England’s largest festival of history and culture takes place this September. The festival, Heritage Open Days, sees hundreds of places of historical and cultural interest across the country open their doors for members of the public to explore for free. Many of these places are not normally open to the public, whilst others would normally charge an admission fee.

This year, the festival is bigger than ever, taking place over two consecutive weekends in September from the 6th to the 9th and then again from the 13th to the 16th. In Cumbria, there are around 60 events happening as part of the festival. With so many to choose from, we’ve picked out some of the highlights.

1. Greenburn Mine Guided Walk, Little Langdale: Thursday, 13th September, 2018

Signpost in Little Langdale

Signpost in Little Langdale

Explore the industrial past of the Little Langdale valley on this exclusive guided walk led by an expert National Trust ranger. This four-hour walk will take you through the valley, exploring the slate mines at Tilberthwaite and the copper mines at Greenburn, before finishing at the new hydro scheme that harnesses the power of Greenburn Beck. Booking is essential, and you will need suitable clothing and a packed lunch. Contact Lucy Tickle on 015394 49912 for more details.

2. Allan Bank – A Celebration of Edith Rawnsley, Grasmere: Saturday, 15th September, 2018

Allan Bank

Allan Bank (Antiquary / Wikimedia Commons)

Wordsworth once described Grasmere as “The loveliest spot that man hath ever found,” and anyone who has ever had the pleasure of visiting Allan Bank – a villa just outside the village – would surely agree that the area is simply delightful. This National Trust property has been the home of several notable figures at various times, including the Wordsworths, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and National Trust founder, Hardwicke Rawnsley.

Rawnsley’s wife, Edith, helped to set up the Keswick School of Industrial Arts with her husband, and this special Heritage Open Day at Allan Bank celebrates her contribution to the Arts and Crafts movement. There will be various crafts to try, and, of course, you can relax with a cup of tea in the house and watch for the red squirrels. There is no need to book and normal entry fees will be waived on the day.

3. Silverthwaite – Former Home of Amy Sharp, Suffragist, Skelwith Bridge: Saturday, 8th September, 2018


Silverthwaite (Photo Credit: NationalTrust.org.uk)

Silverthwaite in Skelwith Bridge is usually a luxury holiday cottage managed by the National Trust. The house will be open to the public for one day as part of the Heritage Open Days festival. It was built at the turn of the 20th century by suffragist, Amy Sharp. Sharp was pivotal in developing the suffragist movement in the southern Lake District area.

In addition, Sharp had a keen interest in the Arts and Crafts movement, and much of the décor of Silverthwaite reflects this. The house will be open between 11am and 4pm for visitors wishing to drop in, with tea and cake provided. For further details, contact Suzi Bunting on 07484082167.

4. Carlisle Cathedral – Prior’s Tower, Carlisle: Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral

Carlisle Cathedral might be the second smallest ancient cathedral in England, but that doesn’t detract from its grandeur. It boasts the largest stained glass window in English flowing decorated gothic style in the country, along with carved wooden choir stalls that date back to the medieval era. The cathedral is open daily for visitors, however, within the cathedral grounds, a sixteenth century pele tower (once the home of the Prior of the Augustinian Cathedral Priory), is normally closed to the public.

This September, visitors can see inside this ancient tower where there is magnificent Tudor painted ceiling and an extraordinary collection of dolls of the kings and queens of England. Additionally, tours will be available to visit the cathedral’s bell tower where there are 18 bells – one of which dates back to 1400. This tour requires the ascent of 137 steps. Booking is not required for the Priory Tower but is required for the Bell Tower tour. Contact Ron East on 07772 269762 for more information.

5. Cockermouth Castle, Cockermouth: Friday, 14th September, 2018

Cockermouth Castle

Cockermouth Castle (Humphrey Bolton / Wikimedia Commons)

First built in the 12th century, Cockermouth Castle had various additions made to it following its original construction and played a significant role in the English Civil War. After the war, parliament ordered that the castle be dismantled, thus today much of it lies in ruin. One section of the castle is currently a home of Lord and Lady Egremont who are often in residence here.

The castle, including the ruins, is rarely open to the public making this unique tour a fabulous opportunity. Pets are not permitted and due to the uneven nature of the ruins, this tour is not appropriate for young children or those with mobility issues. Advanced booking is required as spaces are limited. Contact the Cockermouth Tourist Information Centre on 01900 822 634 for more details.

6. Steam Yacht Gondola, Coniston: Friday, 14th September, 2018

Coniston Water

Coniston Water (acceleratorhams / Bigstockphoto.com)

Operated by the National Trust, the Steam Yacht Gondola is a rebuilt Victorian steam-powered yacht that provides cruises around Coniston Water. This behind the scenes tour that has been put on especially for Heritage Open Days will give visitors the chance to learn more about the restoration of the boat that provided the inspiration for Captain Flint’s house boat in Arthur Ransome’s Swallows & Amazons.

Visitors will be able to chat to the crew and the engineers and there will be an activity sheet for children to complete. For this event, the boat will be moored at Coniston Pier between 5pm and 6.30pm. Booking is not required.

7. Cartmel Priory Gatehouse, Cartmel: Thursday, 6th September, 2018

Priory Gatehouse

Priory Gatehouse (FFNick / Wikimedia Commons)

Cartmel Priory Gatehouse is one of two buildings that are the remains of the Augustinian Cartmel Priory founded in 1190 (the other building being the church). Most of the priory’s buildings were destroyed following the reformation of the church in the 16th century, but as the gatehouse was in use as a courthouse at the time it was thankfully preserved.

The gatehouse spent much of the twentieth century being used a museum, but today, it is a private residence, let out by the National Trust. For this Heritage Open Day, the present tenant will work with the National Trust to open up the Great Room inside the gatehouse to members of the public between noon and 4pm. Booking is not required.

8. Hard Hat Tour of Eskdale Mill, Boot, West Cumbria: Thursday, 6th September, 2018

Eskdale Mill

Eskdale Mill (grumpylumixuser / Wikimedia Commons)

Owned by the Eskdale Mill & Heritage Trust, a registered charity, Eskdale Mill dates back to 1578 and is currently undergoing a £1 million restoration project. The mill is one of just a handful remaining double water-wheel corn mills in the country and features an exhibition about the workings of the mill and life in rural Cumbria during the industrial revolution. The mill is currently closed to the public as the restoration works take place and is due to reopen in 2019.

This exclusive hard-hat tour will take visitors through the restoration works where they will be able to see the conservation builders at work and learn more about the history of the mill. The tour is free but as this is a working building site places must be booked in advance by contacting Shirley Muir on 01697 320 803 or via email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

9. Walking Tour of Keswick: Friday, 7th & Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Keswick as viewed from Latrigg Fell

View of Keswick from Latrigg Fell

Keswick’s town centre is brimming with heritage and, this year for Heritage Open Days, the Keswick Museum will be giving guided tours of the town, exploring some of the historical buildings and points of interest. This is a free tour, but places must be booked in advance and it’s not suitable for children.

From the 6th to the 9th of September, entry to the Keswick Museum will be free of charge and the curators will be giving talks about the work that they do in the museum. To book your place on the tour, visit the event page.

10. Sizergh Castle – Strickland Family Chapel, Kendal: Friday, 7th & Friday, 14th September, 2018

Sizergh Castle

Sizergh Castle

Sizergh Castle is the home of the Hornyold-Strickland family but the property is currently under the care of the National Trust and open to members of the public. However, within the grounds of the castle, there is a small family chapel that was built at the turn of the twentieth century and this is normally closed to visitors.

The chapel is still used regularly by the family who hold mass here, but for Heritage Open Days, the chapel will be open on two afternoons between noon and 4pm. Booking is not required. For more information, contact the National Trust on 01539 569 816.

11. Calgarth Park, Troutbeck Bridge, Windermere: Saturday, 8th September, 2018

Calgarth Park

Calgarth Park (Rod Allday / geograph.org.uk)

Now a residential complex for the over 55s, Calgarth Park is a stunning Grade II listed building built in 1790, overlooking the waters of Windermere. William Wordsworth and Robert Southey were frequent visitors to the mansion, and during the first World War, it was used as a hospital for Belgian and British soldiers. Until the 1970s the building was an orthopaedic hospital for children and is now run on a not for profit basis as rental accommodation for the retired.

Rarely open to the public, the building will be open for guided tours where you can learn more about the history of the mansion and its former residents. After the tour, enjoy a cup of tea in the tearoom. No booking is required, but the tours are timed, commencing at 10.30am, 12noon, 1.30pm, and 3pm. Tours will take approximately 45 minutes.