Adventure Time: Doors Open Days 2017 preview

Doors Open Days happen across Scotland in September, offering public access to normally private spaces. We take a look at the programme to pick out a few highlights

Article by Rosamund West | 04 Sep 2017
  • Drumsheugh Baths

This is it – your annual opportunity to stick your nose where it's not normally wanted and rummage around in private spaces that someone, somewhere has decided to make open to the public for one day only. Use this opportunity wisely, or live with regret for a whole year.

Never ones to shy away from a party, Glasgow have turned their Doors Open Days into a week-long festival, running from 11-17 September. With a 47-page programme encompassing everything from behind the scenes access to major cultural institutions to walking tours teaching the city’s radical history, there truly is something for everyone here. 

One of the joys of Doors Open Days is the opportunity to see inside buildings that are otherwise difficult to access. Falling into this category is the legendary Britannia Panopticon, the world’s oldest surviving music hall and location of Stan Laurel’s debut performance in 1906. It sits on the Trongate and flings open its doors to share what is intriguingly described as its ‘incredible, quirky, and in some cases downright disgusting past.’ Travel out west to Victoria Park to marvel at the Fossil Grove, formed 325 million years ago and originally part of a vast forest which eventually became the coal that powered Glasgow’s industry.

Glasgow is home to a huge diversity of cultures, and Doors Open Day gives us an opportunity to learn a bit more about them. The city is home to two landmark Sikh temples, the gold-domed Central Gurdwara Singh Sabha and the purpose-built Glasgow Gurdwara Guru Granth Sahib on Albert Drive. Visit, share a (free!) meal, learn how to make chapatis but please be respectful – heads should be covered, shoes removed and no drinking or smoking. Learn about Islam at the Glasgow Central Mosque or take the kids to the Madrasa Taleem Ul Islam on Nithsdale Road, where they can colour their own mosaic based on patterns from mosques around the world.

The Garnethill Synagogue is home to the Scottish Jewish Archive Centre and Museum and also some very nice stained glass. Churches across the city are also open for a nosy – notable buildings include the Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson-designed Glasgow City Free Church on St Vincent Street, included on the World Monument Fund’s list of the world’s most endangered buildings. Another ‘Greek’ greatest hit is the Caledonia Road Church which has been activated by WAVEparticle as a space for use by the local community and by artists from Glasgow, Scotland and beyond.

Backstage access is a classic perk of Doors Open Days. You can take a look behind the scenes and find out what life is like in the wings / under the stage / in the dressing rooms of your favourite cultural institution. Citizens Theatre, Glasgow City Halls, Glasgow Film Theatre, the Royal Concert Hall and the new National Theatre of Scotland hub at Rockvilla are just some of the places offering tours and once-a-year-only access to the general public.

Learn about the city’s history by stopping by the Glasgow Women’s Library (it’s open all year, people, you should be a regular already) or taking part in one of the many, many fascinating-sounding talks and tours that have been organised over the week. You could discover the history of such diverse gems as (amongst others) the city’s contemporary music scene, suffragettes, Toby Paterson’s skate routes, football, the Radical War or the Necropolis. There’s also a programme of pop-up gigs – head to Govanhill Baths or the Pipe Factory for special performances from the Scottish Ensemble, or Pollokshaws Burgh Hall for a ‘T’ dance accompanied by the venue's mighty wurlitzer.

Over in Edinburgh (23 & 24 Sep) there’s less of a focus on revolutionary history and more of an opportunity to gain access to private (members) spaces that are usually closed to the public. Ever fancied checking out where the good people of the New Town like to swim? Today is the day you will be allowed into the exclusive Drumsheugh Baths at the top of Dean Village. You can also head to the Meadows and try your hand at croquet. It doesn’t get much more Edinburgh than that.

Today is also the day to gain entry to some of the private gardens of the New Town. Explore the seven acre Dean Gardens, the largest of the four 'pleasure grounds' to border the Water of Leith with a layout virtually unchanged from the original Victorian era plans. Speaking of the Water of Leith, a popular haunt on Doors Open Days is St Bernard’s Well, recently restored in all its mosaiced, gilded glory.

Behind George Square, off Middle Meadow Walk you will find the Chapel of St Albert the Great, a space for prayer which was renovated in 2012, fitted with an incredible bent wooden roof mimicking the forms of the surrounding trees. See what a £35 million restoration looks like at McEwan Hall up the road. Another Edinburgh University hidden gem is the Anatomical Museum round the corner, where you may gaze upon such fascinating specimens as skeletons, death masks and weird pickled samples of biological grotesquery. Continuing the scientific theme, you can head out of the city centre and tour the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh on Blackford Hill for talks, demonstrations and exhibits. 

Get your backstage fix by taking a tour of the recently-reopened Leith Theatre which came back to life in May with the 2017 Hidden Door festival. In Granton you can visit the National Museums Collections Centre to see what happens in this artefact and art store. You can also poke about behind the scenes at the Kings Theatre, Filmhouse, Dovecot or Edinburgh Printmakers, where tours of the printmaking facilities are on offer.

Up in Dundee (16 & 17 Sep), Doors Open highlights include local publishing favourites DC Thomson (they make the Beano!) opening up their offices for public scrutiny. Go behind the scenes at Caird Hall or Dundee Rep, or visit DCA to find out how their projections and printmaking operations work. There’s a chance to see some world class architecture at the Frank Gehyr-designed Maggie’s centre in the grounds of Ninewell Hospital. This being Dundee, you can take a tour of a pub – the Speedwell, aka Mennie’s, offered up as ‘one of the finest examples of Edwardian architecture.’ There’s also a gin tasting at Vine – screw the learning, let’s get drunk.

Doors Open Days happen across Scotland so grab the car or railcard and head to the countryside to explore some of the country’s architectural treasures. This is an opportunity to view the iconic ruin of St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, accessible by appointment only (23 & 24 Sep). Arguably Scotland’s most significant modernist building, St Peter’s was designed by Gillespie, Kidd and Coia and was built in 1966 as a college to train young priests, and was recently revivified by NVA. In Helensburgh, visit Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s celebrated Hill House (by appointment, 23 & 24 Sep) designed as a family home for publisher Walter Blackie.

This being Scotland there are also literally dozens of castles and kirks dotted across the land that are being opened up specially for Doors Open Days. Find out more and plan your itinerary on the website – happy exploring.