Barnard Castle is the biggest town in the upper Teesdale area. Inevitably, most long standing castles become a locus for trade and activity from the local area. The location of the castle was almost certainly chosen due to its position overlooking one of the few relatively easy crossing points of the river. A roman road even had a bridge built here to allow quick access to their garrisons and forts further north.
The site was probably defended in some way throughout the history of the area but it was the Normans after their conquest of Britain who rebuilt the castle in stone from the end of the 11th Century. Two of the owners, from 1125 to 1185 were both called Bernard de Balliol (father and then son). They extended the castle and for whatever reason, their name stuck as the name of the castle and the town that flourished around it: Barnard’s Castle. It changed hands many times over the centuries, once being owned by the Bishop of Durham and for many years as a favourite residence of the future King Richard III.
But over time, castles were becoming less useful as gunpowder fuelled weapons became more powerful. Sir Henry Vane bought both Barnard Castle and Raby Castle in the early 17th Century and used stone form Barnard to make Raby more impressive as his country house. The castle has been heading further into disrepair ever since. It currently belongs to English Heritage who preserve what is left and provide activities and information for visitors.
The town remains a popular market town as well as a hub for visitors to the upper Teesdale area with lots of coffee shops and accommodation. In summer the river and rocks below the castle are usually covered in children clambering about!