Lambton estate opens again!

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Lambton estate – open again!

Lambton Castle

The Lambton Estate near Chester le Street, has been closed to the public since the safari park in the grounds shut its doors in 1980. Changes are now afoot and  almost 10 miles of new pathways have been opened up as part of a major redevelopment of the estate.

Four new walks are now open. They are accessible from a public car park off the A183 at Bournmoor. The new paths are part of a restoration scheme funded by the development of new houses on the estate.

A wooded walk

There are some delightful routes which are currently open open on Sundays from 9am -5pm. They are already extremely popular especially with dog walkers. We thoroughly enjoyed wandering around the estate trying to understand the map. The map wasn’t great though,  so we didn’t actually have a clue where we were going.

Lambton estate walking routes

Lambton Castle in the midst of rolling green fields and overlooking the River Wear was built in the 1820s by John Lambton, the first Earl of Durham.  The estate is home to 1,000 acres of park and woodland. It can trace its history back to the 11th century.

Overlooking the Wear

The 3.2km Ridge Walk enjoys panoramic views across to Lambton Castle, and leads down to Black Drive which heads along the banks of the River Wear from Lamb Bridge to the New Bridge. Shepherd’s Ghyll is a 2.1km route which passes through woodland and open parkland, to the banks of the Wear;

Hedworths is a relatively flat 1.7km woodland walk, and the Racecourse route is a 2.6km walk which follows the riverbank to the River Wear Gorge.

No racing at the moment

Lambton Lion Park

Park postcard

Believe it or not, this estate used to be a very popular safari park. Back in the 70’s Lambton Lion Park brought the great animals of Africa and Asia to the North East. Thousands enjoyed family days out and school outings to see the exotic wildlife.

Opened in 1972, in the grounds of the castle, it was later upgraded and relaunched as Lambton Pleasure Park in 1975.

Spread over 200 acres, the lions were the park’s main attraction, but there were also zebras, giraffes and camels. Asian elephants, ostriches and baboons were some of the other Lambton regulars. The park was also home to the world’s second largest land mammal, the white rhino.

The first guidebook declared: “This undulating, heavily wooded estate with a romantic castle at the centre acts as a perfect backcloth against which to exhibit Africa’s fauna.”

Lambton estate
Woodland flora

Lambton Lion Park – animal escapes!

Locals recall their childhood experiences with great affection.

Jillian Dixon: My grandad worked on one of the Lambton farms at Bournmoor. I remember helping rangers wash the elephants, and being scared of the baboons while they were being housed in the farm buildings prior to opening. Also, the elephants escaped and trampled my grandad’s leeks and hit their trunks off the kitchen window while he and my nana were having their tea!

Ann Waugh: I remember breaking down. We had to be pushed out by a safari vehicle. It was during the 1976 heatwave and we couldn’t open the windows. It was horrendous. We nearly melted.

Jenny Rasmussen: I remember when the baboons escaped into my gran’s garden and we were sitting looking out of the window at them, and they were looking in at us.

Sylvia Waugh: I was on a school trip and a rhino charged and dented the bus. We all ran to the other side of the bus . Another time, I remember stroking lion cubs through the bars of their cage. An exciting place.

Sarah E Eccles: My mum got out of the car to take photos of the lions. I still have the photos. Unbelievably stupid, but she loved big cats !

lambton estate
I say lad, watch out for the lions!

Memories of Lambton

I actually visited the park when I was small. My memories involve complaints of being poisoned in the back seat of the car by my Aunt’s smoking. She wasn’t keen on opening the window either. ‘There’s Lions out there Elaine!’ she asserted, annoyed. I remember the baboons breaking off the aerial on my Uncle Billy’s Vauxhall Viva though.

Vincent Wallace: I remember that they filmed a scene from the On The Buses film there, when the lion got on the bus with Blakey, and the monkey ended up driving the bus. One of the funniest clips I’ve ever seen.

Doug Wrightson: My dad’s front wheel fell off his Morris car while driving through the lion enclosure in about 1973-74, with mam screaming in the front and us three kids crying in the back.

John Lodge: I remember heading towards Whitemare Pool and a line of baboons were walking down the central motorway. Escapes were common.

Lambton castle history

More Lambton fascinating facts. Around 1,500 cavalry troops camped on the estate’s racecourse field during World War I and the castle was used as a residential adult education college during the 1950s.

More recently, in 2012, the estate was the backdrop for the BBC period drama The Paradise – an adaptation of Émile Zola’s novel Au Bonheur des Dames that relocated the story to North East England and was set in England’s first department store in the 1870s.

The lions were roaring across the plains of County Durham for eight years from 1722-1980.

Lambton Lion Park
Marbles the Lion cub with Denise Hammond – 1978

More memories of happy times

Trevor Graham-Russell: I drove the visitors’ bus around the park for two months in the summer of 1973. I found the visitors more interesting than the animals.

Andrew Collinson: I worked there on school ‘work experience’ for a week in mid-70s. It was great. My job was feeding the lions off the back of a rickety Land Rover. I was chased by a mother elephant, and I remember catching flamingos to put back in the shelter for the night. Great memories.

Lambton airways – when air travel was exotic!
Angela Skinner: I remember going and later I wouldn’t let my dad wash the car for ages as it was covered in monkey paw prints.
New developments on the estate



Lambton Pleasure Park closed in 1980. Now, nearly four decades on, the site is being redeveloped for some rather swish housing.

Andrew Somerville, sales director at Miller Homes North East, said: “Boasting natural beauty, dramatic landscapes, picturesque views and a fascinating heritage, Lambton Park is a real gem in the North East. The homes that we are building will become part of this heritage.”

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