Postcode focus: DL12

Beautiful Barney - Encompassing Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 is brimming with outstanding scenery, market towns and villages and a vibrant community atmosphere.

Beautiful Barney - Encompassing Barnard Castle and Middleton-in-Teesdale, DL12 is brimming with outstanding scenery, market towns and villages and a vibrant community atmosphere.

Through the years, the area has been the inspiration for Turner, Walter Scott and Charles Dickens and a getaway for such famous names as Oliver Cromwell and John Wesley.

Today, it still offers some of the most picturesque scenery in a stunning county, while catering for the modern needs of a householder.

Capital of Teesdale Barnard Castle, or "Barney" as it is known to locals, is in a sheltered valley towered over by the remains of Bernard's Castle after which the town was named.

The castle, built in 1125 by Bernard de Balliol, offers stunning views of the surrounding area and dominates the skyline as it overlooks the River Tees and the main road into Barney - Galgate, which is based on a road built by the Romans.

Indeed the road follows the curve of the castle and brings visitors into the heart of the town, the main square with its centrepiece, the curious 18th-Century Market Cross or Butter Mart.

Given to the town in 1747, the octagonal building has been used as a fire station, town hall and a court house down the years.

Barney is also home to the majestic Bowes Museum. Built in the style of a French chateau by John Bowes in 1892, it houses one of the country's finest collections of European art.

But this ancient County Durham settlement remains a working market town and has a flourishing market held on the cobbles every Wednesday, as well as the occasional Saturday farmers' market.

The town centre has an array of shops and offices, from banks and building societies to high street stores such as Woolworths, as well as a selection of independent shops showcasing antiques, fine jewellery and unique furniture.

There is no shortage of evening entertainment, with a wealth of fine pubs for such a small town and a selection of restaurants.

While much of the activity focuses on the main square, prime residential sites tend to be a little farther out, such as in Bank - a ridge running along the edge of the town centre where restaurants, antique shops and tearooms jostle with a selection of elegant 17th-Century town houses and Victorian warehouses converted into flats.

Desmesnes (corr) is another popular spot - an attractive enclave of small stone cottages nestling at the base of the town just below Bank and enjoying fine views of grassland and the riverside.

But perhaps the best residential site in Barney is Startforth - a three-minute walk from the ancient centre across a footbridge and enjoying superb elevated views over the river and castle.

Larger properties, the occasional stately home and an increasing number of farm and barn conversions can also be found in outlying villages such as the pretty riverside hamlets of Romaldkirk and Cotherstone, a few miles upstream on the Tees or three miles to the south-west in the foothills of the Pennines around the village of Bowes.

Just eight miles north-west on the B6278 lies the small attractive town of Middleton-in-Teesdale. Situated on the north side of Teesdale between the villages of Eggleston and Newbiggin, Middleton was expanded in the early 19th Century when the London Lead Company moved its northern headquarters there.

Much of the architecture from its days as a company town are still clearly visible.

While these two more bustling centres have much to offer, those heading to the area for its more rural charms do not have far to go. The Dales provide some of the best walking and cycling in the North.

With England's biggest waterfall, High Force, just nine miles from Middleton, canoeing and fishing on the Tees and the grandeur of Raby castle all within its domain, DL12 is a haven for any householder looking to step out of the rat race.

Out and about

Shops: Banks, including NatWest and Barclays, to high street stores such as Woolworths and Stead and Simpson, to individual antique, food and jewellery shops.

Leisure: Golf club, football teams, dart club, walking and cycling, canoeing and fishing on the River Tees.

Schools: Barnard Castle School is a reputable independent establishment with a strong sporting tradition, evident through several "Old Barnardians", including director of the Rugby Football Union Rob Andrew, former England rugby players Tony and Rory Underwood and present England player Matthew Tait.

Transport: The Dales are served by good transport links with Bishop Auckland, Spennymoor and central County Durham via the A688, and Darlington and Teesside by the A67. Barnard Castle is located just four miles from the A66 with good access to both the M6 to the west and the A1(M) to the east, and also had rail links to Bishop Auckland and Darlington.

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What a start for our children

Museum director Adrian Jenkins has seen his family thrive in the beautiful countryside of Teesdale

The man behind world class art gallery the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle says the open space and freedom remind him of his childhood in rural Wales, and make this the perfect place to bring up his two children.

The 42-year-old moved to the area from Manchester six years ago after securing the job as director of the prestigious art gallery.

It is not the first time he has ventured to the North-East, as he previously worked at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, but having commuted from York during his three-year stint at the city centre attraction he was keen to be closer to his work - and the countryside around Barney was the perfect haven for him and his family.

For two years, Mr Jenkins and his wife Lucy, 35, who is currently on maternity leave from her position as trust manager of charity Middleton Plus, have been renovating a converted barn on the outskirts of Newbiggin, near Middleton.

Close to High Force waterfall and surrounded by lush countryside, for them DL12 offers the perfect retreat.

Mr Jenkins said: "Museums tend to be in big cities and so it is a privilege to work in a world class museum like Bowes, but still be able to live in beautiful countryside.

"We live high up in the Dales and the views are quite spectacular, although in winter it can be a bit wild.

"The sense of freedom you get from the open panoramic landscape in the upper valley is just perfect."

While Darlington, as the closest town is still 40 minutes' drive, the couple - who have a two-and-a-half year old daughter called Arwen and a four-week-old son Rhys - can get most things they need in Middleton or Barney.

But while these communities may be more bustling than the hamlet of Newbiggin, they offer a friendly way of life lacking in many other parts of the country.

Mr Jenkins said: "The atmosphere in the area is great. People all know each other and people look after each other - there is a real community."

He said: "I grew up in an agricultural community in Wales and that's very much how it is further up the valley. It's a great place to bring up young children."

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A grade II-Listed double-fronted extended family house providing generous accommodation, with many period features is for sale.

Living accommodation includes a living room, dining room, study, inner hallway, breakfasting kitchen, utility room and a cloakroom. There are also four bedrooms and a bathroom. There rear gardens. 116 Galgate, Barnard Castle, is for sale through Sandersons at a guide price of £249,950, tel: (01833) 690390.

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A beautifully proportioned Grade II-listed period house providing generous accommodation is for sale on the green of the highly desirable village of Cotherstone, near Barnard Castle.

Accommodation includes a lobby, dining hall, sitting room and living room. There is also a study, side hall, shower room, breakfasting kitchen, conservatory, utility room and cloakroom/wc. In addition there are four bedrooms, a bathroom/wc and shower room.

The property has gardens to front and rear as well as a tandem garage plus workshop.

The Manor House, Cotherstone, is for sale through Sandersons at a guide price of £500,000, tel: (01833) 690390.

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Located in the sought-after village of Romaldkirk, near Barnard Castle, a stone-built Grade II-Listed cottage has been refurbished yet retains a great deal of character.

The detached property has open country views plus gardens and a patio. There is a hallway with quarry tiled floor leading to a spacious sitting room with open fireplace and bay window as well as a newly-fitted dining kitchen. There is also a pantry and utility room.

Upstairs, an open landing area leads to three double bedrooms and a long and narrow study/snug/dressing room or nursery, which interconnects to bedroom three.

Jesmond House is for sale through Charltons at £330,000, tel: (01833) 695757.

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A delightful one/two bedroom cottage is for sale for under £100,000. It has pleasant gardens, outbuildings and a garden room plus off road parking.

The property, in Middleton-in-Teesdale, near Barnard Castle, has views over Teesdale.

2 Hudegate West, is for sale through George F White for offers in the region of £92,000, tel: (01388) 527966.

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Noreen Johnson explains why beautiful Barney is such a popular choice for homebuyers.

Steeped in history and overlooking the River Tees, Barnard Castle - or Barney to the locals - is a beautiful and bustling market town; it's no big surprise that there is a significant increase in newcomers to the town.

Barnard Castle is an ancient settlement in County Durham, which was developed around its now ruined castle towering over the river Tees. The town has a very down-to-earth feel with picturesque streets leading off its market square.

Being at the heart of Teesdale means there is plenty to do, whether it's a walk in the countryside, canoeing on the river Tees or gazing in wonder at the power of High Force.

With good access from the A67 from Darlington, the A688 from Bishop Auckland and the A66 from Scotch Corner and Brough, the market town is seeing more commuters settle here.

It's not just because of the range of country activities on offer, but because people are prepared to travel for the good schools here. So now it's not just people buying homes for retirement or holiday homes, but families looking for a quality of life.

With a population of just 6,500, they can be assured of finding the space of rural living.

Barnard Castle is recognised nationally as one of the 50 most historically and architecturally important towns in Britain.

The town's architecture is predominantly from the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Those trying to escape to the country are beginning to recognise the desirability of Barnard Castle and the surrounding areas. Average property prices here are about £181,706 and are rising, but there is a good range of new homes in the surrounding area, which tend to offer more space and affordability.

So, if you are looking for the rural life with a bit of history and good schools and town facilities, you would do well to take a look at Barnard Castle and its surroundings.

* Noreen Johnson is the sales manager of Dunelm Homes. The company has a development at Westbury Park in St Helens, Bishop Auckland, just off the A688. For details, tel: (01388) 459579 or (01325) 372724.

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