UK heritage award winners 2017

Tuesday 14th March 2017 marked the announcement of UK Heritage Awards for 2017; the presentation was made at the Goldsmiths' Hall in London and we thank everyone for their participation.  The winners were introduced by Norman Hudson, Chairman of the Judging Panel and presented by Penelope, Viscountess Cobham, Chairman of Visit England. Find out more about the winners and highly commended and visit them for the best visitor experiences at today's heritage places.

BEST FAMILY DAY OUT

WINNER

Holkham Hall

Holkham Hall offers an outstanding family day out. The house, park and estate provide a wide range of casual and formal fun for all age groups both inside the house and in the parkland and woods. 2017 has seen the acclaimed opening of a new Courtyard visitor area which provides a great sense of arrival. This new visitor zone has also created space for an engaging new exhibition Field & Fork, with interactive displays, vintage tractors, digital games and the chance to dress up in Holkham Estate tweed. It tells the story of food and farming in Britain but particularly the Norfolk agricultural pioneers of the 18th century and the vital contribution of the Coke family of Holkham. The great Palladian House with its interiors by William Kent is still magnificent at all times of the year and especially so at Christmas. Beyond the house are nature trails and woodland play areas; cycling; canoing; kayaking; rowing; water zorbing; Park Discovery days; Toddler Groups; Wild in the Woods parties; open air cinema, perhaps the best beach in Britaihn and loads of seasonal events. No visitor could fail to catch the Holkham magic.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Mary Arden's Farm

Three miles out of Stratford, Mary Arden's Farm combines the cottage in which Shakespeare’s mother was brought up with a slightly larger 16th century farmhouse next door. The site is run as an organic working farm on lines that would have been familiar to Tudor contemporaries. The emphasis is on authenticity and visitors have the chance to join in with everyday activities looking after ponies, pigs and goats, herding geese and working in the kitchen. There are also immersive falconry displays and archery practice. Each day, the regular seasonal routines of the farm unfold before visitors and the farmhouse becomes the setting for a Tudor meal cooked over the fire by volunteers with produce gathered from the garden and farm. Visitors feel they have stepped into a Tudor farm and the opportunities for children to get involved create extraordinary memories. The café serves the same food as is served in the farmhouse, as well as more familiar 21st century fare. The shop is well designed for families. Exhibitions, guided tours and house trails give visitors of all ages a deeper understanding of everyday country life when Shakespeare was a boy. 

BEST PLACES TO EAT

WINNER

Sherborne Castle

Visitors to the erstwhile home of Elizabethan adventurer Sir Walter Raleigh at Sherborne Castle in Dorset are lucky enough to enjoy an exemplary family run tearoom and café. Many heritage places are in pursuit of local suppliers but few achieve this goal as well as the team at Sherborne Castle. Estate based bakers make the delicious scones and fresh bread, estate hens lay the eggs, the coffee is hand-roasted on the estate and even the wine is estate-produced. Soups and cakes are home-made and good use is made of Dorset’s high quality dairy products with local cheeses and hams, milk and clotted cream and Purbeck ice-creams. This is a friendly place where season ticket holders are old friends and the setting in the charming gothic dairy with views over the lake and Orangery is delightful.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Northern Ireland Assembly

The Northern Ireland Assembly is housed in a classical building opened in 1932. As the seat of government, it has limited opening to the public but has developed a very successful restaurant which has free public access. This award is made in the year following NITourism's very successful Year of Food and Drink promotion in which the restaurant at the Assembly building participated wholehearredly. It has allowed them to exploit the growing popularity of Belfast as a tourist destination following the opening of Titanic Belfast. The judges were delighted to see a franchised catering operation - it is run by Searcys - with a really local focus, last year the menus were entirely created using local suppliers within a 40-mile radius., well over half from within a 20-mile radius. Overall the restaurant has used a challenging space in an imaginative way to engage new audiences with an important building.

 THE JARROLD PUBLISHING AWARD FOR BEST PLACES TO SHOP

WINNER

Holkham Hall

Part of the redevelopment in the courtyard at Holkham has seen the conversion of an old stable building into a spacious modern retail space. This is a very attractive gift shop but it has some other qualities which make it outstanding. Borrowing furnishings and artefacts from the house has given the shop a vintage vibe which is very on-trend and there is a strong local ethos. Bespoke items and locally sourced products reflect the best of the area and help promote Norfolk businesses. Local artists exhibit at competitive commission rates, branded items are made in the UK and closely linked to the story of the estate. Clothing using exclusive Holkham estate tweed has proved very popular as has estate produced honey and rapeseed oil. The whole enterprise has been well integrated with the visitor experience and very popular with visitors.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Blackwell, the Arts & Crafts House

The Shop at Blackwell in Cumbria is an innovative contemporary crafts space which makes good design part of the visitor experience. The shop is part of every visitor's first encounter with the building; it’s converted from the service quarters of the house and incorporates the entrance desk. The range of products represents the local area and the staff play an active role in promoting the talents of individual craftspeople. Overall the range of ceramics, glass, woodwork, jewellery, silversmithing, ironwork and textiles perfectly reflects the materials and values of the Arts and Crafts movement of which Blackwell is such a wonderful example.

BEST PLACES TO STAY

WINNER

Combermere Abbey

Since 1992 it has been Sarah Callander Beckett's mission to restore and revitalise the lovely Gothick mansion of Combermere Abbey where she lives. It has required extensive restoration of the main house, walled garden and ancillary buildings. The North Wing had been abandoned in the 1950s and beneath the gothic cladding was an unstable Tudor structure which was endangering the whole building. The North Wing is now restored to provide a series of beautifully appointed bedroom suites which can be booked on a bed and breakfast basis. The bedrooms are all superb, the bathrooms outstanding and the attention to detail impressive. This is not the only award won by the team at Combermere who have established an admired and well integrated business which has breathed new life into a once threatened house.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Bamburgh Castle (Neville Tower)

Bamburgh Castle in Northumberland boasts probably the most stunning location in Britain and it is a rare privilege to stay in this iconic castle. The new self catering apartment in the Neville Tower gives guests spacious accommodation over three floors with far-reaching views to the north and south over Bamburgh beach, the Farne Islands and Holy Island. It's a smart, contemporary holiday apartment with airy double bedrooms for four. You sleep here in the cradle of British history. The castle was a royal stronghold from the 400s, long before the Normans built a stone castle here. A survivor of repeated sieges, Bamburgh finally fell victim to new technology - the first castle to succumb to artillery. In 1464, Richard, Earl of Warwick retook the fortress in the Wars of the Roses after a 9-month siege. The apartment is named the Neville Tower in memory of this event. Today you can enjoy a more peaceful atmosphere on holiday right in the heart of historic Northumberland.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Dylan Thomas Birthplace

Dylan Thomas is one of the great poets of the 20th century and the opportunity to visit his family home in Swansea has instant appeal for literature fans and many others. The Dylan Thomas Birthplace Trust are offering rather more than just a visit. The house is maintained as it was when the Thomas family lived there from 1914. Any group from one to seven can stay overnight in the house with the exclusive use of the rooms, including one in which the young poet slept and wrote two thirds of his published work. For fans, this promises a rather extraordinary experience. The enthusiasm and warmth of the staff helps make the house very popular with guests, which is recognizable from the descriptions of the house in Thomas’ A Child’s Christmas in Wales. There are Edwardian dinners and tours of places known to Dylan Thomas so the whole experience is like stepping into the life of the poet.

BEST LOOS

WINNER

Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castle is a mediaeval keep dating from the time of Henry II and one of very few Norman castles in Britain that retain a roof. It is a fascinating and remarkable building. What it is not, is a modern flexible space for visitors or weddings, or at least not until now. To be able to use the keep for visitor events, it was essential to provide toilet facilities but equally essential not to compromise the fabric of this precious building. Placing modern facilities alongside their medieval equivalent - the garderobe shaft - and hiding modern basins in barrels created a loo with a sense of humour that gives you an instant insight into the past and provides a flexible space for different visitor activities. It also preserves the integrity of this remarkable building and the Lindsay family are to be congratulated on their inventiveness in working with Historic England to achieve the necessaries of 21st century life.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Eastnor Castle

Eastnor Castle always struggled to provide sufficient toilets for big Bank Holiday crowds and had to resort to hiring portaloos. Since 2014, two rooms on either side of architect Robert Smirke's Portcullis Tower, which forms the entrance to the castle, have been converted into ladies and gents loos. They are now first class visitor toilets providing a new use for neglected part of the building and perfectly sited at the entrance to the Castle. There are good facilities for both sexes, the disabled and for childen with a well-planned circulation space. No more queuing in the rain for visitors to Eastnor!

THE HUNTERS AWARD FOR BEST NEW DISCOVERY

WINNER

Eltham Palace

Restoration work usually throws up some unexpected discoveries and at Eltham Palace, English Heritage had a surprise when they came to redo the walls of a small study. Eltham Palace's heyday was as a palace for the Plantagenet and Tudor kings - Henry VIII grew up here - but by the 1650s it was already a ruin. The palace had a remarkable renaissance as home to 20th century socialites Stephen and Virginia Courtauld in the 1930s and the Art Deco interior they created is a masterpiece of modern design. A small room off Virginia Courtauld's bedroom, known as the Map Room, had been used by English Heritage as a store. Restoration had revealed 11 maps, part of a previously unknown hand painted decorative scheme covering the whole room. Rather than close the room to the public, English Heritage presented it as conservation-in-action. This proved really engaging, helped boost donations and added knowledge about the Courtaulds' life.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Blenheim Palace

It is impossible not to be excited by the discovery of a tree that has been a witness to pretty well all of England's history. It turns out that the magnificence of Blenheim Palace is dwarfed by an ancient oak tree in its High Park. Planted around 970 AD, this veteran was an acorn when the Saxon King Edgar the Peaceful was on the throne; it stood in Henry I's hunting forest, avoided being chopped down for shipbuilding in the Napoleonic Wars, and has been in the care of the Dukes of Marlborough since 1705. At 1,046 years old, it is part of the oldest oak wood in Europe; 60 of its neighbour’s date to the Middle Ages. The discovery of its national significance was made by botanist Aljos Farjon, an associate of Kew Gardens, who confirms that “There is no other site in England that has so many ancient oaks in one site”.

THE SAVILLS AWARD FOR BEST INNOVATION

WINNER

Durham Cathedral

Open Treasure is a new world class permanent exhibition in the original monastery buildings at Durham Cathedral showing the cathedral’s collection of stone carving, church plate and metalwork. It was made possible by an innovative, clever and highly successful fund raising project. Visitors to the Cathedral could buy a Lego brick to add to a detailed model of the cathedral. Between July 2013 and July 2016, 300,000 bricks were sold at £1 each and the result is an accurate scale model of one of Britain’s greatest medieval buildings nearly 4 metres long and not far off 2 metres high. It has great visitor appeal, opening to reveal a full reconstruction of the interior complete with architectural detail and even Miners’ Banners. There were also spin off benefits from the sale of Lego kits in the Cathedral shop. It has been a brilliant fundraising campaign, achieving its objective and more and is now, not surprisingly, being copied in other cathedrals.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Tintagel

Tintagel Castle on the North Coast of Cornwall is one of those magical places which transports you right back into myth. Its spectacular location, half is on the mainland and half on a jagged headland surrounded by sea, draws visitors and it has long been associated with the legend of King Arthur. But the history of Tintagel is much more complicated from a pre-Roman settlement which traded across the world to the castle of the Plantagenets. English Heritage have invested in a new interpretation of the site centred on a magnificent bronze statue of Gallos, a figure that conveys ideas of power and myth. New exhibitions tell the story through interactive elements, 3-D models and archaeological finds. Outdoor interpretation has been imaginative with artist Peter Graham carving the face of Merlin into the rock at the entrance to his legendary cave. English Heritage are to be congratulated on a brave, inventive and playful approach to involving visitors with this special place.

BEST WEDDING VENUE

WINNER

Hedingham Castle

Hedingham Castlte provides brides with something unique, a wedding in an authentic Norman castle. Practicalities in such an historically significant and sensitive building were never going to be easy but the Lindsay family at Hedingham in consultation with Historic England have managed to present a set of really exciting options for weddings. Couples are lucky enough to hold their wedding ceremony in the Banqueting Hall, probably the finest Norman interior in Britain. Smaller receptions can now stage the whole event in the Keep, moving downstairs for drinks on the Garrison Floor before dining in the newly restored Tapestry Room and returning upstairs for dancing in a transformed medieval nightclub! Larger parties leave the Keep for a reception in the Georgian house and dining and dancing in the Tulip Marquee. There is nowhere quite like this for weddings and it is exciting to see this extraordinary building find a new life.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Wasing Park

Flexibility is one of the defining features of Wasing Park in Berkshire as a wedding venue. Several choices await wedding couples for their special day from the Garden Room or the traditional parish church to the beautiful English country garden Victorian Summerhouse. Dining and dancing are well catered for in the romantic Castle Barn with a spacious terrace overlooking the gardens. There are 26 boutique individually-designed bedrooms, and the Honeymoon Suite even boasts the biggest bed in Berkshire! Wasing has recently increased the range of catering options to incorporate wood-fired pizzas, spit roasts, barbecues and slow roasted food from the fire pit as well as exciting international street food. With 4,000 acres of land and more than 250 years of history, the family-owned Wasing Estate is ideal for those looking for an exclusive use wedding venue.

BEST EVENT/EXHIBITION

WINNER

Berrington Hall

The National Trust’s Berrington Hall in Herefordshire threw itself into celebrating Capability Brown’s 2016 tercentenary year with much excitement, exuberance and innovation. The team made a bold decision not to take a traditional approach to interpreting the work of England’s greatest landscape gardener and instead formed a series of artistic partnerships with contemporary artists. The resulting series of installations allowed visitors to enjoy paper art, embroidery, landscape sculpture as well as more traditional landscapes walks and authentic costume displays. It all culminated in Strange Magic, an evening of fire, pyrotechnics, music, light and song that had much of the energy and sheer fun that so often characterized Capability Brown and his Georgian contemporaries.

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Battle Abbey & Battlefield

The English Heritage team at Battle Abbey celebrated the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings in some style last year, organising a reinterpretation of parts of the site. At the heart was a temporary exhibition called On the Spot which aimed to recreate the personal experience of both Saxon and Norman soldiers with a range of interactive displays including replica artefacts, dressing up, soundscapes and weapons. The exhibition gave visitors a wide range of different types of engagement and suited all age groups, transporting them into the day of the battle from dawn to dusk. Visitor numbers were up all round and the exhibition was enthusiastically received. On the battlefield itself, lifesized figures help to bring the open ground to life and new access to the roof of the Abbey buildings provided a fine prospect. The year culminated in a spectacular re-enactment of the battle itself.

BEST HIDDEN GEM

WINNER

Plumpton Rocks

Two hundred years ago, Plumpton Rocks in Yorkshire was one of the most famous 18th century landscape gardens in the land, at the cutting edge of the picturesque movement. More recently it had become rather forgotten. Its natural advantages, dramatic outcrops of millstone grit and abundant ancient woodland, made it an ideal setting 300 years ago for those in search of the sublime and it was the subject of JMW Turner’s first commissioned painting in oils. The garden has now been restored, including a magnificent dam designed by John Carr of York. Visitors once again enjoy the long vistas through the landscape, the seating alcoves designed for Chippendale benches, the magnificent crags and the reflections in the lake. The restored garden is a place for adventures, many inspired by its role in the recent BBC film of Swallows & Amazons. Today it has the atmosphere of a true hidden gem. 

HIGHLY COMMENDED

Easton Walled Gardens

Easton Walled Gardens is the remarkable rediscovery of a garden 'lost' when the Regency house at its centre was demolished after World War II. Lady Ursula Chomeley's garden is not just a lovely English garden nor just the authentic rescue of a 400 year old horticultural space, she has approached its restoration and presentation to visitors with imagination and style. There is plenty to delight visitors, a turf maze, yew tunnel, shrubberies, meadows, an unusual rose garden, cutflower and vegetable gardens, a cottage garden, long borders, orchards and the White Space Garden. The gardens specialise in sweet peas and snowdrops; sell gardening gifts and plants online and in a well-presented shop; the cafe is stylish and serves local and homemade produce; a history room tells the story of the garden and there are several beautifully restored places to stay; even a meadow gazebo for romantic proposals or just escaping for an afternoon. It is only 5 minutes from the A1 but remains a hidden gem.

HUDSON'S AWARD FOR SPECIAL HERITAGE ACHIEVEMENT 

Very occasionally, Hudson's gives a special award for something truly outstanding.  This year the honours went to English Heritage for the reinterpretation and re-presentation of Stonehenge.

Stonehenge

Stonehenge is the pre-eminent ancient monument in Britain, a globally recognised icon at the centre of a World Heritage Site and surrounded by a rich prehistoric landscape. For years, the site was something of a national disgrace with poor provision for visitors, limited or temporary toilets, a cramped shop and minimal catering that disconnected the monument from the landscape and discouraged visitors from staying.  Today, the new visitor centre gives visitors ample space to learn about the monument in context as well as up to date loos and café and an expanded shop. Visitors are efficiently transported to the stones by bus but can also walk through the National Trust landscape on marked trails and explore ‘neolithic’ houses built by volunteers. The introductory exhibition uses large scale animated graphics to give a real sense of the passage of history and puts the development of the landscape in context with objects on loan from local museums. The work is ongoing and there is still much to achieve but it is time that English Heritage was recognised for finally getting to grips with a national dilemma and giving us a Stonehenge we can all be proud to visit.

Introducing the Winners of Signpost Hotels 'Best in class' 2017

BEST HOTEL 2017

The Alexandra Hotel, Lyme Regis

Set on a stunning Cliff top location, with direct beach access, The Alexandra exudes elegant style, comfort and hospitality, as enjoyed by the most discerning of guests, for over 100 years now. The immaculate private grounds overlook the famous Cobb Harbour, Lyme Bay and the World Heritage Coastline. Dramatic Dorset landscapes, the Jurassic Coast, fossil hunting, sea fishing, golf, The Arts, festivals and events - are all here, to be experienced year round. The professional team at The Alexandra will ensure that all your needs are met. A stay here, of any duration will be memorable. A classic Hotel to visit, relax and enjoy - you will return!

BEST DINING EXPERIENCE

Roman Camp Country House Hotel, Callander

The Roman Camp Country House & Restaurant, dating from 1625, was originally a hunting lodge for the Earls of Moray. It was remodelled and extended during the early 20th century becoming a hotel in the 1930's. The restaurant is an inspiring oval room of elegant proportions, with soft modern classical décor. They have retained 3 AA rosettes for many years, offering a fabulous 4 course table d’hôte dinner and an à la carte menu.

BEST FAMILY HOTEL

The Cottage Hotel, Hope Cove

Hope Cove is what the name implies: a beautiful village situated along the rugged South Devon coastline. The Cottage Hotel enjoys a superb position, overlooking the picturesque harbour and cove, set in two and a half acres of shrubs and lawns which lead, via sloping footpaths, to the largest of two beaches, where you can bathe in safety. The Ireland family have run The Cottage since 1973 and provide a warm, family friendly service; an excellent choice for any family getaway!