What is Barnard Castle and why is everyone talking about it?

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By Jez Fielder
This May 7, 2014 photo shows a general view of the War Memorial on the grounds of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, England
This May 7, 2014 photo shows a general view of the War Memorial on the grounds of the Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle, England   -  Copyright  Scott Heppell/AP

Not since Dream Academy's 1985 hit has life in a northern town been such a talking point. 

But over the last 24 hours the map of the United Kingdom has been studied by hundreds of thousands as media outlets have mentioned the name Barnard Castle on innumerable occasions as the destination of Dominic Cummings' controversial lockdown trip. 

Not to be confused with Castle Bernard in Ireland's County Cork, nor the character Mr Bernard Castle in Cynthia Wright's historical romance The Duke and The Cowgirl (where the character is described as "one of those jumped up plutocrats who think they can buy position and prestige rather than earn it over centuries and by dint of the quality of one's blood"), Barnard Castle is, in fact, a town in Teesdale, County Durham, England. 

And what's more, it has a deeply ironic connotation in the local dialect. During the sixteenth century the phrase “That’s Barney Castle!” became idiomatic of a cowardly excuse after Sir George Bowes, who was steward of the Fortress, shut himself up inside it, refusing to come out during the Northern Rebellion of 1569 (a failed attempt by Catholic nobles from Northern England to replace Queen Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots).

Such is the interest generated by Cummings' controversial sojourn, the travel review site TripAdvisor has had to suspend reviews for Barnard Castle. 

They write: "Due to a recent event that has attracted media attention and has caused an influx of review submissions that do not describe a first-hand experience, we have temporarily suspended publishing new reviews for this listing. If you’ve had a firsthand experience at this property, please check back soon - we’re looking forward to receiving your review!"

The Tales of the British Isles twitter page, which has just welcomed a whole host of new followers in the wake of the slang discovery, also detailed the previous most famous resident of Durham: St Cuthbert, who, it is stated, arrived in Durham three centuries after his own death. Monks fleeing persecution carried him for generations until reaching his final resting place in Durham Cathedral. The message for Cummings being, if St Cuthbert can wait that long to visit the area, so can everyone else.