English Heritage and the National Trust – Winter openings?

Once school summer holidays are over, so you can visit all your favourite heritage sites without being assailed by noisy children and chastising parents. And, as a retired or semi-retired Senior, you may well wish to visit on weekdays.

Framlingham Castle in Suffolk

Framlingham Castle in Suffolk

Sounds good? Unfortunately, there is a big problem!

English Heritage and the National Trust, the two main organisations managing heritage sites in England, adopt winter opening times from the beginning of November onwards. This means that from autumn to spring, many of their sites are either closed down completely or are only open at weekends. Apparently there are not enough of us oldies visiting to keep them fully open.

However, the good news is that both organisations do keep some of their sites fully or partly open throughout the winter period – but which ones? I’ve been researching winter openings on your behalf, and it turns out to be a confusing picture.

English Heritage - Witley Court and Gardens

Witley Court and Gardens in Worcestershire

English Heritage

The cut-off date for English Heritage is Sunday November 1st. After that winter openings come into operation until March 25th, other than a brief reprieve for the half-term week from February 15th to 21st.

However winter opening can vary a lot from site to site, as my following survey revealed:

Open almost every day – Alexander Keiller Museum at Avebury (jointly owned with the National Trust), Brodsworth Hall (gardens only), Clifford’s Tower in York, Farnham Castle, Rochester Castle and Stonehenge. Plus a lot of unfenced or minor sites, including: Eynsford Castle, Offa’s Dyke, Titchfield Abbey and many parts of Hadrian’s Wall.

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire

Open at weekends – Many major sites, including: Belsay Hall, Dover Castle, Eltham Palace (Sundays only), Famlingham Castle, Kenilworth Castle, Osborne House, Rievaulx Abbey, Tintagel Castle and Witley Court.

Open at weekends, but only the gardens and tea rooms – A few sites, including Audley End.

Closed completely – Some sites, including: Grimes Graves, Pickering Castle and Portland Castle.

If you live in or are visiting Scotland then you are much better served. Most sites managed by Historic Scotland, the sister organisation of English Heritage, stay open every day throughout the year. The same applies for many Welsh properties managed by CADW, also a sister organisation of English Heritage.

Baeumaris Castle - CADW

Baeumaris Castle in Anglesey – CADW

Maybe they are tougher in those parts or maybe they appreciate better the potential offered by us oldie visitors!

Bear in mind that once you are an English Heritage member, you get half price admission to Historic Scotland and CADW properties during your first year of membership and free entry in subsequent years.

Before planning a visit to any particular site, it is important that you check the opening times with English Heritage (or Historic Scotland or CADW); they can change at short notice.

National Trust

Clumber Park

Clumber Park in Nottinghamshire

A similar pattern of winter openings applies to the National Trust, with many of their grand houses open only at weekends from the beginning of November onwards.

However many National Trust managed gardens are open almost every day throughout the winter period, including: Anglesey Abbey Garden, Belton House, Chartwell, Clumber Park, Dinefwr Park, Dunham Massey, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden (free entry for English Heritage members), Stowe Landscape Garden, Stourhead, Wakehurst Place and Wimpole Estate.

Again, before planning a visit to any particular site, it is important that you check opening times with the National Trust.

Thinking of Joining English Heritage or the National Trust?

I’ve already posted an article English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to join? which sets out the advantages of taking out annual membership of one or both of these organisations. But is it worth joining at this time of the year?

Well, I think there are enough English Heritage (and Historic Scotland and CADW) properties open during the winter period to make joining now a worthwhile proposition.

Also, when the festive season is approaching, a gift of annual membership will provide an enjoyable, year long present.

If you particularly enjoy visiting gardens, then go ahead and join the National Trust or maybe buy membership as a gift for someone else.

Updated version posted 5th November 2015 by Steve Hanson

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