Visitors and residents in County Durham will have the chance to discover the region’s hidden historical treasures in an annual heritage event.

Durham County Council has confirmed it will be participating in the national Heritage Open Days programme this year, from Friday, 11 September until Sunday 20 September, with a range of virtual and socially-distanced in-person activities, including tours of historic buildings that are not normally open to public.

Heritage Open Days is an annual celebration of England’s dynamic architecture, parks, gardens and culture, offering free access to properties that are not often explored by the public, or those that would normally charge an admission fee.

All events this year have been organised in line with local and national government guidelines to ensure visitors can still discover the county’s hidden stories while staying safe during the coronavirus pandemic. However, visitors are reminded to check with government guidelines, and on the Heritage Open Days website, for any changes in event information.

In Durham City, Allington House will be open for tours today, Friday 11 September, and Friday 18 September from 10am to 1pm. With a maximum of six people per tour, visitors can explore the building’s 17th, 18th and 19th century features which was once home to the Durham castle guard.

Durham Cathedral will be publishing videos and blog content on Facebook to show life behind the scenes at the heart of the Durham UNESCO World Heritage Site. It will also be hosting a daily livestream on Facebook from today, Friday 11 Sepember, to Sunday 20 September, at 3pm to talk about the cathedral’s dynamic history and heritage.

Self-guided tours will be available at Durham Market Hall. From palace, to workhouse, to home of the city’s indoor market, visitors can learn all about the site’s history from a local historian, bringing hundreds of years of history to life. Tours will be from 11am on Friday 11 September to Saturday 19 September and no booking is required with a maximum of one person per tour. For more information, contact Alice Wilkes on 0191 3846153.

The Grade II listed Durham Town Hall, which houses many atmospheric spaces, fascinating histories, and long held traditions, will be open to public visits from 10am to 3pm throughout the Heritage Open Days. For the event, there will be a special display of Mayoral Bodyguard uniform and memorabilia with a video presentation celebrating the proud history of this remarkable, centuries-old local tradition.

As a special event the Town Hall will host a free exhibition, by local artist Denis Fox, on Sunday 13 September. This new series of oil paintings depicts the events of ‘Black Thursday’, August 15th in 1940, when the German Luftwaffe attacked the North East. The exhibition coincides with the 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain and a display of a real Spitfire Mk IX outside in Market Place.

One of a number of activities associated with the Stockton and Darlington Railway (S&DR), will be a history walk around Shildon on Sunday, 20 September. The walk will trace the route from Brusselton Accommodation Bridge, through the former S&DR works, to the Mason’s Arms, the site of Soho Works, via Hackworth’s house and on to Locomotion. Places on the walk will be limited and booking is essential. All walkers must ensure they are wearing sturdy footwear and must bring a protective face mask. Dogs are welcome. For more information call Jane Hackworth-Young on 01833 627712 or John Raw on 01388 663764.

For visitors to Hardwick Park, in Sedgefield, the Love Exploring app can be downloaded for a brand-new heritage audio tour. Visitors can learn about the 18th century parkland and the endeavours of John Burdon, who bought the Hardwick estate in 1748, and his great architect James Paine, and how they designed the park in the ‘latest style’.

The rich history of Bishop Auckland is also being celebrated, with a new virtual guided tour which has been created by architectural investigators at Historic England as part of their research in support of the Heritage Action Zone. Open the digital story map to discover what the investigators have uncovered and take a journey back in time to explore the various architectural styles that form the rich legacy of Bishop Auckland. To follow the story map, visit historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/bishop-auckland

Throughout the Heritage Open Days, even more activities will be held across all four corners of the county at various sites, such as a virtual tour of Durham School and chapel, an exploration of 100 years of the Durham Coast, a VE Day exhibition at Wheatley Hill Heritage Centre, a virtual tour of the last remaining Wurlitzer pipe organ, in Crook, and a host of many more experiences to enjoy.

Cllr Joy Allen, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism, said: “These events are just a small example of the vast line-up of events across the county for the annual Heritage Open Days. There is a real host of exciting, inspiring and diverse activities that explore every nook and cranny of our county’s rich history, with many places open to the public especially for this event that usually have their doors closed.

“From virtual tours to in-person events, historic walks, and activities for families, children and adults alike, there will be something for everyone to explore and enjoy during the ten-day period celebrating our unique history.”

For the full list of activities and events, visit www.durham.gov.uk/heritageopendays or www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting