Monday, 20 August 2012

The Bowes Museum, High Force, Fish & Chip Shop Kirby Stephen - 5th July

I can't remember the first time I visited the Bowes Museum, I just know it's always been etched in my memory, nor can I recount the amount of times that I have been there, walking up the staircase, imagining (as I did with a lot of places when I was a child) that I lived there in amongst the museum pieces.

I was eager to take Tim there and have been for years. So when we knew we were going to be in for an awful day of weather we thought it would be the best idea to see somewhere indoors. 

Tim was surprised as we drove into the grounds of the Museum, all resplendent in its French Ch√Ęteau glory. I am so used to it I forgot that it looks somewhat out of place in the rough and rugged hills of Teesdale and especially grand in the market town of Barnard Castle.

The Bowes Museum

The history of the Bowes Museum is a very interesting one but sadly too long to do into in any detail on here. I would urge you to read it though. The do have, on the first floor, an around 10 minutes video on loop detailing it, but if like me you're a little lazy there's a great introduction to the Bowes Museum by Bill Bryson here: 

Having had an £11million refurb over the past few years it was quite a change from the building I remember. It seems somehow much lighter and the exhibitions on the lower ground floor have been moved to offices that were at the back of the ground floor. 

There is no silver swan proudly presiding in her case in the middle of the ground floor reception area. Something the younger me was drawn to in complete fascination, but 'll get to that later. 

Admission price is £9, a good price for a museum with such wonders in it. You can spend a good half a day looking around at the different exhibitions.

The chandeliers are still there in their glory, twinkling away against the light that bounces in from the windows at the front of the building. The gift shop had been updated with glass walls and the cafe is now a lot bigger, a lot prettier ad it has a very good menu.

We started our visit with a trip to Cafe Bowes as Tim was struggling with the start of a cold and we thought a good strong coffee was just what was needed, and at £3.90 for a cafetiere for two you certainly couldn't complain.
The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum

We set off for a look about after our pick me up and started with the ground floor which has a lovely exhibition for Charles Dickens 200th anniversary

We whizzed around this and then came to the two headed calf  something I have again told Tim about on many occasions. I remember being quite freaked out by the sight of it as a nipper, and I was eager to see it again, just to see if it was as monstrous as I thought it was. They've moved it now so you can have a good look about it from three sides, rather than it being in a glass case embedded into the wall. 

The Bowes Museum

It was on to the first floor, where at the stairs we took a photo. I don't know what it is about the staircase in the Bowes Museum, I have always felt uneasy on it even though it couldn't be made of solider stuff. I think it probably stems from being brought up in a bungalow, stairs were something it was very hard to get my head around as a child, and being back in the Bowes brought this back to me. I thought of the times I'd stood in front of that mirror at the top of those stairs and looked down into the vast hall with the swan in the centre. I thought of how little I was to how much bigger I'd become, the girl who would hold her Nana's hand, now stood side by side with her husband in the very same spot.

The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum

We wandered about the ceramics, pottery and glass sections and through the furniture section,including a room with wall panelling from all different eras, something I thought as especially interesting, and then with Tim flagging again we decided to go back to Cafe Bowes for some lunch.

I opted for the soup, which was carrot and coriander and came with two warm rolls, one with olives in it, and it was delicious. Tim went for the cheddar and home made pickle sandwich with a side order of chips.

It came to a total of £11.85, which isn't too bad at all for well sourced produce and homemade goodness!

The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum The Bowes Museum

We wandered about the textiles room and then decided, as it was getting near the time for the swan display to happen that we should get moving and grab a good seat while we had the chance. 

The swan is now situated on the top floor in one of the galleries, the roof has changed so light pours into the space and highlights the swan. I have fond memories of my Nana pushing me to the front and up to the glass when the swan was in the foyer of the building, watching it dip it's head and eat the fish I was so surprised, not knowing the fish was always there in its mouth. There was something utterly magical about it.

The Silver Swan, Bowes Museum The Silver Swan, Bowes Museum The Silver Swan, Bowes Museum

I have to say the magic hasn't disappeared an it gave me great delight to see it all over again, only this time with a ten minute talk beforehand and a detailed display outside along with all of the other silverware collected by the Bowes.

The mechanism is still wound up with a key, and as the swan begins to prepare for her supper the glass rods begin to move and the fish begin to swim, she looks around, dips her head and munches up a fish before settling back into position. There really is nothing more charming, the musical accompaniment chiming along in a delicate manner. I was happy that Tim had enjoyed it as much as me.

It had been taken apart and cleaned in 2008, considering there were no plans this was no mean feat! There's a link to the BBC inside out special on this here. It's all the better for it, it looks amazing and so much brighter and more beautiful than it was when I last saw it in the 90s.

After seeing the swan we looked around the galleries, which have some great work including some Canaletto pieces and some by Joesphine Bowes herself.

The Bowes Museum

It was real treat to be back in the Bows Museum and I hope to be back again some day but I really wont leave it so long until next time. It brought back some lovely memories and it really does hold a very special place in my heart.

We decided to go and visit High Force, nearby and just outside of Middleton in Teesdale. Another place that I've visited many times from my childhood. The weather had been terrible but we knew this would make our visit something quite special. I am so used to seeing High Force just flowing down the central part that it really was quite a jaw dropping money to see it in its full glory and fury rushing down both sides of it, something I haven't seen before but my Nana told me had happened when my Dad was young.

High Force, Teesdale

Tim braved the rocks at the side, but I wasn't going anywhere near them with the river so high and the waterfall flowing so fast, it was a pretty scary display of nature if I'm honest but it was beautiful when the sun came out an the light danced off the spray. 

High Force, Teesdale

We rounded the day off with a chippy tea in Kirby Stephen at the chip shop my Grand folk use to stop at on the way to the caravan and we used to sit in the lay-by and eat out of the newspaper (I don't care what people say, fish and chips tastes way better out of newspaper!).

It's a shop that has not been refurbed since the 50s and looks all the better for it, we decided to eat in and were not disappointed, I don't know what they do with the batter in that place but it's perfect and highly recommended!

Fish & Chip Shop, Kirby Stephen Fish & Chip Shop, Kirby Stephen Fish & Chip Shop, Kirby Stephen Fish & Chip Shop, Kirby Stephen


  1. I panicked at the start that the swan had gone! Was so relieved to read further on that it had actually moved. I was SO enthralled by that as a child!

    1. You should go back if you haven;t been for ages, it's a million times better now it's had a bit of an overhaul :D

  2. I've enjoyed reading your blog. My gran saw the 2 headed calf alive. She lived on the neighbouring farm. It used to fascinate me! Chris

    1. Thank you! Wowzers, it must really have been something to see it alive!