Barnard Castle and Sir Walter Scott

A few weeks ago we visited Barnard Castle. I've always been interested in the town as it provided some of the inspiration for Charles Dickens' Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby and, later, for Master Humphrey's Clock. It also provided the opening lines for Sir Walter Scott's epic poem Rokeby where a man is standing on guard on the round tower of the Barnard Castle fortress.

Scottt's Rokeby was really important in attracting artists such as Turner, Atkinson Grimshaw, and Alfred William Hunt to the region. Scott visited the region in 1809 to visit his friend John Morritt's country estate, Rokeby Park, after being inspired by the scenery. It was his lengthy correspondence with Morritt which provided the basis of the poem - gathering extensive notes on Teesdale's folklore, its beauty spots and its history. 

Written in 1813, the narrative poem is set in Teesdale during the English Civil War and tells the story of an attack on Rokeby Castle, a daring escape, forced marriage, and tragedy, culminating in a happy ending. 

“The Moon is in her summer glow,
But hoarse and high the breezes blow,
And, racking o’er her face, the cloud
Varies the tincture of her shroud;
On Barnard’s towers, and Tees’s stream,
She changes as a guilty dream,
When Conscience, with remorse and fear,
Goads sleeping Fancy’s wild career.
Her light seems now the blush of shame,
Seems now fierce anger’s darker flame,
Shifting that shade, to come and go,
Like apprehension’s hurried glow;
Then sorrow’s livery dims the air,
And dies in darkness, like despair.
Such varied hues the warder sees
Reflected from the woodland Tees.
Then from old Baliol’s tower looks forth,
Sees the clouds mustering in the north,
Hears, upon turret-roof and wall,
By fits the plashing rain-drop fall,
Lists to the breeze’s boding sound,
And wraps his shaggy mantle round."

Barnard Castle has an ancient feel and it is easy to see how it inspired so many writers and painters. The Castle itself is majestic and awe inspiring.