Country Life Today: Auckland Castle, Durham’s ancient Bishop’s palace, reopens to the public

In today's round-up, we take a peek at the newly restored Auckland Castle, which is reopening to the public at the weekend; meet Britain's naughtiest dog; find out what it takes to become a police horse and discover the grimy old painting that just fetched £20.7 million at auction.

Historic Auckland Castle reopens in November

The former palace of the bishops of Durham, 900-year-old Auckland Castle, in Bishop Auckland, is set to reopen on Saturday, November 2, after a multi-million pound renovation.

The building, which banker Jonathan Ruffer bought from the Church of England by seven years ago, has been brought back to its Georgian splendour, thanks to support from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

Visitors will be able to admire an important series of paintings by Spanish artist Francisco de Zurbarán, discover the bright colours of the Castle’s Georgian interiors, and become acquainted with the idiosyncratic lives of the local bishops, including Ian Ramsey, who joked his cassock was a maxi-skirt, and David Jenkins, whom Margaret Thatcher called ‘the cuckoo in the establishment’s nest’.

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Full story (The Guardian)

Meet Britain’s naughtiest dog

She may look like an innocent, fun-loving, children-friendly Jack Russell…but Pici is a light-fingered thief and chewer extraordinaire who is guilty of stealing and shredding a passport, alongside more usual crimes like eating biscuits or Easter eggs.

However, her greatest mischief was summoning the police. Munching happily through a phone, she called 999 and when the responders heard what sounded like strangling noises, a team was immediately dispatched to Pici’s house…giving the only family member who had been at home at the time the scare of her life.

Full story (Country Life)

Wanted: horses with good temperament

Northumbria Police’s Mounted Section is looking for four-legged recruits and is asking horse owners ‘to consider whether their animal would be suitable for a career’ in the force.

The Section is after draught horses, such as Clydesdale or Shire, aged five to 12 and standing between 16.2hh and 17.3hh. Both mares or geldings are suitable but they must be fit, trainable and, above all, have a good temperament — after all, they need to keep their cool whether patrolling a protest or being stroked in the street by the public.

Full story (The Northumberland Gazette)

Lake District calls for dark-sky volunteers

The Lake District is hoping to emulate the Cranborne Chase AONB, which has just been named a dark-sky reserve, but it needs help to measure the darkness of the Cumbrian sky and find out what could be done to improve it. So Friends of the Lake Districts, an organisation that protects the local landscape, is looking for volunteers that can take dark-sky meter readings in five different locations across the county.

The first round of measurements will be taken from November 23 to 30, when the skies are darkest because there is no moonlight. Training will be provide and anyone wanting to volunteer can email Friends of the Lake Districts at

Full story (BBC)

On this day

On October 28, 1726, Gulliver’s Travels was published. Lemuel Gulliver’s adventures across Lilliput, Brobdingnag, the kingdoms of the East and the land of the Houyhnhnms was a political, rather misanthropic satire that also mocked the travel literature genre so popular in the 18th century.

The book was a massive success, with copies printed four times within a year in Britain and international translations in French, Dutch and German appearing in 1727.

Giant straw-bale tractor wins Wheat Art contest

A massive, tractor-shaped sculpture has beaten fierce competition to win the 2019 Wheat Art award. Made of 62 straw bales, the ten-foot tractor (complete with trailer) is the brainchild of Cambridgeshire farmer Michael Sly, whose victory earned his chosen charity—local heritage group The Thorney Society—a £1,000 donation.

Alongside the winning entry, the contest, chaired by Sally Abbott, the MD of breakfast cereal giant Weetabix, and judged by MPs Philip Hollobone, Tom Pursglove and Chris Heaton-Harris, saw many extraordinary straw-bale sculptures, including a giant sausage dog and a stack of six farm animals.

Full story (Country Life)

And finally…the grimy kitchen painting worth £20.7 million

A small painting that was hanging in the kitchen of an elderly French lady turned out to be a panel by Italian master Cimabue and has just been sold at auction for £20.7 million.

The lady thought the 13th-century work was just an old religious icon and kept it above her cooker. So the panel was somewhat grimy when it was discovered after she moved into assisted living accommodation in June, but it was otherwise intact.

Experts called in by a judge gave it an initial estimate of £5 million, but the sale went ‘beyond all our dreams’, says a spokesperson for French auction house Actéon.

This is thought to be the first time a work by Cimabue has ever gone under the hammer.

Full story (The Telegraph)