HUNDREDS of Chilterns venues throw their doors open this month for ten days of free open days, tours, walks and talks as part of England’s largest festival of history and culture.

Each September thousands of volunteers across the country do their bit to allow guests to experience local history, architecture and culture with no entrance fees.

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RAILWAY AGE: the ward-winning Victorian station house at Ridgmont in Bedfordshire

This year’s festival will take place from September 11-20, supported by players of the People’s Postcode Lottery.

From a Victorian station house in Bedfordshire to a derelict wire mill in Berkshire or a haven for wildlife in suburban Reading, venues offer a chance for local people to connect with the past – and the natural world.

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POND DIPPING: Lousehill Copse is a haven for wildlife in suburban Reading

Nationwide, destinations range from castles to factories, town halls to tithe barns and temples. Not all events are registered yet, but several hundred Chilterns venues are already listed on the Heritage Open Days website.

As well as experiencing local events, this year virtual visitors can participate in activities further afield and see even more hidden places.

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TWITCHERS’ TRAIL: try birdwatching at Linford Lakes Nature Reserve in Milton Keynes

For the first time, the programme will include a range of digital events allowing communities to celebrate their stories while adhering to social distancing measures. Some venues and outdoor spaces will open for pre-booked events and visits by small groups, while others will offer virtual tours and digital experiences.

Every year around 50,000 volunteers give their time and effort to help create the largest cultural grassroots festival in the country. Last year 5,700 events were organised which welcomed more than 2.4 million visitors.

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This year’s theme is Hidden Nature, which offers an opportunity to discover the nature that exists on our doorsteps, as well as the built heritage. Areas of the countryside that aren’t normally accessible to the public will be opened up and events will reveal the hidden history of not just our natural landscapes, but also gardens, green spaces, urban parks, orchards, vineyards, farms and forests.

Annie Reilly, head of producing for the National Trust, said: “Heritage Open Days is about connecting people so we can share in the amazing stories of the places, spaces, nature, heritage and history around us.”

Heritage Open Days is coordinated and promoted nationally by the National Trust with support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery. All events are free, including access to many sites that usually charge for admission.

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