Raby Castle 'perfect retreat' for photographer during lockdown

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image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionPeter Gunton says of the thousands of images he has taken over the past 12 months, this stag in the snow is his favourite

Not many people can say they spent lockdown in the grounds of a castle and for one keen photographer it has become a "safe place" during the pandemic.

After their visit to Raby Castle in January 2020, Peter Gunton and his wife Elaine knew they would become regular visitors.

They bought an annual pass, unaware of the looming pandemic, and the outdoor space turned out to be the "perfect retreat" for them and their dog Max.

"We are keen walkers and love the outdoors, so the idea of being stuck in the house without exercise was hard for us to come to terms with," Mr Gunton, 68, said.

"Even on a busy day at Raby Castle and Deer Park you can be totally alone, somewhere in the park."

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionOne of Mr Gunton's favourite spots is the top pond where he likes to sit and relax

The castle buildings are currently closed due to Covid restrictions but the grounds, in Staindrop, County Durham, remain open for people to exercise safely.

"We were unable to visit for part of the year because of restrictions at that time, and found staying indoors very claustrophobic and walking our dog around the busy streets wasn't really an option.

"So you could say Raby Castle has been our go-to safe place and of course the dog loves it," Mr Gunton said.

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionMr Gunton goes to Raby most days with his dog Max

The family live nearby in Bishop Auckland and, like many, Mr Gunton says they "struggled during lockdown".

"We're used to travelling around the country, but now obviously the advice is to stay local.

"We try to keep ourselves fit by walking and I go to Raby most days with Max. I honestly think we would not be coping well at all if we didn't have our visits to look forward to."

Their daily walks are spent admiring the nature found in the grounds, Mr Gunton said the fact that you do not need to go near another person whilst visiting, always made them "feel totally safe".

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionHis photographs have captured the changes in wildlife over the year

Describing himself as a "keen amateur", he took up photography three years ago.

"I've always been interested in photography but during this past couple years it's become my passion," he said.

 "It's great being able to catch nature in the moment. If you look away, you've missed it. Taking photos, hopefully captures that moment."

Documenting his walks with Max, he often posts his images on Instagram and a local Facebook group as a "great many people haven't been outdoors in the past year and appreciate me posting my images".

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionOver the past year, the photographer has watched the wildlife grow

He said it is "impossible" to pick a favourite spot, as "everyday is different".

"The changing seasons have been fantastic to capture, because it's not just the weather and the scenery that change, it's the wildlife too.

"From fawns being born, to stags rutting, cygnets and ducks on the lake, to swans flying overhead.

"The walled gardens have been beautiful throughout the seasons too. A peaceful haven to visit and admire."

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image captionMr Gunton says they always felt "totally safe" during their visit as only visitors who live locally were allowed entry

Out of lockdown, one of his favourite spots to photograph is the Northumberland coast in stormy weather.

"Really there are too many places to name them all. The North East is a hidden gem.

"The Teesdale and Weardale areas are beautiful, and not many people can say they live with a fairytale castle on the doorstep. This year has brought it home to me just how lucky we are."

image copyrightPeter Gunton
image copyrightPeter Gunton

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