At the end of March 2021, while the UK was in the first coronavirus lockdown, Dominic Cummings famously went on a day trip to the market town of the same name. The prime minister’s then-chief adviser was staying with his wife’s parents on the outskirts of Durham after contracting Covid-19.
“My eyesight seemed to have been affected by the disease,” he later reported to an audience of journalists in the rose garden of 10 Downing Street.
“We agreed that we should go for a short drive to see if I could drive safely. We drove for roughly half an hour and ended up on the outskirts of Barnard Castle.”
Twenty-two months on from that controversial excursion, the 12th-century fortress that gave the County Durham town its name has seen visitor numbers “rocket”.
England Heritage, which runs the attraction, says 20 per cent more people visited Barnard Castle than in 2019, the last “normal” year for tourism.
Richard III spent much of his childhood in the castle, which is set dramatically above the River Tees.
A short way south, several lesser-known historic attractions in North Yorkshire clocked up their highest visitor numbers in over a decade. Kirkham Priory had 75 per cent more visitors than in 2019 while Pickering Castle was up 30 per cent.
England Heritage attributes increases in visitor numbers as a “clear indication that the public took advantage of the ‘stay at home’ mandate to rediscover the heritage on their doorstep”.
Kate Mavor, chief executive of English Heritage, said: “This has been a long and hard pandemic but one silver lining appears to be that with people staying closer to home, they have discovered historic places nearby.”
He replicated Dominic Cummings’ journey from the adviser’s home in north London to Barnard Castle, pausing to display messages from the roof of his car that were direct quotes from the “rose garden” press conference.
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