PREVIEW: A Season of Activity and Inspiration in County Durham

Posted on September 9th 2019 by Whats on Northeast

The beginning of a new season is bringing fresh opportunities to gain skills and discover more about the history, artworks and horticulture of County Durham.

A programme of autumn activities, run by The Auckland Project regeneration charity in Bishop Auckland, is offering the chance to go behind-the-scenes at two of the region’s most historic sites, get hands-on with archaeology and take in enlightening talks on French and Spanish art on show in the region.

Heritage Open Days

As part of this year’s nationwide Heritage Open Days festival, The Auckland Project is offering three special activities, including tours of 300-year-old St Peter’s Chapel and guided walks around the surrounding 150-acre Deer Park.

St Peter’s Chapel, at the former private home of the Prince Bishops of Durham, Auckland Castle, is one of the largest private chapels in Europe.  It will be open from 10am to 4pm on Sunday 15 and Sunday, 22 September for guided tours, taking in the intricately carved oak altarpiece, stained glass windows and decorated ceiling.

On Saturday, 14 and Saturday, 21 September, horticulture and history will be brought together in a guided walk of Auckland Castle’s historic Deer Park, taking place at 11am, 12.30pm and 3pm

Visitors will be led along the peaceful woodland paths of the 800-year-old park, learning more about its original medieval elements, Georgian gothic Deer House and the wildlife that calls the park home.

Those keen to get hands on with local history and nature can also take part in a series of Reasons to Dig workshops at 10am, 11.30am and 2pm on Saturday, 14 September and Saturday, 21 September, meeting at the Clock Tower in Bishop Auckland Market Place.

The workshops will offer an introduction to archaeology, with the chance for all ages and abilities to dig though excavation trays and analyse their findings before turning their trowel to planting produce, with a secondary focus on learning to grow fresh fruit and vegetables.

All three activities are running as part of Heritage Open Days, a national festival of history and culture which sees historic sites across the country open their doors to the public.

Young Archaeologists’ Club

Aspiring young historians can continue their exploration of the past by joining The Auckland Project’s Young Archaeologists’ Club, which launches a new session for 11 to 16-year-olds in September, alongside the continuing sessions for 7 to 11-year-olds.

The monthly meetings will delve deeper into the history of Bishop Auckland, investigating professional techniques such as excavation, archaeological modelling, geophysics and photogrammetry; the science of making accurate measurements using photographs.

And this year, young archaeologists will also have the chance to achieve a national Heritage Heroes Award by working together to plan, research and carefully excavate an archaeology project before presenting their findings.

Young Archaeologists’ Club takes place on 14 September, 12 October, 9 November and 14 December 2019, and runs 10am – 12pm for 7 to 11-year-olds and 1pm – 3pm for 11 to 16-year-olds.   Booking is essential, with places costing £2 per child.

Talks in the Tower

Historians of all ages can find out about the archaeological excavations that have taken place at Auckland Castle in a special talk at Auckland Tower on Thursday, 19 September.

Talks it the Tower: North Terrace Dig, which runs from 6.30pm – 8pm, will be hosted by expert archaeologists from Durham University and reveal some of the fascinating finds uncovered during a dig at the Castle’s North Terrace this summer.

The Talks at the Tower series will continue with an introduction to painter, Francisco de Zurbarán on Thursday, 24 October, 6.30pm – 8pm.  Zurbarán was a master of the Spanish Golden Age whose series of paintings, Jacob and his Twelve Sons, has hung in Auckland Castle for more than 250 years.

And on Thursday, 21 November 2019, art-lovers can hear from National Gallery Curator, Dr Francesca Whitlum-Cooper as she sheds light on Nicholas Poussin’s masterpiece The Triumph of Pan. The artwork forms the centrepiece of the next exhibition at the Bishop Trevor Gallery, which opens in Bishop Auckland on Saturday, 5 October 2019. Talks at the Tower: An Introduction to Poussin’s Triumph of Pan will take place at Auckland Tower from 6.30 – 8pm.

The National Gallery Masterpiece Tour 2019, which features The Triumph of Pan, will run from October 5, 2019 to 5 January 2020 at the Bishop Trevor Gallery, with doors open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm.  Admission charges apply.

All Talks at the Tower must be pre-booked, with tickets priced at £5 per person, including a hot drink.

Exhibitions and Events

Art lovers can also drop in to the Black and White Exhibition, which opens at No.42, Bishop Auckland Market Place on Wednesday, 4 September, featuring monochrome pieces from local artists.

Or have a go at creating their own work of art at a Printing Press Workshop on Thursday, 19 September, where participants can create their design and watch as it’s printed on mining artist Tom McGuinness’ historic printing press.   Booking for these workshops I essential and costs £10 per person.

During the October half-term holiday, visitors will also be invited to take part in a creative session at Auckland Tower as part of the national Big Draw festival.  Art activities will be running Wednesday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm, based on the theme of ‘Taking Flight,’ which was chosen by the community.

For more information about the events and activities on offer this autumn at The Auckland Project, visit,  Bookings can be made online, over the phone on 01388 743797 or in person at Auckland Tower, Bishop Auckland Market Place.  Enquiries can also be emailed to  For regular updates from The Auckland Project follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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