Enjoy Heritage Open Days in Land of Oak & Iron (AD)

This post is sponsored by Land of Oak & Iron

Next week the annual Heritage Open Days return, but this year it is expanding to running over ten consecutive days from 13 September to 22 September. 

I’m working with the Land of Oak & Iron to let you know about the 11 Heritage Open Days happening this year in the area in which I grew up, including two which are specifically family-friendly: Discover Derwentcote Steel Furnace on 14 Sept and Family Hands-On Heritage on 22 Sept.

Enjoy Heritage Open Days in the Land of Oak & Iron (AD)

The Land of Oak & Iron is a place that is bursting with acres of beautiful natural woodland, rich in wildlife, and also has a whole industrial and cultural heritage to celebrate. Plus, it is less than 30 minutes away from Newcastle, Durham, and Sunderland.

It covers an area surrounding the River Derwent including Consett, Rowlands Gill, Prudhoe and Whickham, where local communities and partners are working together to celebrate, conserve and enhance its natural, industrial and cultural heritage. It is an area which has a fascinating industrial past of iron and steel making, an abundance of natural woodland, and intriguing stories of people who helped shape history.

Enjoy Heritage Open Days in Land of Oak & Iron (AD)

Heritage Open Days

Heritage Open Days (13-22 September 2019) is England’s largest grassroots heritage festival involving over 40,000 volunteers and 5,000 events across the country. This country’s largest festival of history and culture festival is celebrating 25 years of opening doors to England’s heritage, community, and history.

Every September, doors are flung open at some of the country’s best-known attractions, as well as private and community spaces, thanks to support from the National Trust and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Discover the unique and interesting heritage with Land of Oak & Iron’s 2019 events programme, or explore wider afield with the Heritage Open Days website.

Enjoy Heritage Open Days in Land of Oak & Iron (AD)

Family-Friendly Events


Saturday 14 September 12noon – 4 pm

Find out how iron was turned into steel hundreds of years ago at Derwentcote Steel Furnace and get hands-on with family-friendly activities.

A rare opportunity to see inside this 18th-century furnace which is a Grade 1 Listed Building and is one of the few remaining examples of this type of furnace in the country. Learn how wrought iron was turned into steel through the cementation process; this is the last remaining piece of evidence of cementation steel making in the northeast.

Feel free to browse the information boards at your leisure, see the workers cottages, explore the beautiful woodland on our family trail, learn how a rusted wooden bench is crafted and have a go at wood carving or take part in a free art activity.

A family-friendly event with a toilet, refreshments and free parking; dogs welcome on a lead. However, the site is uneven, with access from the car park down a stony track; it is accessible to off-road pushchairs but would be difficult with everyday pushchairs.

Location: Derwentcote Steel Furnace - Car park, just off A694, NE17 7RS

Built in the 1720s, Derwentcote is the earliest and most complete steel-making furnace in Britain. The furnace was used to turn iron into steel – a process known as cementation. Bars of wrought iron and charcoal powder were packed into the furnace and heated to 1,100oC, producing about 10 tons of ‘Blister steel’ in three weeks. The river Derwent powered a forge nearby, where rods of blister steel were forged into ingots. These were then sent to local workshops, where they were made into top-quality products such as cutting tools and springs.


Sunday 22 September 11 am – 3 pm

Get stuck into heritage with traditional skills for the whole family and celebrate the Land of Oak & Iron’s 100 years of forestry in probably the most popular wood in Land of Oak & Iron. 

Demonstrations and activities for the whole family including green woodworking, willow weaving, charcoal making, wool spinning, clay tile and pot making and flint napping. See vintage forestry vehicles, heavy horse logging and find out how to enjoy our fantastic natural heritage in the modern-day.

A family-friendly event with toilets and free parking, dogs welcome on leads. Bring a picnic or food and drinks will be available to buy.

Location: Chopwell Wood. Access through the main entrance off Hookergate Lane, High Spen, NE39 1LT

Covering 900 acres, Chopwell Wood is the largest woodland in Tyne & Wear. Walkers and cyclists love exploring its excellent network of trails, which offer something for everyone. Many of Chopwell’s ancient oaks were felled in the 1600s and 1700s to build ships, including Charles I’s warship HMS Sovereign of the Seas, launched in 1637. Nowadays areas of conifer are being removed to restore Chopwell’s original cover of native broadleaf trees, including oaks.


Other events

Saturday 14 September 10.30am – 12noon

Discover a furnace hidden in the woods, the earliest surviving ore-roasting kiln in Britain, with great tales to tell. Over 300 years ago, hollow blade swords were made at Shotley Bridge with steel forged from iron produced at Allensford. Discover the blast furnace, hidden on the Northumberland bank of the River Derwent with archaeologists Tony Liddell & Alan Williams. Find out about the history of the site, its purpose and what remains can still be seen.

Wear sturdy footwear, woodland walking with some steep slopes. The site itself is down a steep slope with steps, it is not accessible to wheelchairs, pushchairs or those with limited mobility. Cafe (and customer toilets) nearby at Allensford Caravan Park and Derwent Manor Hotel.

Location: Allensford Blast Furnace. Car park on Pemberton Road, adjacent to the A68, DH8 9BA
Built before 1692, this is the earliest surviving iron ore roasting kiln in Britain. Iron extracted here was sent down the River Derwent to a nearby forge. There it was turned into strong, flexible steel for use by the famous sword makers of Shotley Bridge.


Sunday 15 September 10am – 1pm

Discover the rich history and natural heritage of the beautiful Pont Valley in the heart of Land of Oak & Iron. Enjoy a 5-mile guided walk around the Pont Valley led by keen local historian David Marrs. David is passionate about the area, a member of Pont Valley Network and the Chair of Land of Oak & Iron. The Pont Valley is steeped in history, the area was mined and evidence of this industrial activity can still be seen today.

Please wear suitable clothing and footwear for a countryside walk, waterproofs or sun hat and cream may be useful depending on the weather on the day. This is a medium grade walk, there will be muddy paths, slopes, and steps; it is not suitable for wheels of any kind, unfortunately. There will be toilets available at the end of the walk.

LOCATION - Dipton Community Centre, Front Street, Dipton, County Durham, DH9 9DR



Discover the site of an 1870s coal mine, with extensive railway and coal working remains. The workings were the creation of the Mickley Coal Company which had strong associations with the creation of the Catholic church in Prudhoe. The site later became part of West Wylam Colliery, though it was abandoned long before the colliery closed in 1961.

Knowledgeable local author and enthusiast Robert Forsythe will take you on a journey back in time, bringing to life the story of this fascinating site which has now been reclaimed by nature. Robert will examine the findings of the archaeology investigation, as it reaches the end of the first week. This walk is steep and rough in places, please wear stout footwear and suitable outdoor clothing.

Location: Castlefield Drive, Prudhoe. Nearest postcode NE42 6FG


Monday 16 September 5pm - 7pm
Friday 20 September 10 am – 12 noon

Find out how iron was turned into steel hundreds of years ago at Derwentcote Steel Furnace. A rare opportunity to see inside this 18th-century furnace which is a Grade 1 Listed Building and is one of the few remaining examples of this type of furnace in the country. Learn how wrought iron was turned into steel through the cementation process; this is the last remaining piece of evidence of cementation steel making in the northeast.

Hear how the furnace operated and what it was like to work there several hundred years ago, from our knowledgable local volunteers who are passionate about its history. Visit the remains of the workers' cottages and discover what life was like in this idyllic woodland setting.
The site is uneven, with access from the car park down a stony track.

Location: Derwentcote Steel Furnace. Car park, just off A694, NE17 7RS


Tuesday 17 September 5.15pm - 7pm
Wednesday 18 September 5.15pm - 7 pm

Was Crowley’s Mill No. 1 the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution? Find out all about Crowley’s Ironworks and then decide for yourself at this informative session.

Browse the exhibition about the heritage of Derwenthaugh Park in the brand new Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre, before buying a drink in cafe shrub. The knowledgable volunteers will then give a short presentation about the history of the Ironworks. The talk will be followed by a walk through the Park to see the low dam and spillway which have recently been uncovered. These are the only visible remains of what was once the largest ironworks in Europe, employing over 1,500 men. Hear all about the remarkable social structure Ambrose Crowley imposed on the workers, with its own ‘laws’, courts, schools, welfare and pensions system.

The Heritage Centre is fully accessible. The walk through Derwenthaugh Park is on surfaced paths.

Location: Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre, Spa Well Road, Winlaton Mill, NE21 6RU
Crowley’s High & Low Dams are one of the few visible remains of Crowley’s Ironworks. Built in the 1690s, they created a reservoir known as The Pool. Water was channelled via a sluice system to The Great Pool, creating a 30-foot head of water. This drove nine massive water wheels, powering the forges. This meant the River Derwent provided Crowley’s Ironworks with an abundant supply of free, non-polluting energy.

Crowley’s High & Low Dams


Learn about the history of the coke ovens, which were the last to operate in Britain up until 1958 and enjoy a guided walk towards the tunnel at Victoria Garesfield, spotting other archaeological remains along the way.

Join Penny Middleton, Northern Archaeological Associates built heritage and conservation specialist, as she leads a guided walk around the coke ovens and surrounding area. Penny was involved in preparing the first detailed survey of the coke ovens, in preparation for the Land of Oak & Iron restoration project which is now underway. Find out the history of this nationally significant site. 

Discover how the coking battery worked when all 193 ovens were in operation and hear about the state of the art ‘structure through motion’ technology which was used to record the monument.

After the tour of the ovens, walk along the route of the former mineral line towards Victoria Garesfield Colliery, learning about other archaeological sites, before returning to the start. The site itself includes some steps to access the ovens, however, there is a more accessible path leading through the woodland to a viewpoint overlooking the ovens. The walk along to Victoria Garesfield is on a narrow, unsurfaced path which isn’t suitable for wheelchairs; please wear suitable footwear.

Location: Whinfield coke ovens. End of Highfield Road, Whinfield Industrial Estate, Highfield, NE39 1EN

Coke for the local iron industry was made in these beehive-shaped ovens. Opened in 1861, there were originally 193 ovens in three banks, but now only a few remain. Coal mined nearby was brought here by waggonway, tipped into the tops of the ovens and burned. This produced coke, which was removed through the side doors. The ovens’ distinctive design was pioneered in this area. They were the last working coke ovens in Britain, closing in 1958.



Sunday 22 September 1pm - 2pm

Walk through Chopwell Woodland Park and discover how it has changed over several thousand years. Chopwell Woodland Park has links as far back as 650AD, with the name Chopwell thought to be derived from Ceoppa, the name of a Saxon Chieftain who lived in the area. The woodland has had many different forms throughout its life from wild forest to part of the Manor of Chopwell and then to what we see today. The present size of Chopwell Wood is similar to that of Roman times around 2000 years ago. 

This is a gentle walk to explore the vast history of this woodland, at the heart of Land of Oak & Iron. The walk will use forest paths and tracks and include some steep slopes. Please wear stout footwear and outdoor clothing suitable. Unfortunately, this walk is not suitable for wheelchairs or pushchairs.

Location: Chopwell Wood. Access through the main entrance off Hookergate Lane, High Spen, NE39 1LT

Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre

Don’t forget you can also pay a visit to the Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre opened in Winlaton Mill this time last year. It is located just a few miles from the MetroCentre, close to the A1, the Derwent Walk, Red Kite Trail and the Coast to Coast Cycleway and is also the gateway to the Derwent Valley.

Land of Oak & Iron Heritage Centre

The centre provides a unique interpretation of the fascinating local heritage, heritage skills training for volunteers and has business units to support creative businesses in the area. Set in the beautiful Derwent Valley, cafe shrub is surrounded by stunning nature, wildlife, and heritage. It is the perfect place to fuel up before or relax after a day of exploring the Land of Oak & Iron. Here you can immerse yourself in the heritage of the area with its use of reclaimed wood and exposed iron beams in its design and enjoy food from a freshly cooked seasonal menu sourced from local suppliers where possible. There is also free parking and facilities available too.

The Land of Oak and Iron has so many interesting places to discover. From historic places to find out about the industry that shaped today’s landscape to the countryside and woodland to explore by bike, foot or horse - all with superb parking, cafés, facilities, access, and events, too, making it the perfect destination for a day out - so do venture out and take a look!

Deb x

Disclosure: We have received payment to write about Heritage Open Days in the Land of Oak & Iron from the Land of Oak & Iron, who have supplied information and some images.

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Enjoy Heritage Open Days in the Land of Oak & Iron (AD)