Heritage Open Days is an annual festival of history and culture held across England for four days every September. The event brings together over 2,500 organisations who open their doors to the public for FREE – some well-known, and some less so. In 2017, it’s taking place between Thursday 7 and Sunday 10 September (although be aware that not all places open over all four days, so check the events website for details).
Heritage Open Days was established in 1994 as England’s contribution to European Heritage Days, set up in 1991 by the Council of Europe and the European Commission to raise awareness of Europe’s cultural assets and the need to protect them.
If you’re after seeing some of the Lake District’s most intriguing hidden gems, this is the event to look out for. In fact, this might be your only chance to visit some of the places taking part!
During last year’s Heritage Open Days I visited the Windermere Jetty for a behind-the-scenes tour of the construction site and boat restoration projects. And in a previous year I took a tour of Calgarth Park, a Grade II listed Georgian mansion which was once a gentleman’s residence and later became a hospital in World War I, an orthopaedic hospital for children, and finally, self-contained flats for the over 55s. Both were great tours really worth experiencing.
2017 Heritage Open Days in the Lake District include visits to some well-known names such as the National Trust’s (NT) Allan Bank, Townend, and Wordsworth House and Garden, and some more unusual openings such as:
- The Sizergh Strickland family chapel at Sizergh Castle, a private chapel not normally open to the public (NT),
- St Margaret of Antioch Church on the Wray Castle estate, with a talk on Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley and the vital defence of the Lake District,
- Hawkshead Hill Baptist Chapel, a converted 17th century barn, near Hawkshead,
- The Elterwater Merz Barn, where German artist Kurt Schwitters created an art installation (since removed, but there will be displays and an exhibition),
- Wray Castle, near Ambleside, with an update on what has been learnt in the past year about the history of the house, and a tour of the Double Boathouse on the lakeshore, which is not usually open to the public (NT),
- YHA Langdale, High Close Victorian mansion and Arboretum,
- Fell Foot Park, near Newby Bridge, where tours will be taking place exploring the history of the site (NT),
- Steam Yacht Gondola, Coniston Water, on a ‘behind the scenes’ tour with rarely seen archive material on show (NT),
- Calgarth Park, Troutbeck Bridge (as described above),
- Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, including a back-stage tour,
- Isel Hall, Cockermouth, a private home on a steep slope above the River Derwent, with guided tours,
- Derwentwater Independent Hostel (Barrow House), a Georgian mansion built for Joseph Pocklington (who owned Derwent Island) in 1787,
- St Bees Head Fog Signal Station, which is normally closed to the public (NT),
- A Haig Heritage Walk, exploring the mining history of Whitehaven (NT),
… and many more.
For further information on what’s open and when, and to book if necessary (some tours require advance booking), visit the Heritage Open Days website.
Have you visited an Heritage Open Day in previous years? Did you visit anywhere particularly unusual? Share your experiences by leaving a comment below!