The River Wear is a river with a immensely rich history. For thousands of years it has served as a pivotal area of strategic, military and economic importance.
From the days of the Roman Empire, to the rule of the Prince Bishops, to leading the industrial revolution through the coal mining and ship building industries it nurtured. Its impact runs deep and because of this, it is a river that has also been lined with castles and glorious mansions from those who have ruled over us.
Here in this article, we detail and explore every single castle on the route of the River Wear, starting from the Hills of Weardale and proceeding downstream all the way to Sunderland itself!
Witton Castle (1410)
Location: Witton-Le-Wear, County Durham, reach on the A68 from Bishop Auckland
Witton Castle is a castle of medieval origin located deep into the County Durham. First constructed in the 15th century on behalf of Sir Ralph Eure, the castle was later held by Royalist Sir William Darcy during the English Civil War. However, in 1796 the castle’s interior was badly damaged. Two decades later, it was bought by William Chaytor of Croft Hall who proceeded to renovate it. Nowadays, the castle is a camping and caravan park with plenty of facilities. There’s also a lot to explore including nearby woods. open fields and a River Wear which is very shallow at this point.
Auckland Castle (1183)
Auckland Castle, or “The Bishop’s Castle” is a gorgeous neo-gothic structure in Bishop Auckland dating back from the 12th century, established by Bishop of Durham Hugh de Puiset. In 1603 after the Union of the Crowns, Tobias Matthew invited Anne of Denmark, Prince Henry, and Princess Elizabeth to stay at Auckland on their journey from Scotland to London. After the English civil war, the castle was sold to Sir Arthur Hazelrigg, who renovated the building and transformed it into a mansion. As a result, the facility is better described as a massive complex with many buildings. Although it is now a tourist attraction, the Bishops of Durham still have their offices here.
Brancepeth Castle (Norman era)
Location: Brancepeth, Durham DH7 8DF,
Just five miles south of the City of Durham, Brancepeth castle was initially a Norman era building built in the 1100’s which was later reconstructed in the 14th century. The castle has passed through many different owners throughout the centuries, including William Russell of Sunderland, and was used as a hospital during World War I. It later became the headquarters of the Durham Light Infantry, who occupied the building until its disbanding in 1962. Nowadays, the castle is a public building and is available for tours, holiday rentals and even weddings!
Durham Castle, 1072
Likely the most famous castle on our list, Durham City Castle was built by order of William the Conqueror in 1072. In exchange for loyalty to the crown, the Bishops of Durham were known as “the Prince Bishops” autonomous political figures who overseen the region, its land and financial affairs. Durham Castle transformed the city into a stronghold to defend their seat. Based on a huge hill on the bend of the River Wear, it’s fair to say it would have been very difficult to attack. Nowadays, the Castle is open for visitors but it primarily functions as part of University College, Durham, the oldest constituent college of the city’s University.
Lumley Castle, 1389
Just a bit further up the River Wear at Chester-le-street we have Lumley Castle, originally built in the 14th Century, it was initially a property of the Lumley family who used it as a glorified mansion. Now owned by the chain “No Ordinary Hotels”, Lumley Castle now functions as a place you can stay (with 73 available rooms), eat and host events in such as weddings. It is also popularly depicted as one of the most haunted places in the North East of England, supposedly hosting a ghost of a murdered young lady known as Lily Lumley. Many people have claimed to experience “paranormal activity” whilst staying here.
Lambton Castle, 1820
Location: Chester-le-Street DH3 4PT,
A “modern” built castle in the 19th century, Lambton Castle is the traditional home of the Lambton family, the Earls of Durham, which was built on an area of land the family have held since the 11th century. The area around it is known as “Lambton Park” which is a large open spanning estate, which once even hosted Lions! The Lambton family in particular played a significant role in the development of the coal industry in the North East of England, and helped spearhead coal freight into Sunderland by what was known as the Lambton Wagonway.
Hylton Castle, 1072
Location: Accessible directly from Washington Road by both car and bus, north of the River Wear
Finally, moving into the City of Sunderland itself, Hylton Castle is a stone castle sitting on the northern bank of the River Wear which constitutes the ancestral home of the Hylton Family. The castle was first built in 1072 as a normal structure, but has gone through numerous incarnations since with its current stone form appearing in 1390. During the middle ages, the Hylton family ruled over the “Lordship of Hylton” which covered all of present day Northwest Sunderland. The Hyltons died off in 1792, and the Castle has gone through numerous owners since.
A ruined church accompanies the castle known as St Catherine’s chapel. The castle is now owned by English Heritage and has recently completed a multi-million pound restoration which has made it accessible to visitors again.The castle is home to a local ghost story known as the “Cauld Lad”. The story goes that the facility is haunted by the spirit of a young man who died at the hands of the Baron of Hylton, and repeatedly remarks that is “cauld” (cold).