What’s so great about heritage?

As publisher of Hudson’s Historic Houses & Gardens, I’m really interested in what makes us get off the sofa and go out to visit heritage places.  It’s a really popular thing to do with your time.  Not only is Heritage Open Days the biggest festival of its kind in the UK but more people go to visit historic sites than go to football matches these days.

© Hudsons - Always adapting to the evolving tastes of visitors, Hudson's have been publishing the essential guide to places to visit in the heritage sector for 29 years

The 2016 edition of Hudson’s Historic Houses & Gardens  is the 29th in the series, since its job is to tell you when and where to visit with up to date information and a wide range of details including maps and directions, the basic format hasn’t changed much over the years.  But we are aware of changes in the way people behave and what motivates a visit and, of course, we respond to it.

Collecting places - been there?

When I started out in this business, there was still a sense of privilege in the air and visitors were awed and excited by the idea of treading the carpets of the aristocracy and peeking into the Duke’s bedroom. Red ropes separated us from the art and furniture and posh guides in twinsets admonished us for touching. In our more democratic age, that sense of distance has gone.  We are used to being able to romp on the lawns and exercise our curiosity in the house.  Keen visitors used to ‘collect’ places rather like sewing badges onto rucksacks, “Have you been to Chatsworth?  Oooh, I have and Blenheim too!”  Now, heritage places have to compete with a whole range of other attractions and though people travel more, they generally have less time so that leisure time is precious.

Social venues - done that?

Now talking to visitors at heritage places, they are as likely to be there for lunch or to pick up a shrub for the border as they are to visit the place itself. It is all about choosing the right experience.  They might be entertaining friends to a meal in lovely surroundings, or shopping for exceptional local food, hunting down Christmas presents that are really unusual or joining a one-off event, a Chilli Festival or Craft Fair perhaps, or Horse Trials, or a music festival or theatre performance.  All these things are somehow more special in a heritage environment.  Everyone knows the value of getting out in the fresh air so really appreciates following cycle trails through secluded woodland, taking their children into the outdoors and walking their dogs in beautifully maintained parkland, particularly if there is a cup of coffee at the end of it.  Much of this is about access, of course, it is so much easier to revisit somewhere if you are a member of the National Trust, English Heritage, Cadw, Historic Scotland or the HHA or if you have a season pass to your local house.  And once we have found something that really suits us, we like to share. Everyone loves an Instagram message of their friends dressed up or their little darlings having fun.  And it’s great to send a tweet recommending a great day out or a place you think no one else knows about.

Finding somewhere special

So Hudson’s has evolved.  We still publish a really beautiful book to let you plan where to go and it now comes with quick guides to help you pick out places for particular reasons, maybe where you can stay overnight or where you can buy unusual plants.  Our quick guides to historic places that welcome dogs or are in the movies are new for 2016.  But we also publish a website which allows you to search for all sorts of different ways to visit and a handy app you can use on the move.  If you know someone who loves history, Hudson’s Historic Houses & Gardens 2016 makes a great Christmas present and the new edition arrives in the shops just in time (7 December), or you can order it in advance to be sure of getting it. You’ll find it in our eShop at www.hudsonsheritage.com or ask for it in WH Smiths or Waterstones. I hope it inspires more people to go out and choose what is special for them at heritage places at home or away on a trip.  You’ll find that there really is something for everyone.

Sarah Greenwood is publisher of Hudson’s.  She has worked with historic houses and heritage sites all her career in publishing, visitor services, marketing, management and consultancy, mostly in the private sector but also with English Heritage and the National Trust.