history too.
Distance: 6 miles
Time: 3 hours
Conditions: well marked rights of way; permissive paths in Auckland Park
Refreshments: New Coundon, Bishop Auckland
OS Explorer Map 305
Originally published: 28 July 2017
We start from the car park in New Coundon opposite the Top House pub on the A 688 just north of the Coundongate roundabout (GR 228302). The substantial Station House served Coundon on the line from Bishop Auckland to Spennymoor. Now the Auckland Walk, the former tree lined trackbed is popular with cyclists and walkers.
Turn right and follow the Walk northwards. In about half a mile you will pass under a very substantial tunnel like bridge which carried the carriageway used by the bishops of Durham as they travelled from the city across Auckland Park to their castle. We follow the carriage drive later in the walk.
After two more bridges and close to a welcome seat , look out for a flight of steps on the left. This gives access through a gate into Bellburn Wood. Now follow a delightful path downstream through ancient woodland. Bell Burn is crossed by a little bridge close to which is an array of brightly coloured seats on the left. Then keep to the north bank of the stream, ignoring a ford on the left in some 250 yards. The path continues through the trees for another 400 yards to a junction where go left across a footbridge.
The right of way now climbs a long field to the top left corner before bearing left to follow the edge of the next field. There are good views ahead to Bishop Auckland and the castle whilst a field away to the right is the bank enclosing Binchester Roman Fort (Vinovia) which stands on a promontory above the River Wear.
When I walked the route in 2017 preliminary excavations in the field we are crossing had already started for the summer archaeological dig. The area under survey was once part of the vicus or local village outside the fort compound. The fort itself is open to the public in the summer.
Our path, partly paved, now drops down the edge of Binchester Plantation to the riverside lane. Go right if you intend to visit the fort. Our walk turns left here with views over the river to the site of Kynren, the spectacular historical display which drew thousands of spectators for the first time last year.
Follow the lane for some 200 yards and then go sharp left on a path which follows the wall of Auckland Park, the bishops' 800 acre hunting grounds. The park was originally surrounded by a deep ditch topped by a wooden fence or pale. In places the ditch is still visible.
Follow the wall for some 500 yards uphill and then enter the park over a stile. On the far side bear right on a broad green track which was once the bishops' carriage drive. Away on the left is a stone pyramid, typical of the many similar follies with which 18th century landowners embellished their estates. This one marked the holding tank for the castle's water supply.
The track descends to cross first Coundon Burn and then the River Gaunless by a handsome stone bridge built in 1760 by Bishop Trevor. His monogram RD or Richard Durham can be seen on the downstream arch.
Soon after, at a fork in the track, go left up to the remarkable Gothic style deer shelter, of the same date. It was built to fatten up the park's 300 deer under cover in the winter, to put them in peak condition for the following hunting season.
In another 200 yards the dominating perimeter wall of Auckland Castle appears and the track curves round the outer court. It is currently undergoing major works "to restore it to the original Georgian Gothic opulence of the architect James Wyatt".
Over the wall on the opposite side of the entrance drive the 17th century walled gardens are also being renovated.
Continue ahead under the Gothic Revival gate of 1760 into the Market Place parts of which are also undergoing a major facelift. A Spanish art gallery, a Mining art gallery and an arts and crafts shop are all planned. Details of all these developments can be found in the leaflet Positive Change which is available in the library in the French style town hall of 1869.
From the Market Place return to the castle entrance and continue right and then left down Durham Road with a good view of the castle gardens on your left. The road crosses the unseen River Gaunless. Some 150 yards beyond the dip in the road and just before the first house on the left, look out for steps marking the start of a footpath which quickly leads back to the park wall. With good views down left across a golf course it's now a gentle climb of just over half a mile back to the Auckland Walk.