The Ancient Unicorn can trace its history as a coaching inn back to the 16th century. Since then it has been at the heart of a community that originally grew up around the Roman fort Lavatrae and the Norman castle of Bowes. The site is strategic in guarding the route out of Scotland and resisting the raiding Scots, which included a siege in 1322 by Robert the Bruce, which left the castle in ruins. Traces of the Roman fort are still visible in the fields south of St. Giles Church.
The castle still has residents – the ghosts of the Roman garrison who come back on the anniversary of a local massacre. St. Giles Church is medieval with a Norman doorway. It was here in the graveyard in 1838 Charles Dickens found the burial place of George Ashton Taylor, his inspiration for the character of Smike in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’, the schoolboy who was so badly treated by Wackford Squeers. Dotheboys Hall in the novel was modelled on Bowes Academy, run by William Shaw, who was often fined for ill-treating boys and whose ways were vividly attacked by Dickens. You will find George Ashton’s grave on the north side of the chancel. In the churchyard is the grave of Edward and Emma whose ghostly spirits have been regularly seen haunting the Ancient Unicorn.
The story of Emma and Edward or Roger Railton and Martha Wrightson as they were known, takes you back to the 18th century. Their families where both innkeepers. The Wrightson’s at the King’s Head (long since gone) and the Wrightson’s at the George (now the Unicorn). In 1713 Roger fell in love with Martha. Faced with hostility from parents, the pair had to meet in secret. On Shrove, Tuesday 1713 fate stepped in and Roger fell ill from a serious fever. He begged to see Martha. Eventually, the Wrightson’s relented and Martha was allowed to visit him. Three days later he died. Martha died shortly afterwards of a broken heart and the two were buried together in one grave. The sad episode was immortalised in a ballad published in 1750 called Edwin and Emma and also in a poem “Bowes Tragedy” published about the same time.
The ghost of an unknown 12-year-old boy has also been seen in the cellars of the Unicorn. The Inn is famously haunted in the region, even having its own ghostly literature about the spectral residents. A bearded man in a bowler hat has also been seen. Patrons of the Inn have reported pranks played on them and others report hearing noises and being touched…
Situated in the historic village of Bowes, The Ancient Unicorn has, for centuries, been a resting place for travellers who journey across the Pennines. Today it’s a great place for walkers and cyclists, for an overnight stay or as a base for a regional holiday. The Ancient Unicorn is also perfectly placed to lunch or dine after visiting nearby Bowes Museum and Barnard Castle, or for much-needed refreshment after one of the many exhilarating walks in the surrounding countryside. There is always a warm friendly welcome with a roaring fire to greet you in the low-beamed bar.
Families are always welcome. The original choice of accommodation in Bowes was the Castle. Today the fabric of its 13th Century structure cannot compete with the Ancient Unicorn. In keeping with the coaching inn tradition, we offer travellers cosy bedrooms with en-suite, coffee and tea making facilities, and colour television. Rooms are available on the ground floor for those not wishing to climb stairs.
The tariff includes a traditional English breakfast served in the restaurant. The candle-lit restaurant at The Ancient Unicorn offers fine cuisine with dishes not only inspired by Teesdale but also from culinary delights around the world, freshly prepared, where possible from local produce. Choose from the range of daily changing regional specialities, the à la carte menu or the mouthwatering vegetarian options which are just as appetising to non-vegetarians.
- En-Suite Rooms
- Colour Television
- Tea & Coffee Facilities
- Ostlers Restaurant
- Well Stocked Bar
Things to do
The Ancient Unicorn is situated in Teesdale on the edge of the North Pennines, a recognised area of outstanding beauty. There are lots of ancient footpaths and tracks to explore including the famous Pennine Way which runs through the village of Bowes. The Teesdale Way also makes its way through nearby Barnard Castle. The inn provides a popular stop-off spot for rest and refreshments for walkers. In addition to the Pennine Way, the Walney to Wear Cycle Route (W2W) also takes you through Bowes and cyclists are more than welcome as we offer secure storage of equipment overnight. There is a wealth of other outdoor activities close by including off-road driving, horse riding, fishing, canoeing, bird watching, clay pigeon shooting and sailing.
- Single with shared bathroom £25.00 – includes breakfast.
- Single en-suite £30.00 – includes breakfast.
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