Heritage Open Days: 9 highlights in the Cotswolds

Rendcomb College

Rendcomb College - Credit: Rendcomb College

This year the wonderful Heritage Open Days is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special programme of People Power-inspired events. Laura Davey selects a few Cotswold highlights...

Scott House: The interior of Sir Peter Scott's studio (c) WWT Slimbridge

Scott House: The interior of Sir Peter Scott's studio (c) WWT Slimbridge - Credit: WWT Slimbridge

Ask people to name Britain's leading environmentalist and most people will say one name: David Attenborough. But he is not alone in leading the fight to protect the world's species, and few people realise that one of the country's most passionate conservationists, Sir Peter Scott - who helped create the World Wild Fund for Nature - lived and worked in Slimbridge for most of his life. In 1946, Scott's love of nature led him to found what would become the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust near his Cotswolds' home. One of the reserve's first success stories was a captive breeding programme helping to save the Hawaiian Goose, and a decade later, Scott would also help create the WWF, designing the famous panda logo from his studio. This September, Scott House at WWT Slimbridge Wetland Centre, is giving visitors the chance to see his home and studio for free, with an up-close look at his original hand-drawn design.

Upton House and Gardens (c) National Trust/Chris Lacey

Upton House and Gardens (c) National Trust/Chris Lacey - Credit: National Trust/Chris Lacey

The building is opening as part of Heritage Open Days - England's largest festival of history and culture - which this year marks its 25th anniversary with a special programme of People Power inspired events. Thanks to support from the National Trust and players of People's Postcode Lottery, organisations and communities across the country will be celebrating the heritage stories which matter to them, with many events highlighting groups and individuals, such as Sir Peter Scott, who have made a real difference and affected positive change, be it locally or globally. Here are just a few festival highlights planned in the Cotswolds.

Championing nature

Another event celebrating people who have shaped how we think and feel about nature in the modern world, is the Faces of Change: Nature's Champions exhibition at Upton House in Banbury (September 21 & 22). In partnership with The National Portrait Gallery, visitors during the festival will be amongst the first to see this display of oil paintings, sculptures and photographs exploring the lives of nature-lovers and environmentalists, from Beatrix Potter to Chris Packham. Outside, visitors can take a stroll around the gardens, planted to encourage butterflies, with views out over the countryside.

Volunteers picking damsons at Brockhampton (c) National Trust/Steve Betts

Volunteers picking damsons at Brockhampton (c) National Trust/Steve Betts - Credit: National Trust/Steve Betts

At Brockhampton Orchards in Worcester, everyone is welcome to join the community damson harvest. Alongside rangers, visitors can help handpick the fruits, and learn more about the Reimagining Orchards project, which will be planting two previously lost orchards at the site. Using unusual and rare varieties, the project will tell the story of fruits in the UK, including a special focus on Brockhampton's speciality, the Shropshire Prune, as well as providing meadow grass and native wildflowers to create a nature-friendly environment.

Interior of Beckford's Tower (c) The Landmark Trust

Interior of Beckford's Tower (c) The Landmark Trust - Credit: The Landmark Trust

Discovering architecture

Alongside its agricultural landscape of rolling hills and fields, the Cotswolds is also world famous for its 'chocolate-box' style cottages. But Heritage Open Days is a good opportunity to discover a much-wider variety of architectural styles, such as the ornate Italianate design of Rendcomb College in Cirencester. Originally a Victorian country home, the architect Philip Hardwick took inspiration from his continental travels in the plans for this mansion, designed to impress. Today, the building is run as a school, with the festival offering rare access to visitors, who can look forward to discovering its many surprises, including Aesop's fables depicted in stained glass on the staircase.

The Cleveland Pools (c) Tony Nicholl

The Cleveland Pools (c) Tony Nicholl - Credit: Tony Nicholl

Perhaps the area's most ambitious building project ever, Fonthill Abbey was a monumental 18th-century neo-Gothic estate in Wiltshire, commissioned by William Beckford. Described by newspapers of the time as "the richest commoner in England", his landmark property was unfortunately destroyed by its own ambition, when the 300ft central tower collapsed in 1825. Today, Beckford's only remaining building is Beckford's Tower near Bath, parts of which are normally only open to the public as a private holiday rental. However, during the festival, everyone is welcome to step inside the neo-Classical folly, where the Landmark Trust has carefully recreated the original layout, to give a taste of Beckford's extravagant style in the Scarlet Drawing Room.

At the 15th-century St Lawrence's Church in Evesham, visitors will be encouraged to Discover Old and New, by taking inspiration from centuries of craftsmanship to recreate the building's historic paintings and sculpture. Participants will get the chance to make a new Green Man, bring creatures alive from the walls, and use recycling to create a miniature monster statue at this family-friendly craft event.

Celebrating culture

The festival will also celebrate local culture, with many areas highlighting the industry or sector which put their town on the map, such as Bath. Famous for its Roman spa and Georgian bathing craze, the city will be holding several water-themed events specially for the festival. Visitors will get the chance to go behind-the-scenes to see items not normally on display from The Roman Baths' weird and wonderful spa collection at the Lansdown North Local History Store. Meanwhile, The Cleveland Pools, believed to be the oldest public open air pool in Europe, is offering a unique opportunity to visit the abandoned site as it currently stands, before restoration work starts in the winter.

At the Stratford-upon-Avon Music Community Weekend, the town will also be celebrating its literary heritage, with interactive storytelling activities for children, to spark their imagination and bring narratives to life. While adults can live the adage 'never judge a book by its cover', with a chance to 'borrow books' from The Human Library. At this unique library, people embody book titles, with visitors 'reading' them by having a conversation, in an event designed to help overcome stereotypes and prejudices through positive dialogue.

All events for Heritage Open Days are free and take place between September 13-22. Details, along with full listings, can be found at heritageopendays.org.uk.

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