Stuart Forster heads into County Durham to attend Kynren at Bishop Auckland and provides an overview of the show dubbed ‘an epic tale of England’.
Disclosure: Stuart Forster, the author of this post, was invited to attend the 2019 press preview of Kynren, which has not reviewed or approved this article. Some of the links below and banners are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.
Thinking of visiting Bishop Auckland to watch Kynren? The outdoor show tells a tale of England’s history from Roman times. The tribune at the outdoor arena on the outskirts of Bishop Auckland in County Durham holds up to 8,000 spectators.
Prior commitments over previous summers meant that I hadn’t been free to attend Kynren. Having read only positive reviews, praising the scale and visual impact of the spectacle, I hadn’t stayed away by choice. Family members had been impressed and talked passionately about the show, encouraging me to attend. The big question in my mind was would it really be as good as everyone suggested?
In a word, yes. It’s a spectacle that impresses because of its scale and grandeur. It’s also a fine example of what communities can achieve when people pull together.
Kynren at Bishop Auckland
Kynren is performed only on Saturday evenings. The cast, crew and stewards are all volunteers from Bishop Auckland and nearby. Well over 1,000 people give up their time to ensure Kynren can be staged. Cumulatively, the participants have dedicated more 650,000 hours to rehearsals and performances since Kynren was conceived.
My first contact with any of the personnel associated with Kynren was in the car park, where attendants wearing hi-vis jackets greeted me with smiles and exchanged pleasantries. They explained that the tribune was a 15-minute walk along a winding marked trail or I could wait a couple of minutes and hop on the next available bus. The buses drop attendees close to Kynren‘s entrance gate.
By the main gate volunteers asked if they could search my bag before scanning my ticket and showing me in the direction of the tribune. All the time stewards were courteous and welcoming. The atmosphere remained upbeat despite the thorough security.
Kynren’s Viking village
Before heading towards my seat in the tribune I strolled through the Viking-style village which was added for the 2019 edition of Kynren. The Vikings first raided Northumbria in 793.
Ringed by a palisade and overlooked by two watch towers, the Viking village features buildings, shelters and a pond. Women fished in the village pond and tended to livestock while blacksmiths hammered at metal, causing sparks to fly. Axe-wielding warriors formed a shield wall, scowling and hollering, as if they were about to stride out and ravage northern England again.
The Vikings had an opportunity to unleash their war cries later in the evening. A longship with a sweeping prow and billowing red and white sails rose from the artificial lake forming the centrepiece of the vast arena in which the action of Kynren unfolds. Pyrotechnics symbolised the burning of villages as the Vikings advanced southward through England.
Described as ‘an epic tale of England’, Kynren begins with a boy called Arthur kicking a football about with friends. Accidentally putting the ball through the window of the house to the right of the set leads to him meeting with the character Old Arthur. Young Arthur discovers a secret that enables him to travel through time and observe key scenes from English history.
Scenes from England’s history
The Roman and Norman invasions, cultural flourishing of the Elizabethan Age and the turmoil of the Civil War count among the nationally significant episodes depicted during the 90-minute show. The appointment of Bishop Bek of Durham and North East England’s role in powering the Industrial Revolution count among those with a more local focus.
Narrated in part, Kynren also features projected light animations. Humans are not the only members of the vast cast. Geese are herded during a rustic Georgian scene and horses features several times. For me, one of the highlights of the show was seeing a galloping rider exhibit accuracy with a lance while dressed as a medieval knight.
If you’re going to attend, look out for visual gags amid the spectacle. Greggs, the popular baker, was established in the North East. During a scene of rustic celebration set in Georgian England a cart advertises ‘Gregory’s’ pies.
The entire cast re-enters the arena for the rousing grand finale. A union jack is unfurled amid a spectacular light show. Fireworks burst into the night sky, illuminating Bishop Auckland Castle and ensuring Kynren concludes making a big visual impact.
Handy tips for Kynren
The trails leading towards the arena get muddy when it’s wet, so wear appropriate footwear.
The outdoor show begins as dusk begins to fall and ends in darkness. Dress warmly and take waterproofs if rain is forecast.
Travel to Bishop Auckland
Bishop Auckland is 11 miles south-west of Durham City. It takes around 25 minutes to drive between Durham and Bishop Auckland on the route that includes the A167 and A688.
Allow around an hour to drive to Bishop Auckland from Newcastle upon Tyne. The County Durham town is 30 miles south of Newcastle.
Travelling by train on the East Coast Main Line? Change at Darlington to reach Bishop Auckland.
Map of Kynren in Bishop Auckland
Kynren is held at 11 Arches Park in Bishop Auckland. The map below shows where Kynren takes place:
Google Map showing the location of Kynren at Bishop Auckland in County Durham.
Hotels in County Durham
Looking for hotels near Kynren? Search for Hotels in Bishop Auckland via Travel Supermarket:
Kynren tickets and information
See the Kynren website for more information about the show, including timings and hot to book tickets for Kynren.
It’s possible to spend afternoons prior to the show in the 11 Arches Park.
The 2021 Kynren season runs from 7 August to 11 September.
Photographs illustrating this post are by North East England-based Why Eye Photography.
Thank you for visiting Go Eat Do and reading this post about Kynren at Bishop Auckland. If you’re planning a trip to County Durham you may enjoy posts about visiting the Lumiere Durham festival of lights and Lumley Castle Hotel in County Durham.
If you enjoyed this post why not sign up for the free Go Eat Do newsletter? It’s a hassle-free way of getting links to posts on a monthly basis.
‘Like’ the Go Eat Do Facebook page to see more photos and content.
A version of this post was first published on Go Eat Do on 29 June 2019.