An entire class of students from Cockfield Primary School in Bishop Auckland were the first children in the county to test drive Raby Castle’s much-awaited new playground in the trees, The Plotters’ Forest, before it opened to the public at Easter.

Over thirty Class 4 students and their teachers put down their pencils and picked up their adventurous spirits as they became ‘Raby Rebels’ for the afternoon before the Easter break.

The children, who were awarded the prize to be the first to visit the playground after winning a local competition to design an adventure space of their own, were joined by Lord and Lady Barnard, owners of Raby Castle, who judged the competition and were keen to hear their feedback.

“We had many schools in the area take part in our competition to design an inspirational playground and we were overwhelmed by the quality and creativity of the entries. They were all worthy winners, but we had to choose just one and Cockfield Primary School really excelled in a design which looked so colourful and creative and seemed to be a real collaborative effort from the whole class,” said Lady Barnard.

“After two years of limited school trips, it was absolutely wonderful to welcome Class 4 and their teachers to our new woodland playground. We really hope they had a wonderful afternoon with us, and that The Plotters’ Forest is enjoyed by many other local children over the Easter holidays and beyond. It’s been a long-held dream of Lord Barnard and mine, to have something as special as this at Raby for the local community to enjoy.”

Kathryn Costello, Headteacher at Cockfield Primary School said of the visit: “The children were delighted to have won this competition and felt really privileged to be the first children to be able to play on the new playground. They enjoyed the challenge of taking part in the competition and really let their imaginations fly when working on their entries.

“They worked in teams to carry out research into what makes a good playground design, shared ideas and worked hard to ensure their designs were inclusive, colourful and welcoming. We were thrilled to have been chosen as the winners and thoroughly enjoyed our visit.”

Raby’s two young local heroes, eight-year-old Ryan Chidzey from Gainford CE Primary and Preschool and eight-year-old Charlotte Hawke from the Federation of Abbey Schools in Darlington also tested out the equipment at The Plotters’ Forest. Ryan and Charlotte won a competition to attend the breaking ground ceremony when the work started on the playground at the end of last year and were invited back to enjoy the finished product.

The Plotters’ Forest, designed specifically for Raby Castle, is one of a kind and is named after the part the castle played in The Rising of the North in 1569. The space will offer an exciting mix of challenge, discovery, and intrigue for both the young and the young at heart.

Visitors will see special features throughout the site, which echo Raby Castle’s architectural history – including its entrance which has been built to honour the famous Nevill Gateway, and the Plotters’ Spire, a three-story tower with a top-floor slide and unusual pentagon shapes which have been used across the playground.

It is the first stage of Raby’s wider development scheme The Rising, that promises to attract new visitors to the area and create outstanding recreation for the local community.

The Rising project will include the significant restoration and renovation of several historical buildings on the estate opening spaces which have not been seen by the public before. It is a notable addition that will complement County Durham’s bid for the UK City of Culture 2025 award – which has now reached the next stage.