A site for sore eyes? How Dominic Cummings put Barnard Castle on the map

Name: Barnard Castle.

Age: 900 years old, give or take.

Location: Just 30 minutes from Durham, when visibility is good.

Appearance: Picturesque, but also ruined.

Is it a town or is it a castle? It’s both. The market town grew around the castle after its stone fortifications were built by Bernard de Balliol in the 12th century. The castle itself is a popular tourist destination.

I guess it’s closed now, thanks to coronavirus. Yes, it is. Normally, there’s plenty to see in Barnard Castle, if your eyesight is up to it.

Such as? There’s the Bowes Museum, which has an amazing silver swan automaton that preens itself.

Is the museum open? Of course not. There’s a pandemic on, remember?

So what would be the point of going to Barnard Castle? You can still have a lovely stroll through the town, or a dry cough by the river.

And it’s only 30 minutes from Durham? That’s all – a quick day trip, as well as a great rehearsal for a longer journey to somewhere more exciting.

Like where? Like London!

I don’t think I should be making unnecessary car journeys just now. Yes, you carry on obeying the rules – they apply to you, after all.

They apply to everyone, don’t they? It certainly can’t hurt for you to believe that.

Sorry, but you’re being really confusing and contradictory. I know – I’m trying to reflect government policy in the wake of No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings’ admission that he drove from Durham to Barnard Castle after he was spotted there by members of the public.

Why did he do that? He said he was testing to see if his eyesight was good enough to make it all the way to London.

He drove 60 miles to check that he could see well enough to drive? Yes, but the good news is: he could!

Should he not have gone to Specsavers? There’s a branch in the town, but there’s no evidence he dropped in. After his admission, TripAdvisor was deluged with spoof reviews for Barnard Castle, many purportedly from Cummings.

What did they say? They’ve all been taken down now, because they “do not describe a firsthand experience”.

At least non-firsthand reviews can’t be accused of violating either the letter or the spirit of the government’s pandemic restrictions. True.

Is it wrong to say that I’m furious, but that I also really want to see that automated swan? I think your feelings mirror popular opinion in this case.

Do say: “Remember the rule – never apologise, over-explain.”

Don’t say: “Come to Barnard Castle – if you can read the road signs to find it.”

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