The doors to our heritage, architectural and archaeologic gems are... erm... open.
Okay, people, let’s be quite sure we know what we’re doing with this here caper. It’s around the nation in two thousand words, casing the best joints in the UK that the European Heritage Days have to offer during September 2004. Got that? Okay.
Heritage Open Days are being celebrated throughout England (except London) September 10-13.
We’re looking first to the North East for inspiration. Berwick-upon-Tweed’s Masonic Hall offers a range of curious artefacts and furnishings, but we’re not headed there.
(The Heritage Days, no matter where they are, offer up a plethora of Masonic Lodges. Conspiracy buffs should have themselves a field day. )
Instead it’s to the Berwick-upon-Tweed Barracks that we go, one of the first to be purpose-built for army use. Curiously, the barracks’ design was based on a drawing by the architect Nicolas Hawksmoor.
A protégé of Sir Christopher Wren and designer of six fabulous London churches, Hawksmoor has recently been linked both to the Freemasons and the occult by writers as varied as Peter Ackroyd (‘Hawksmoor’) and Alan Moore (‘From Hell’).
They love a bit of public art in Newcastle, so pull on some stout shoes and get set for a serious tour. Photo: Stan Gamester, Courtesy Newcastle City Council.
The pun of the weekend competition is over almost as soon as it’s begun, with Newcastle’s 'Art And Sole', a one-hour tour through the city taking in its works of public art, literally walking away with the prize.
Meanwhile, Gateshead Visitor Centre is holding a Graveyard Detectives Event where families are invited to follow clues while investigating the original parish church’s graveyard. No need for directions – just head for the dead centre of town...
If this is all a little too macabre for your tastes, why not head Yorkshire-wards and be sure of a big surprise. The watermill at Thwaites Mills in Leeds is holding a Teddy Bear Picnic, including a trail and a working steam crane.
Heritage Weekends are supposed to be fun and, for me, the most fun to be had in Bradford - without getting a police caution – is on offer at the Colour Museum.
Red and yellow and pink and green, orange a... get ready for a colourful day out at the Colour Museum. Courtesy the Colour Museum.
Doing what it says on the tin, the museum is dedicated to the history, development and technology of colour. It’s an idea brilliant in its simplicity and hugely entertaining as well as informative.
Yorkshire folk have a reputation for knowing the value of a coin or two, so it’s fitting that one of the few existing images of Judas Iscariot can be found at All Saints’ Church in Ugglebarnby, half a mile south of Whitby.
Across the Pennines to the North West and Keswick Museum in the Lake District is holding one of the many costumed dramas based on local events to be found all over the country.
Keswick’s main claim to fame is its association with the Romantic poets, so expect tableaux depicting Southey, Wordsworth and old opium head Samuel T. Coleridge.
A different kind of poet for a different generation, Morrissey turned Salford Lads’ Club into something of a shrine with one of The Smiths’ early photoshoots. Pilgrims will find a concert hall and boxing gym if they pay a visit to the club, which was opened by Baden-Powell himself.
Let me take you by the hand and lead you under the streets of Liverpool. The fantastic Williamson Tunnels. © Williamson Tunnels.
Hopefully, there is a light that never goes out in the Williamson Tunnels beneath the city of Liverpool. Tours of the Paddington section of the tunnels will be held over the weekend, and, who knows, you may be the one to work out exactly Joseph Williamson thought he was doing when he had them built in the 1880s.
Down into the West Midlands and, while Bromsgrove Museum holds its Civil War Day on the Saturday, it’s the victim of another terrible conflict, Wilfred Owen, whose life and death are being marked in his home town of Shrewsbury.
"Splendidrippinggrandmajesticgloriousdelightfulscrumtious" is the title of a walking tour of sites connected with Owen. Done that? Then finish up at Shrewsbury Abbey for a picnic and poetry readings.
Courtesy Gladstone Pottery Museum.
For those of you looking for some kind of relief, then the Flushed With Pride toilet and tile gallery at the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Stoke-On-Trent should engage you. Be sure to wash your hands before you go.
Evacuating the West, we turn to the cultural mix that can be found in the East Midlands with tours of Sabras Radio in Leicester. A 24-hour Asian radio station based in a converted church, members of the Sabras staff will be available to answer questions on Friday September 10.
While the Galleries of Justice may sound like the base for a group of superheroes, it is in fact the starting point for 'Macabre Tales Of Old Nottingham Town', a performance-based tour of some of the city’s seamier stories. Murder mysteries, body-snatching and mayhem are all guaranteed.
Be afraid... be very afraid. The darker side of historic Nottingham is about to be revealed.
Over in Lincoln, archaeologist David Start is hosting a talk on the deserted medieval villages in the area, which leads to another mystery. If these truly are the "lost villages of Lincolnshire", how did he know where to look for them?
Mysteries of an altogether more sensible kind are on offer down in the South West with the Grand Family Treasure Hunt at Lydiard Park in Swindon, on Sunday. Meanwhile, over in Gloucester, a slightly less frantic family entertainment comes courtesy of the city’s Beatrix Potter Walks. Starting outside the house of the Tailor of Gloucester, the walks take in many of the buildings that inspired Potter’s timeless fantasies.
Who would have thought this unassuming little shop in Gloucester was once overun with mice making clothes? © Gloucester City Council.
On the subject of fantasists, well-known writer Jeffrey Archer’s home town of Weston-super-Mare offers up historical curiosities aplenty at Banwell Caves. Here, bones of mammals from the last Ice Age can be found along with a nearby tower and other architectural follies.
Crossing into the South East and Reading, Berkshire, is probably best-known through the work of another writer-turned-prisoner, Oscar Wilde. The Old Shire Crown Court is opening its doors to hold mock trials and a talk.
Sunday will doubtless see Faringdon awash with shouts of "Hear Ye" as the Town Crier competition gets under way at 2:30 pm in the Market Square.
Alternatively, Brighton is offering 'tactile tours' at the National Museum of Penny Slot Machines. Situated on the beachfront near the Palace Pier, the museum contains a range of old-fashioned entertainments including, naturally, 'What The Butler Saw'.
There is a slightly creepy element to some of the exhibitions available, but none so black as the business open day being held in Brentwood in the East of England. Bennett’s Funeral Directors are describing the day as a "Third Age Planning Open Day", a euphemism if ever there was one. A tour and inspection of facilities is available, but no mention of food. Chicken in a casket, anyone?
How about a taster of life as it was back in Anglo-Saxon times.
Food and drink, Anglo-Saxon style, is the focus of Debby Banham’s talk 'What The Anglo-Saxons had for Breakfast' at West Stow Anglo Saxon Village near Bury St Edmunds, after which a pint at Britain’s smallest pub, 'The Nutshell' in the town centre, will be more than welcome – if you can fit in there.
In a nutshell... had to say it. Reputedly Britain's smallest pub, in Bury St. Edmunds, and if that's not heritage enough for you I don't know what is.
In Northern Ireland European Heritage Days is being marked across the country on September 11 and 12.
Crossing land and water to Northern Ireland, we find the Titanic tour taking place at Lagan Weir in Belfast. A one-hour journey around the Harland & Wolff shipyards where this floating palace was built, as well as other Titanic sites on the Lagan River, sheds even more light on this maritime tragedy.
From river deep to mountain high with a guided tour around Slieve Gullion, the tallest peak in County Armagh. The tour guides offer to relate the archaeology, natural history and folklore of this unique site.
The view from here. Slieve Gullion offers a unique taste of archaeological and natural history. © Newry and Mourne District Council.
A prelude to history is related at Gray’s Printing Press in Strabane, County Tyrone. Now a museum featuring a variety of 19th century printing presses, it is reputed to be where John Dunlop, printer of the American Declaration of Independence, learned his trade.
In Wales, there's an extended version of the event under the title of European Heritage Days and it's running on September 11,12,18,19, 25 and 26
Back across the water, and clock-climbing capers abound at the Circle in Tredegar on Saturday September 11. As owners of the tallest freestanding clock tower in the UK, Tredegar Town Council will be awarding prizes to the youngest and oldest person to manage the climb.
Tredegar clock tower - a day out only the strong-hearted will be able to manage. Courtesy Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council.
The following week sees Ruthin Craft Centre, one of Wales’ premier art venues, open its doors to the public while the week after offers a celebration of one of Wales’ finest engineering feats.
The Newport Transporter Bridge, an aerial ferry across the river Usk, has been restored and is offering free walks across its main boom. With refreshments and a bouncy pirate ship on offer, who could resist?
In Scotland, Doors Open Days are also running on September 11,12, 18,19, 25 and 26
Over the border and the happy coincidence of catching a performance by Russia’s Chorus Quartet at St Peter’s Church in Linlithgow, West Lothian, during the same weekend as the town’s own folk festival. Not only is this a chance to hear one of the finest male-voice quartets in the world but the venue is a fascinating miniature church which combines Byzantine and Celtic styles.
Heritage isn’t just about history, but also the promise of the future. With British success in the Olympics still a recent memory, where better to spot our next champions than the National Rowing Academy in Motherwell, which opens its doors on September 19?
Friends, Romans, countrymen lend me your thermals 'cause it's freezing up here.
However, if talk of Olympians is all Greek to you then maybe you’d prefer to go roaming with the Romans at the Ormiston Institute in Melrose (September 26). 'Trimontium: Melrose’s Roman Past' consists of a 90-minute walk as well as - among other exhibits - a blacksmith’s workshop, replica armour and a video 'The Lost Legions', narrated by that famous son of Melrose, Leonard Nimoy.
The big smoke has a top Open House weekend planned for September 18 and 19.
Finally down to the capital. Open House London offers a head-spinning variety of architectural styles, as would be expected from any city with its history of invasion, fire and blitz.
Soccer fans can view the progress of the new Wembley Stadium from offices overlooking the site. When completed, it promises to be longest single span roof structure in the world, seating 90,000.
Ahhh the roar of the crowd, the smell of the grass. Sample the Wembley atmosphere with a look at how the site is coming on. Courtesy Wembley National Stadium Ltd.
For those of you who were always last to be picked for a team, Sci-High House by Kings Cross St Pancras offers classroom, performance and play facilities with renewable energy sources and workshops – and no-one gets tied to a Bunsen burner.
While the square mile of the City of London is normally equated with business, it’s not known that there are 43 churches in the area. Opening Up The City Churches takes you round most of them, ranging from the oldest - St Ethelburga’s in Bishopsgate is a 15th Century place of worship – to the newest: the Dutch Church in Austin Friars only dates back to the 1950s.
However, for me, one of the highlights isn’t part of the City Churches tour but one of Nicolas Hawksmoor’s crowning glories: Christ Church in Spitalfields.
So we’re back to where we started, with Hawksmoor, and a perfect opportunity to go over the basics. Be sure to phone and/or book ahead. All details mentioned here are accurate at the time of going to press but events may be postponed or cancelled at any time.
Because of the age of some of the buildings, disabled access may be an issue in certain cases, while not all events are designed with children in mind (the Nottingham tour, for example is not for the under-eights).
Okay, let’s go to work.
Hi ho, hi ho... Courtesy Gladstone Pottery Museum.
For more information about these events and many more visit the Heritage Open Days website.