20 years of opening the doors to local and national heritage

September signals the once-a-year chance to explore the world on your doorstep, unlocked and completely free of charge.

Today signals the start of Heritage Open Days which celebrates England’s wide array of culture and architecture by offering free access to places that are usually closed to the public or normally charge for admission.

HODs: time to explore what's on your doorstep

Every year on four days in September, buildings, visitor attractions and other ‘hidden gems’ of a cultural significance of every age, style and function throw open their doors, for a once-a-year chance to discover architectural treasures and enjoy a wide range of tours, events and activities that bring local history and culture to life.

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Local heritage – some of which you had probably forgotten about or taken for granted, or not even known was there, open and right on your doorstep.

And it goes further as September is a month of open days across Europe.

Heritage Open Days was established in 1994 as England’s contribution to the European Heritage Days, so 2014 marks the 20th anniversary.

The scheme was initiated in 1991 by the Council of Europe to raise appreciation for Europe’s rich and diverse cultural assets and their need for care and protection.

The principle behind it all was to simply throw open the doors to historic monuments and buildings, in particular those normally closed to the public. One of the key requirements was to offer free access to all properties taking part in the European Heritage Days.

In the UK, there are five open day schemes that are part of the wider European Heritage Days scheme across the continent, those being:

To find out more about what is on offer ‘on your doorstep’ so to speak, check out the Directory Map or get a printable guide list

As travel writer, and Editor and writer for a UK publisher with two magazines that focus on UK tourism (Discover Britain’s Gardens magazine, and Discover Britain for Groups magazine), this is right up my street.

However,  the offering on my very own doorstep (Rugby, in Warwickshire) is slightly disappointing.

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There are some great places to visit, don’t get me wrong such as Brownsover Hall, the Marton Museum of Country Bygones to name a couple.

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but for the town which heralds as being the birthplace of the game, one would have thought this would [again] be a great opportunity to capitalise on this unique claim to fame, and offer local and visitors/tourists alike a chance to go behind-the-scenes.

Still, with the Rugby World Cup on these shores next year, you  never know…

The Close, Rugby School (3)

In the meantime, wherever you are, get out, enjoy and explore what’s on your doorstep whilst you have the chance to.

Great British Food Festival at Ragley Hall

Ragley Hall, the family home of the 9th Marquess and Marchioness of Hertford, will be full of food lovers, chefs and artisan cooks this weekend for the first ever Great British Food Festival in Warwickshire which takes place across Saturday 13th and Sunday 14th September.

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The line-up includes over 80 top local producers, celebrity & local chef demos, talks, kids and adult cookery lessons, great live music, a ‘Cake Off’ competition and ‘Men v Food’ challenges.

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Top local and regional chefs will be giving free demos, offering hints, tips and advice to would-be bakers. There is also a “Cake Off” which is open to anyone to enter, amateur bakers can bring along a cake and have it judged by the experts and by the public.

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Winners from the “Cake Off” will take home a fantastic foodie prize – and all entrants get free admission to the festival!

How about taking on the Men Vs Food Challenge? Challengers will be taking on either the Men vs Meat, Men vs Heat or the Men vs Wheat challenge. The various tests are open to all men and women and involve a foot of chilli sausage, half pound burgers, extra hot ‘suicide sauce’ and pints of cider to name just a few. (personally the cider and burgers would be high on my list, but that’s just me)

For those who fancy a more relaxing day out, simply sit back, grab some of the wide array of food and drink offerings that will be available (something for everyone) and enjoy the live music, and all in the beautiful surroundings of Ragley.

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You could say the Festival is the perfect recipe for a fun, foodie day out for the whole family.

What’s more, lots of the event is under cover so whatever the weather will decide to throw at you this weekend, you can expect to have a good time!

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Tickets cost £7.50 per adult, £3.50 for 5-12’s, with under 5’s getting in for free.

Plus the ticket price also includes access to the grounds and gardens of Ragley Hall.

For full details about the Festival head to their website at www.greatbritishfoodfestival.com

And for more information on Ragley Hall, go to www.ragley.co.uk.

If you’re going, why not tell me about it? (I cannot make it – a certain young daughters birthday party)

Add a comment to this post and tweet me @karlquinney

Food glorious food festivals

A busy month is September it seems.

A month when food and drink festivals spring to life all over the place.

Admittedly there are many that take place during May, June and July – including the Stratford Food Festival which I had the pleasure of visiting.

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But it seems in the main the autumn is when food and drink is really celebrated.

It must be something to do with the harvest.

Anyway, here’s a rundown of great local food and drink event, shows and festivals in the central England region this month.

It all got underway last weekend (6th and 7th September) with the Leamington Spa Food & Drink Festival, at the Royal Pump Room Gardens in Royal Leamington Spa.

Staying in Warwickshire (just!), following on from that this weekend – 13th and 14th September, sees the Great British Food Festival at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.

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Out of the county, there is the Rutland Food & Drink Festival on Saturday 13th September 2014, 10am – 6pm at Rutland Water. It’s all part of Rutland Day in the county, and I had the pleasure of visiting this great part of the country for its inaugural Festival a few years ago. A great setting and well worth the visit.

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Next weekend – 20th and 21st September, there is the Great Taste Festival of Food & Drink, at Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire.

Before – and a little closer to home for me anyway, is the Rugby Food and Drink Festival which runs from Thursday 25th to Sunday 28th September


(I will be blogging about this prior to and during the show)

Finally (I think), the first weekend of October – Saturday 4th and Sunday 5th October will see the staging of the Melton Mowbray Food Festival, another festival I visited a couple of years back (in its previous guise as the East Midlands Food and Drink Festival). Again, a great festival with – like every good food and drink festival should have, a wide range of food and drink from local and regional producers.

Has that whetted your tastebuds?

Food Festival At the Races this weekend

Stratford Food Festival returns for its eighth year this weekend in its new format following a successful first year at Stratford Racecourse.

Organisers Showplace and the racecourse have teamed up to present ‘Stratford Food Festival at the Races’ for what promises to be an action packed weekend for all the family.

Stratford Food Festival

Visitors will enjoy the best of both the foodie and the racing world with over 70 exhibitors showcasing an array of food and drink alongside evening race meets on the Friday and Saturday evening.



On Sunday the event is FREE for the whole family to enjoy and £5 parking all day.

What’s New this year?

  • One day FREE admission for visitors (Sunday)
  • Added Horse Racing Experience
  • Larger Event Audience
  • One Extra Day
  • Compact, Focused and Bustling Atmosphere
  • AGA Demonstration Area
  • Music Feature
  • FREE Parking (Friday & Saturday)
  • FREE Admission for Under 18′s – FREE Children’s Entertainment Area

Historically the event has been set in September but both organisers felt the event could prove even more popular if brought forwards. Highlights include local exhibitor The Lazy Cow steak and ale house, who will be hosting resident live bands and doing live butchery demonstrations from their stand whilst they serve burgers, steak sandwiches and cocktails.

On Sunday, kids will be able to take part in FREE cookery workshops hosted by Kidz Kitchen, as well as inflatables, face painting and balloon modelling around the site.

The Racecourse is also hosting the Race for Life charity event on Sunday 1st June.

The Festival is also running shuttle services linking the event to the town and Stratford Train Station.

Times of the Food Festival are Friday from 4.00-9.00pm, Saturday from 1.00-9.00pm, and Sunday 10.00am-4.00pm.

This focused food event will take place on the back of an existing double racemeeting weekend (W+S Stratford Foxhunters’ Meeting) in the racecourses annual calendar.

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Two evening race meetings will feature The AGA Ladies Open Point to Point Championship Final and The AGA iTotal Control Championship Hunters Steelechase, with all visitors getting the opportunity to explore the usual aromas and hustle and bustle provided by some of the country’s best artisan producers in the Food Festival area.

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For more information about the event visit www.stratfordfoodfestival.co.uk or follow  on Facebook- /stratfordfoodfestival or Twitter- @foodfest2014  @stratfordraces

Public vote Shakespeare as England’s biggest claim to fame – and it’s his birthday

To mark St George’s Day, 23rd April, William Shakespeare goes on display alongside 18 other claims to fame in a one-off exhibition 

Shakespeare, the most quoted writer in the history of the English-speaking world, has been voted England’s ultimate claim to fame.

The nation’s bard has won The People’s Choice in England’s Hall of Fame with 50% more votes than any other claim.


The news comes in a big year for Shakespeare; it marks 450 years since his birth. It is widely believed that he was born on 23rd April, St George’s Day.

Shakespeare goes on display alongside Downton Abbey, Banksy, Glastonbury and many other claims in the hotly anticipated Hall of Fame exhibition which opens to the public on St George’s Day. Running for one week until 30th April, the free open-air exhibition will take place at Observation Point on London’s Southbank.

The search to establish England’s Hall of Fame began in February when the tourist board asked the public to submit their suggestions. The Hall of Fame app received almost 1,000 submissions from Harry Potter to Harry Styles, the mini skirt to the tuxedo, The Beatles to punk music, and Earl Grey tea to the Scotch Egg.


A panel of experts has awarded a bronze, silver and gold across six categories, to celebrate the best of what England has brought to the world and what makes the country such a diverse and fascinating place to visit and explore. The public were also given a vote, The People’s Choice.

England’s ultimate Hall of Fame consists of:

The People’s Choice

Shakespeare. The most quoted writer in the history of the English-speaking world and truly, the nation’s bard. His plays are brought to life by Stratford-upon-Avon’s Royal Shakespeare Company at the Royal Shakespeare and Swan theatres or at Shakespeare’s Birthplace and Family Houses in Stratford-upon-Avon too. You can soak up the atmosphere at the open-air Shakespeare’s Globe in London, whose spirited performances see interaction between actors and the audience.

History & Heritage

Bronze –The four surviving original copies of Magna Carta, sealed in 1215 at Runnymede, Surrey, and regarded by historians as the foundation of constitutional liberty in the English-speaking world

Silver –The smooth lawns and sweeping vistas of England’s landscaping master, Capability Brown, as seen at Northumberland’s Kirkharle Lake and Courtyard

Gold Portsmouth Historic Dockyard, the world’s oldest industrial complex and a crucial part of England’s naval heritage



The Great, the Good and the Notorious

Bronze –World-renowned, elusive graffiti artist Banksy, whose original murals can be spotted on a guided tour of Bristol’s street art

Silver Robin Hood, England’s lovable outlaw, whose world-famous legend is rooted in Sherwood Forest on the outskirts of Nottingham

Gold –Founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill, whose birthplace museum in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, is dedicated to her life and social reforms


Food & Drink

Bronze –The Bakewell Pudding, first made at a local inn in Derbyshire during the 19th century… and whose recipe was something of a happy accident!

Silver England‘s oldest working gin distillery in Plymouth, whose guided tours provide a glimpse into the centuries-old process of gin making

Gold The sandwich, an essential part of afternoon tea, which was named in honour of its ingenious inventor, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Enjoy them cut up into dainty fingers at Woburn Abbey, where the tradition of afternoon tea was popularised around 1840.


Inventions & Discoveries

Bronze – England as the birthplace of the steam locomotive, whose steam train attractions can be found chugging merrily around the country. A working replica of the world’s first operational steam locomotive can be seen in action at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge, Shropshire, whilst Birmingham’s Thinktank Science Museum is worth visiting for its exciting demonstrations of the steam engine’s power.

Silver –Sir Isaac Newton’s family home at Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, where the English physicist and mathematician first discovered his theory of gravity

GoldIsambard Kingdom Brunel’s engineering masterpieces in Bristol, including the magnificent Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain passenger steamship


Sport & Leisure

Bronze –The annual BNY Mellon Boat Race (known also as the Oxford vs Cambridge Boat Race), established in 1829 and one of the world’s oldest sporting events

Silver – The home of tennis, from Hampton Court Palace in Richmond-upon-Thames, where the sport is thought to have been invented to Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum

Gold –The incidental birth of modern rugby during a football game at Rugby School in Warwickshire

Centre Court at Wimbledon _Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Museum VB23069087 William Webb Ellis statue , Rugby _Rugby Borough Council

Culture & Entertainment

BronzeGlastonbury, the granddaddy of all festivals on Worthy Farm in Somerset

Silver–Hampshire’s elegant Highclere Castle, the real-life location of ITV’s hugely successful Downton Abbey

GoldThe Beatles, whose mop-top haircuts and irresistibly catchy tunes set fans’ hearts on fire in 1960s Liverpool

The Beatles Story, Liverpool @VisitBritain & David Lake

Shakespeare’s England celebrates the 450th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth

William Shakespeare, Stratford-upon-Avon’s favourite son was born in the town on the 23rd April in 1564 and many of the region’s key attractions will mark the anniversary with a programme of productions, events, festivals and exhibitions


Stratford-upon-Avon’s celebrations of the anniversary will take place on 26 & 27 April when thousands of visitors are expected in the town. The tradition of the Birthday Celebrations dates back to 1824 and brings together residents and visitors with people from the worlds of diplomacy, theatre, literature and academia in a vibrant mix of pageantry and performance. Festivities start with the grand 1,000 strong procession which parades through the town centre of Stratford-upon-Avon and finishes with the laying of flowers on Shakespeare’s grave at Holy Trinity Church.  A community parade follows and spectators can join the throng of costumed players and musicians to celebrate the anniversary.


Starting with a special performance on the evening of 25 April and morning of 26 April outside Shakespeare’s Birthplace, there will be an extended programme of events and activities at the five Shakespeare family homes and free entertainment in the streets and parks of Stratford-upon-Avon throughout the weekend. The Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) will be running a range of free activities for all the family in and around its theatres on Saturday 26 April, including storytelling sessions, stage fighting workshops and the chance to see how fake scars and bruises are created.  Visitors will also be able to enjoy music in the foyer areas, and, for 50p, cross the river on the ferry listening to RSC actors reading sonnets.


On Shakespeare’s actual birthday, 23 April – St Georges Day, the Royal Shakespeare Company will celebrate with a firework display from the top of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre from 10.30pm after that evening’s performance of Henry IV, Part I.  Taking inspiration from Ben Jonson’s “star ofpoets” description of William Shakespeare, the display will include a recreation of Shakespeare’s face, but in pyrotechnics.



In June the RSC will also celebrate the 40th anniversary of The Other Place studio theatre and the extraordinary vision of its founder, Buzz Goodbody, with ‘Midsummer Mischief’, a prologue to their plans to reinstate The Other Place in 2015. ‘Midsummer Mischief’ is a month-long season of new plays running in The Other Place at The Courtyard Theatre.


Throughout 2014 the RSC and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will run other events and exhibitions celebrating Shakespeare’s legacy.  They will also release a newly illustrated map of Shakespeare’s hometown, with a walking route between his Birthplace, Royal Shakespeare Theatre and Holy Trinity Church, making the perfect itinerary for visitors keen to explore the playwright’s legacy in this important anniversary year.


A concert in Holy Trinity Church on 24 April will launch a new three year global singing project by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust to mark the anniversary of the playwright’s birth and death. Singing Shakespeare will inspire choirs from all over the world to perform musical settings of Shakespeare. The concert will form part of the town’s Birthday Celebrations and will feature the world premiere of a new work by award-winning composer Gary Carpenter,as well asthe world premiere of a new arrangement of Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Fear No More’.  The concert will include performances by the Stratford-upon-Avon Chamber Choir, Holy Trinity Church Choir and Cantare, a newly formed chamber choir based in Stratford.  Tickets cost £12 (adults) and concessions £9 (children 5-17, students in full time education and over 60s). Book online at www.singingshakespeare.com


Mary Arden’s Farm, the working Tudor farm where Shakespeare’s mother grew up, will be celebrating its 500th anniversary with an exhibition reflecting the rich history of the house and the local community.


The Stratford-upon-Avon Literary Festival celebrates its 7th successful year this year with a host of events and activities from 26 April – 4 May including a Children’s Book Day with leading authors and illustrators. The Festival is the highlight of the regional calendar and one of the most significant literary festivals in the UK, attracting thousands of people who share one passion: a love of books, writing and reading. Please visit www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk


To celebrate the Shakespeare 450 anniversary The Carter Company have unveiled a brand new cycling trip, ‘Shakespeare’s Way’, which traces the route from the Globe Theatre in London back to Shakespeare’s home in Stratford-upon-Avon. The route can be taken in slowly as Shakespeare’s Way 10 night trip’, or more speedily as ‘Shakespeare’s Way 7 night trip. It travels through the beautiful countryside of the River Thames, the Cotswolds and the Chilterns and past some of England’s finest attractions. Visit www.the-carter-company.com


For more information on Shakespeare’s England in 2014 please visit www.shakespeares-england.co.uk/shakespeare-450


Pancakes aplenty but what do you really know about Shrove Tuesday?

If you need a sure sign that Spring is here or not far away, Shrove Tuesday – or ‘Pancake Day’, is it.

Whilst for many today means gorging out on pancakes with a multitude of fillings, here’s some bits and pieces about Shrove Tuesday which you may not know. 

  • For starters, Shrove Tuesday (also known as Shrovetide Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday and Pancake Day) is the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. Shrove Tuesday, a moveable feast, is determined by Easter.

Shrove Tuesday pancake tossing

It is seen as a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

  • The expression “Shrove Tuesday” comes from the word shrivethe ritual of shriving that Christians used to undergo in the past.

In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them. When a person receives absolution for their sins, they are forgiven for them and released from the guilt and pain that they have caused them.

In the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest. This tradition is very old. Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: 

“In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him”.


  • ·          Shrove Tuesday is observed by many Christians, including Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists and Roman Catholics, who “make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God’s help in dealing with.”

Being the last day before the season of Lent, related popular practices such as indulging in food that one sacrifices for the upcoming forty days, are associated with Shrove Tuesday celebrations, before commencing the fasting and religious obligations associated with Lent.

Catholic and Protestant countries traditionally call the day before Ash Wednesday “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras”. The name predated the Reformation and referred to the common Christian tradition of eating special rich foods before the fasting season of Lent.

In Ireland the day is known as Máirt Inide (meaning, in Irish, “Shrovetide Tuesday”), and Pancake Tuesday. In Welsh it is known as “Dydd Mawrth Ynyd”.

  • Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent.
  • So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn’t last the forty days of Lent without going off.


  • In England, as part of community celebration, many towns held traditional Shrove Tuesday “mob football” games, some dating as far back as the 12th century.

The practice mostly died out in the 19th century after the passing of the Highway Act 1835 which banned playing football on public highways.

A number of towns have maintained the tradition, including

  • Alnwick in Northumberland,
  • Ashbourne in Derbyshire (called the Royal Shrovetide Football Match),
  • Atherstone (called the Ball Game) in Warwickshire,
  • Sedgefield (called the Ball Game) in County Durham, and
  • St Columb Major in Cornwall (called Hurling the Silver Ball). 
The madness of the Atherstone 'Ball Game', Warwickshire

The madness of the Atherstone ‘Ball Game’, Warwickshire

  • Shrove Tuesday was once known as a “half-holiday” in Britain.

It started at 11:00am with the ringing of a church bell.

On Pancake Day, “pancake races” are held in villages and towns across the United Kingdom.

The tradition is said to have originated when a housewife from Olney, Buckinghamshire, was so busy making pancakes that she forgot the time until she heard the church bells ringing for the service. She raced out of the house to church while still carrying her frying pan and pancake.

The pancake race remains a relatively common festive tradition in the UK, with many now run in aid of charity.

Participants with frying pans race through the streets tossing pancakes into the air and catching them in the pan whilst running.

The most famous pancake race at Olney in Buckinghamshire has been held since 1445. The contestants carry a frying pan and race to over a 415 yard course to the finishing line. The rules are strict: contestants have to toss their pancake at both the start and the finish, as well as wear an apron and a scarf. Traditionally, when men want to participate, they must dress up as a housewife (usually an apron and a bandanna).

Scarborough celebrates by closing the foreshore to all traffic, closing schools early, and inviting all to skip. Traditionally, long ropes were used from the nearby harbour. The town crier rings the pancake bell, situated on the corner of Westborough (main street) and Huntress Row. 

  • How to make the perfect pancake

Never easy is it?!

Have a look at the guide here