Review: Raby Castle & High Force Waterfall

As the weather starts warming up, here’s a great family day trip from York to try, with a castle, waterfall and proper Sunday lunch to enjoy. Destination: County Durham. Here’s what we made of Raby Castle and High Force.

About Raby Castle

Raby is what our children call ‘a proper castle’: it’s all in one piece (a rare thing indeed!) with a moat, portcullis and castley bits (crenellations and arrow slits) galore. It’s a place with lots of exciting history, too, which is brought to life through activities and funny stories on their dedicated children’s tour. Mike the footman told us tales of dead cats in the moat, rats in the kitchen, knights in shining armour and maids in the scullery. There are photo opportunities galore and the tone is ideal to engage younger children. 

Best bits of Raby Castle for kids

As well as the children’s tour – great fun for younger children – the walled gardens are a must, and were our eldest’s favourite part of the day. All three of the kids loved exploring the gardens, playing garden games, making up stories and – as always – playing non-stop games of hide-and-seek. You can also hire bikes to explore the pretty parkland where we saw crowds of deer and longhorn cows. The outdoor play area is well worth seeking out, too, with a good range of equipment for older and younger children (and the ever-popular zipwire!). There are special activities during the school holidays, and outdoor theatre events too. 

About High Force Waterfall

Just a 25-minute drive from Raby are the raging waters of the High Force waterfall, where the river Tees plunges into a deep pool with incredible, well, force. It’s a short walk down to the falls through pretty woodland that’s mostly accessible by buggy. There’s a small charge to access the falls (£1 per adult, 50p for children), but we think it’s well worth it for such a stunning sight.

Food & drink at Raby Castle

There’s a lovely cafe at Raby Castle that serves good cake, cracking hot chocolate and good homemade lunches (veggie and vegan options available).

We visited on a Sunday, which was the perfect excuse to enjoy a proper Sunday lunch at the High Force Hotel (Alston Rd, Middleton-in-Teesdale, Forest-in-Teesdale DL12 0XH), an old coaching inn with a menu, food and service that’s very much 21st century. It’s a lovely, relaxed place to enjoy a family meal, with friendly and accommodating staff and great home-cooked food. The roast dinner went down very well with the meat-eaters and the fragrant vegan Thai curry with rice and flatbread got a thumbs-up too. There’s a short but sweet children’s menu, including a children’s sized roast dinner, and the sticky toffee pudding is a must. Seriously. Outside the hotel there’s an ice cream kiosk serving scoops of Yorkshire Bymor if you fancy taking an ice cream down to the falls before or after your meal. 

The verdict

There’s an awful lot to enjoy about a trip to Raby Castle and High Force, from the raging waterfall to exploring the grounds and castle. Go to the pub and you’ll eat well, too! We thought it might be a long way for a day trip but it was just over an hour to get there and we had a packed day out, getting home just in time for tea. It was our first visit but it won’t be our last.

Trip essentials

Distance from York – 1 hr 10 minutes (approx)

Parking – Ample, free

Opening hours – Grounds open daily; castle open Wednesday to Sunday

Family ticket – £35.00/£18 (park and gardens only) 

Address – Raby Castle, Staindrop, Darlington DL2 3AH 

Find out more about Raby Castle by visiting the website

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