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Our dozen best drop-in highlights of the Open Cambridge festival

Open Cambridge is one of the region’s largest festivals of history and culture and is offering more than 30 drop-in events for visitors starting from today (Friday, September 8).

The festival lasts for 10 days and is part of the national Heritage Open Days scheme, which has chosen the theme ‘creativity unwrapped’ for 2023.

The idea behind the scheme is to offer everyone the chance to see places they normally wouldn’t be able to see and to try out new experiences – and it’s all free. There are also 70 bookable events, although these do fill up quickly.

If you have missed the boat for booking events with limited places, we have chosen our highlights of the festival’s drop-in sessions, where all are welcome.

Open Cambridge 2023: The Button End Band
Open Cambridge 2023: The Button End Band

Try a 17th-century bop

How about an evening of lively traditional music from Cambridgeshire’s Button End Band, who will be performing 17th-century dance music on September 9? The Button End Band perform early music, social and ritual dance tunes, popular ballads, protest songs and contemporary folk. A lively and hugely entertaining group, the band play the fiddle, guitar, banjo, hurdy gurdy, recorder, piano and melodeon.

Enjoy a brass band

Music in the Parks on September 10 features the Soham Comrades Band. These free concerts are a highlight in the city’s summer calendar with people getting together in their local parks and recreation grounds to chill out and listen to live afternoon music. The Soham Comrades Band performs throughout the Eastern area and competes both locally and nationally. During the last few years, the band has reached the finals of the National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

Open Cambridge 2023: Shakespeare and Theatre in Cambridge
Open Cambridge 2023: Shakespeare and Theatre in Cambridge

Browse the Bard’s work

Shakespeare and Theatre in Cambridge (September 8) celebrates the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays. King’s College will present the King’s Library copy (one of only four copies in Cambridge) alongside other early editions of his plays and archival materials about Shakespeare and theatre in Cambridge. The First Folio is the most famous edition of the Bard’s plays, and it includes all but two of the plays now recognised as Shakespeare’s, about half of which were not published during his lifetime. This must-see exhibition will guide visitors through the theatrical world of King’s, from the local establishment of the Cambridge Arts Theatre, as well as a strong tradition of involvement in student theatre, all the way to the national stage.

Follow a tree trail

Walks and trails are always incredibly popular during Open Cambridge. Among them is The Wolfson’s Tree trail, which runs for the duration of the festival, is a self-guided tree trail around the beautiful and varied garden ‘rooms’ of the grounds of Wolfson College.

Open Cambridge 2023: Abbey House Open Day
Open Cambridge 2023: Abbey House Open Day

Find overlooked animals

Meanwhile, another trail runs as part of Wildlife in the City at the Museum of Zoology. Visitors can explore the museum and look for the often-overlooked animals that live alongside us in towns and cities in the collections. The trail can be picked up from the museum or downloaded from museum.zoo.cam.ac.uk.

Pop into a priory

At the Abbey House Open Day (September 16), visitors can find out more about the rich history of Abbey House, which was built circa 1578 on the site of an 11th-century priory and is now home to a community belonging to the Triratna Buddhist community. The guided tours will take visitors on a journey through the grounds and house, spiced with stories of ghosts and former owners. Visitors can then relax with tea and cake in the large walled garden or visit the exhibition that includes historic maps of the area.

Open Cambridge 2023: Westminster College Open Day
Open Cambridge 2023: Westminster College Open Day

Take a tour of Westminster College

Another unmissable open day event is at Westminster College (September 17), which includes a series of tours and access to the chapel, library, assembly room, dining hall, Gibson room, Lewis room and Senatus room. The college’s archivist, Helen Weller, will provide ‘self-guided tour’ and ‘treasure hunt’ leaflets and each room will have an information board. The stunning gardens will also be open for people to wander around freely.

Explore a medieval church

There will be a series of tours, displays and fascinating talks about the medieval All Saints Church in Cottenham – a single grade I-listed building with its distinctive 17th-century tower – during their open day (September 16).

Open Cambridge 2023: Wolfson Tree Trail
Open Cambridge 2023: Wolfson Tree Trail

Delve into a nature reserve

Visit Girton’s only nature reserve at the Town End Close Open Day (September 11). During the day, volunteers from the Girton Green Team and the Local Nature Recovery Plan will be on hand to chat about the plants, birds, insects and pond life found at the reserve.

Open Cambridge 2023: Open Observatory
Open Cambridge 2023: Open Observatory

Check out the Cambridge Observatory

Find out about star gazing the neo-classical Cambridge Observatory building, which is 200 years old this year, during Open Observatory at the Institute of Astronomy on Madingley Road (September 8).

Parts of the Observatory building (1823) will be open, including the historic library and a small exhibition showing its history. In the grounds outside, the magnificent Northumberland Telescope (1838) will be available to visit.

Learn the history of the Scott Polar research Institute

Discover the story of how the Scott Polar Research Institute was founded through archival displays and a new interactive textile work by artist, Lindsey Holmes, during On the Coat Tails of History: From the Slopes of an Antarctic Volcano to Cambridge (September 15).

Take part in a Quaker silence

Throughout the festival, Cambridge Quakers will offer a space to share silence together during Drop In Silence. Escape the noise and join the stillness for as long as you like. No religion, no catch. Everyone is welcome to drop in for as long or as short as they feel like.

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