EVERYONE can explore Tynedale’s past this September, as historic sites open their doors free of charge for the 25th Heritage Open Days festival.

A whole plethora of places will be offering talks, tours and even an archaeological dig as part of this year’s festival, which aims to give the public a chance to learn about the history on their doorstep, and is supported by the National Trust and players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Taking part this year is Hexham’s Old Gaol, which will host a new exhibition exploring the long history of North-East engineers and innovators, and the part they played in changing the world. Visitors can also attend a free lecture by local historian David Kidd, who will tell the tale of eccentric inventor William Martin, followed by a tour of the House of Correction, where William’s brother Jonathan Martin was held in the town after he set fire to York Minster in 1829.

Fancy trying your hand at an archaeology investigation? Join a team of professionals at a dig at West Wylam Colliery, the site of a 1870s coal mine, and discover the mining heritage still to be found, by uncovering a range of complex power features and mine entrances.

Visit the homes of some of Tynedale’s most important figures in history, such as Cherryburn in Mickley – a picturesque cottage set in a tranquil garden, which was the birthplace of esteemed artist and engraver Thomas Bewick, and has since been converted into a museum of Bewick’s work.

Take a tour around the birthplace of another Tynedale native, the ‘Father of the Railways’, George Stephenson, whose home is located beside Wylam’s historic Waggonway. It was here that the young George would have watched the horses which pulled “chaldrons” containing coal from Wylam Colliery to the Tyne quayside.

On the theme of railways, explore Haltwhistle’s historic railway station, including the restored Victorian booking hall of 1855. Railway staff, both past and present, will be on hand to explain the Victorian technology, and guided tours will show guests around the stations many features, including the 1849 Alston Arches viaduct and 1875 cast iron River Tyne bridge.

Sitting almost side by side, Bywell’s two ancient churches, St Peter’s and St Andrew’s, will share the secrets of their Saxon and Roman stonework. Visitors can also view the well-preserved grave cover stones from Saxon and Norman times, and even a piece of a Viking cross.

Go behind the scenes with the bell ringers at Hexham Abbey and take the rare chance to climb the tower, usually closed to the public and learn about the art of bell ringing. Also at the Abbey is a exhibition on the life and works of Hexham-born poet Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, known as ‘The People’s Poet’ for his ability to transpire the life of the everyday, working man into poetry. The exhibition will also feature photographs taken by his father, John Pattinson Gibson, a local chemist in Hexham.

Both underground and above land, Killhope Lead Mining Museum has sights to see. Delve into the darkness on a guided tour around the mines, or wander through the North Pennines to find the famous on site waterwheel. Visitors can also try their hand as a washer boy, as they hunt for treasures and minerals such as quartz or fluorspar.

For dates and a full list of sites taking part in the Heritage Open Days festival visit www.heritageopendays.org.uk