Winter opening of the house: an innovation, and it was well worthwhile. With the grounds sodden after what seems like the wettest winter in ages there would have been little value in visiting any National Trust Property without access to the house. Blickling, fortunately, has been opened with restricted access to rooms but with unprecedented views of what goes on when the doors are closed.
A short video allows volunteers and conservation professionals to talk about their work in cleaning and restoration related to how the furniture and utensils were maintained by servants prior to the Trust acquiring the property. The succeeding rooms, either with views through open doors or full access, show partly covered furniture that has been cleaned, bedding and hangings in similar conditions – indeed the whole house as it must have been between family visits (invariably accompanied by many guests).
The winter light – and we were fortunate in having a bright day – gives a different view of the house than when the sun is high in the sky. It seems to search into corners that might later be shaded. Colours are as they were prior to electricity. Nonetheless blinds are needed because of the bleaching effect of sunlight. In the video we had seen greens become blue as the yellow failed. Reds, being insect-based rather than plant dyes, survive better.
Out-of-season means fewer visitors, therefore more space and time to view the rooms as well as talk to volunteers. As always there is a wealth of information to gain. The library, inherited from a non-conformist ancestor who was thus denied access to university, contained 40,000 books. The librarian has been working on it for several years and is only half way through cataloguing the contents. They are eclectic. One, mainstream though suited to a non-conformist, was a two-volume John Milton, to be treasured in any library.
In the Peter the Great room, with items from Catherine the Great as gifts to a family ambassador to her court, in total contrast to the huge equestrian image of the Tsar, was a display of insects that damage property and furniture.
The gardens, although the gravel paths were negotiable, had little to offer in January: to find any snowdrops and aconites would have meant trudging through mud; the lake was surrounded by a quagmire.
Reminding ourselves that we live in the driest part of England we took comfort in a tasty one-pot turkey stew for lunch and thought about the portrait of a Countess of Suffolk, unhappily married but finding comfort in the arms of a George I. There was also time for a visit to the bookshop which seems to be a treasure trove almost (on a minute scale) as much as the Blickling library.
Nor is any visit complete without the RAF Oulton display above the restaurant, to see what life was like and to be humbled by the hundreds who died while serving there in World War II.
Let us hope that Blickling is the first of many to open out of season; the National Trust will find it well worth while in terms of public relations and education. It is always good to see how our money is spent.