Chester's forgotten castle is being opened up to the general public from this Thursday (July 20) for the first time in more than 20 years.
Visitors will be able to enter free of charge, wander around and enjoy the views as well experiencing a summer programme of events in a project which runs until September 3.
The castle has a rich history dating back to William the Conqueror but in recent times it has only been accessible to tour groups.
The Agricola Tower and castle walls are now in the care of English Heritage, who are supporting the Chester Castle Revealed project.
Visitors will be able to look around the 12th century tower which will house a pop-up exhibition telling the fascinating story of the castle, funded by the Earl of Chester Fund. Access will also be available to the first floor chapel of St Mary de Castro, now the Regimental Chapel, thanks to the permission of the Mercian Regiment.
Chester MP Chris Matheson was the driving force behind the project after being approached by resident and castle enthusiast Niall Macfadyen.
He explained: “This isn’t the big bang, it’s a soft opening, there’s still a lot of work to be done but the use the castle is being put through this summer is exciting for tourists and visitors and it’s exciting for Chester residents.”
Entry will be from the castle car park and also via the Sally Port directly from the City Walls.
Explaining what people will be able to experience, Mr Matheson continued: “There’s a mixture. There’s the history of the place for starters. We’re opening the new Sally Port entrance which has been closed for many, many years so that people will be able to get to the castle from the walls.
“The Agricola Tower, which is from the 12th century, will be open and the chapel inside it. But also there will be events taking place – Peter Pan on a trapeze, for example, there will be music events and we will be using the castle as part of Chester Pride and we have a quieter zone for Pride.”
Looking further into the future, he said there may be opportunities for commercial investment such as hotels located within the old barrack blocks that were occupied by the military until the late 1990s and the possibility of a museum.
Cheshire West and Chester Council has worked hard in developing the schedule of events.
Councillor Louise Gittins, cabinet member for communities and wellbeing, said: “As part of our strategy ‘The city is the stage’ we want to encourage and inspire people to connect with local heritage and to use the fabric of the city as a backdrop for interesting and engaging activities and events.
“We will be providing an opportunity for visitors to look around this historic site that has only been accessible for tour groups and closed to the public for many years.”
An events programme will run every weekend. The first weekend (July 22-23) hands over the castle to the Normans when Big Heritage brings in re-enactors and Pokémon GO as historic sites across the city are turned into PokéStops that players can interact with on their smartphones. Chester artist Russell Kirk will also be making banners and the Guild of Chester Tours will be on site.
During the summer there will music performances by the Italian Youth Orchestra, City of Chester Brass Band and an acoustic area during the Chester Pride festival. There will also be a free promenade-style theatre production Walking the Bard, a performance of St George with puppets and audience participation plus an aerial trapeze performance of Peter Pan.
Details of the opening and events programme are available at www.westcheshiremuseums.co.uk/chestercastle where a short video also gives a glimpse behind the walls.