Once the school summer and autumn holidays are over, 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.
Sounds good? Unfortunately, there is a problem!
English Heritage and the National Trust, the two main organisations managing heritage sites in England, adopt winter opening times. This means that from autumn to spring, many of their sites are completely closed down or only open at weekends. Apparently there are not enough of us seniors visiting to keep them fully open.
An additional problem of course during the 2020-2021 winter period is the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to many sites having reduced openings from normal. Also opening times may alter at short notice.
However, the good news is that both organisations have some of their sites open, partly or fully, throughout the winter period – but which ones? I’ve been researching 2020-2021 winter openings on your behalf and it is a confusing picture.
Please note that most sites now require advance booking.
The cut-off date for English Heritage is usually around the start of November. After that winter openings come into operation until late March, other than a brief reprieve for the half-term week in February. A few properties also open for a few days around the Christmas period.
However winter opening can vary a lot from site to site, as my survey has revealed:
• Open almost every day (except around Christmas) – Clifford’s Tower in York (Wed to Sun), Osborne House (Wed to Sun), Stonehenge and sites along Hadrian’s Wall. Plus a lot of unfenced or minor sites, including: Eynsford Castle, Offa’s Dyke and Titchfield Abbey.
• Open at weekends – Many major sites, including: Audley End, Belsay Hall, Dover Castle, Eltham Palace (Sundays only), Framlingham Castle, Kenilworth Castle and Rievaulx Abbey, Scarborough Castle, Tintagel Castle (plus some other dates) and Witley Court.
• Open at weekends, but only the gardens and tea rooms – A few sites, including Brodsworth Hall.
• Closed completely – Some sites, including: Grimes Graves, Hardwick Old Hall, Pickering Castle and Portland Castle.
If you live in or are visiting Scotland then you are much better served. Many sites managed by Historic Scotland, the sister organisation of English Heritage, stay open every day throughout the year, except at Christmas. The same applies for many Welsh properties managed by CADW, also a sister organisation of English Heritage.
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.
A similar pattern of winter openings applies to the National Trust, with some of their sites closed or open only at weekends from the beginning of November, or end of December for some properties, until March.
Several National Trust gardens and tea rooms are open almost every day throughout the winter period, including: Chartwell (house open some weekends in December), Cliveden House, Clumber Park, Dunham Massey, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden (free entry for English Heritage members), Stowe Landscape Garden and Wimpole Estate.
The National Trust has recently been experimenting with opening some of their more popular houses (along with gardens and tea rooms) during the winter season. For example: Anglesey Abbey, Attingham Park (mansion tours some weekends), Belton House, Mottisfont, and Stourhead and will be open many days during this period.
But it’s a complicated picture, that can change at short notice, and currently there is little information available for openings after December 31st.
Yes, all very confusing, so again, before planning a visit to any particular site, it is important that you check opening times with the National Trust.
As a member of the National Trust you can also visit National Trust for Scotland sites free of charge and some of them are open throughout the year.
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 in the autumn a worthwhile proposition, and if you particularly enjoy visiting gardens, then the National Trust has plenty to offer.
*** English Heritage Special Offer: For 15% discount on annual and gift membership, click on the English Heritage banner below and enter code EH2020 at checkout. ***
Your National Trust membership also gives you free entry to all National Trust for Scotland sites including 26 castles and palaces, 16 islands and many fine gardens. And vice versa, National Trust for Scotland membership gives you free entry to all National Trust sites.
*** If you are over 60, you get a 20% discount on the standard adult membership of National Trust for Scotland. ***
Updated version posted OCTOBER 1st, 2020 by Steve Hanson