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Places to visit for free with Heritage Open Days across Kent plus virtual events

Exploring closer to home has become one of our biggest adventures this year, so this weekend's Heritage Open Days are the perfect time to set out on an adventure - and it's all free.

Despite the restrictions organisers of England's largest festival of history and culture face, this year's event still has 10 days of free events, with some 65 taking place across the county.

Heritage Open Days are back Picture: Heritage Open Days/Chris Lacey
Heritage Open Days are back Picture: Heritage Open Days/Chris Lacey

But things are different this year - like so many other things - and alongside the traditional events which give visitors the chance to walk in the footsteps of our ancestors to find out our hidden history, there will be a mix of virtual tours and digital experiences, revealing the hidden natural history and stories of our landscapes, gardens, urban green spaces, farms, waterways, buildings and culture as part of this year’s theme, Hidden Nature.

“Heritage Open Days is all about sharing amazing stories of the places, spaces, nature, heritage and history around us, and feeling part of a community has never been more important,” said Annie Reilly, head of producing at Heritage Open Days. “We’ve been planning new ways to keep people connected with each other and their local area, whether it’s from home with our new digital programme or exploring Hidden Nature in the great outdoors.”

HAHA Allotments, Tunbridge Wells

The Hawkenbury Allotments Holders' Association will be staging walks on the site of 300 allotments which are hidden away on a Tunbridge Wells hillside and can see the variety of produce the growers have tended. The site off the corner of Halls Hole Road and High Woods Lane will be open between 2pm and 4pm on both Saturdays for an outdoor, socially-distanced walk.

You could take a look at some allotments
You could take a look at some allotments

Hoppers, Five Oak Green Road, Tonbridge

After undergoing refurbishment work following flooding earlier this year, Hoppers Hospital is back open for visitors to learn about the unique character of the building, which offered refuge to sick hop pickers in the peak of the hop picking era. Pre-booking is recommended on selected dates from Friday, September 11 to Sunday, September 20 by emailing hoppersbookings@gmail.com or going to hopperskent.org

Margate Caves

Under the hill of Cliftonville you can explore the caves which hold more than 200 years of history. You can visit the subterranean wonderland on selected days from Friday, September 11 to Friday, September 18 from 10am to 4.30pm. You will need to book online in advance here.

Margate Caves
Margate Caves

Mote Park Walks, Maidstone

Take a guided walk to discover the hidden nature in the park in the centre of the County Town; hear about twilight tales of wildlife emerging, or even take a bat walk. The events run on Tuesday, September 15, Wednesday, September 16 and Thursday, September 17 and spaces need to be pre-booked by emailing annmarielangley@maidstone.gov.uk

Take a walk in Mote Park for Heritage Open Days Picture: Maidstone Borough Council
Take a walk in Mote Park for Heritage Open Days Picture: Maidstone Borough Council

Oddfellows Dartford Lodge Room

The unwelcome arrival of coronavirus is a reminder of the original of the Oddfellows as it was ser up in 1810 when the Welfare State did not exist and a few pence per week insured members in times of ill health and financial hardship. It will be open for pre-booked visits on Wednesday, September 16 between 10am and 1pm. Email Joy.Jeffery@oddfellows.co.uk or call 01322 292374.

Palace Cinema, Broadstairs

See inside Broadstairs’ Grade II listed cinema, though it may not take long as it's pretty bijou. You'll need to pre-book for the open days access to the foyer and auditorium of the 111-seater independent cinema which has an interesting history. It was even used to house a collection of armour back in the early 1900s. Book for the talks on Friday, September 18 and Saturday, September 19 between 11am and 2pm by emailing bookings@thepalacecinema.co.uk

The Palace Cinema, Harbour Street, Broadstairs Picture:Barry Goodwin
The Palace Cinema, Harbour Street, Broadstairs Picture:Barry Goodwin

St James’ Church, Cooling

Charles Dickens used the churchyard in Main Road as the inspiration for the opening chapter of Great Expectations. Pop in from 10am to 4pm every day Heritage Open Days are on and visit visitchurches.org.uk for details.

The church is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT). Trust vice president, pianist Jools Holland, whose local church is St James, will be presenting, and performing in, a one-off virtual concert in aid of the charity featuring 12 acts recorded at churches across the UK on Friday, September 11. He said: "Because of the lockdown, the Churches Conservation Trust are facing a loss to the tune of half a million pounds. Throughout the concert, you will see various ways that you can donate. Whatever you can give will be greatly appreciated."

It will be streamed at 7.30pm on the Churches Conservation Trust’s Facebook and YouTube.

St James' Church, Cooling
St James' Church, Cooling

Stories of Dover

Local volunteers, Dover Greeters, will be at the seafront, which is one of the most historic places in the country, in the middle of the prom, on both Saturdays and Sundays to tell stories, have a little walk and point out interesting places to visit, all in a socially-distanced fashion. Spot them wearing bright blue shirts between 10.30am and 12.30pm.

Whitstable Museum, Foresters Hall

Built by Robert Stephenson in 1830, steam locomotive Invicta, which was the first steam engine to pull regular passenger trains, is now on show at the volunteer-run museum, which prides itself on telling local stories of diving, fishing, shipwrecks, shipbuilding and oysters. There is no booking required and the museum is open from 10.30am to 4.30pm Friday to Sunday the first week and Thursday through to Sunday the second week.

The Invicta locomotive on display at the Whitstable Community Museum and Gallery Picture: Chris Davey
The Invicta locomotive on display at the Whitstable Community Museum and Gallery Picture: Chris Davey

And here are a few of the virtual events...

The Beaney and Canterbury Roman Museum, Canterbury

There will be digital activity packs from which you can learn all about Canterbury’s very own ‘saggy, old cloth cat’ Bagpuss or have a go at making a Roman mini catapult. Go to canterburymuseums.co.uk

The Beaney Picture: The Beaney, Canterbury
The Beaney Picture: The Beaney, Canterbury

The Bridge Chapel, Rochester

Pay a virtual visit to see behind the doors of the chapel in the Esplanade, which has sat beside Rochester Bridge for more than 600 years. Find out who built it and why.An online exhibition showing historical images through time is also available andthere are treasures from the archives and stories such as the secret life of the building after the reign of Henry VIII. Go to rbt.org.uk

Medway Queen – Odd Stuff

Gillingham's Medway Queen Preservation Society will be posting daily on their website and Facebook page with a different unusual or rarely seen image or artefact each day, building o a collection of 10 or so items. There is also an online virtual tour.

The Medway Queen Picture: Richard Halton
The Medway Queen Picture: Richard Halton

* Heritage Open Days runs from Friday, September 11 to Sunday, September 20.The event is held each year bringing history and culture to the people, thanks to support from the National Trust and the People’s Postcode Lottery.

For more details and to find an event near you go to heritageopendays.org.uk

For more days out ideas across Kent click here

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