Durham's Hidden Gems

Dymphna Byrne explores two magnificent museums situated in Durham.

Bowes Museum

Durham is good on museums. Two are striking and totally different. One, the exuberant Bowes museum in the market town of Barnard Castle is built like a French château; an unusual sight in the Northumbrian countryside. Ornate outside and lavishly decorated inside, it has a magnificent staircase, heavy glittering chandeliers, gilded mirrors, acres of red Turkey carpet and regal potted plants. The building and the original collection of paintings, furniture, porcelain, tapestries and other 'treasures' are remarkable in that they were funded from private money; the result of the collecting passion and the enlightened views of an illegitimate son of a titled family.

'Before people come they think we exaggerate', said Elizabeth Conlon, director of the museum, run by Durham County Council since 1956. 'They can't believe a provincial museum has anything so magnificent.'

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