National Trust places to visit this spring

Blickling Hall opens its doors this weekend to welcome visitors again for the new season. SIMON PARKIN discovers what lies behind the historic doors and looks at other great National Trust venues to visit.

Blickling Hall

Open from February 19, Wed-Sun, 11am-5pm. The gardens, shop, restaurant, bookshop, park and plant centre are also open. Cycle hire during school holidays. House and garden admission �10.75 (�9.75 cons), child �5.10, fam-ily �28.60. More details: 01263 738030,

Built in the early 17th century, Blickling Hall is one of England's great Jacobean houses. The spectacular Long Gallery houses one of the finest private collections of rare books in England, and you can view fine Mortlake tapestries, intricate plasterwork ceilings, an excellent collection of furniture and paintings, as well as the newly re-stored 19th-century Hungerford Pollen painted ceiling.

Outside the glorious gardens are beautiful all year round — with thousands of spring bulbs, swathes of bluebells, vibrant summer borders and rich autumn colours. It is a garden for all seasons and, with its 18th century Orangery, secret garden and woodland dell, there is plenty to discover.

The hall is set in an historic park with miles of beautiful woodland and lakeside walks. While visiting you could also try the Blickling restaurant and being close to the coast, seafood is the 'thing' in the area and people expect to see it in the restaurant. Of all the fresh ingredients, the crab is king. Freshly caught crab is picked up in the morning at Morston Marshes from local fishermen.

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Oxburgh Hall

Open from February 26, Mon-Wed/Sat-Sun, 11am-4pm. House and garden admission �8.20 (�7.45 cons), child �4, family �20.50. More details: 01366 328258,

Oxburgh's secret doors and priest's hole make this a house of mystery and history. Step back in time through the magnificent Tudor gatehouse into the dangerous world of Tudor politics when the doors open this weekend.

Home to the Bedingfeld family since 1482, this stunning red-brick house charts their history from medieval austerity to neo-Gothic Victorian comfort.

As well as early Mortlake tapestries in the Queen's Room, Oxburgh houses beautiful embroidered hangings by Mary, Queen of Scots, and Bess of Hardwick. Panoramic views from the roof look out over the Victorian French parterre, walled orchard, kitchen garden and a Catholic chapel. All the family will enjoy a visit with quizzes to do, trails and dressing-up clothes to try on plus charming woodland walks.

Horsey Windpump

Open March 5-27, Sat-Sun, 10am-4.30pm; then daily 10am-4.30pm from April 1. Admission �2.50 adult, child �1. More details 01263 740241,

Standing at the closest point the Broads come to the sea, Horsey Windpump is surrounded by internationally important wildlife habitats in the Broads National Park. From the top you get stunning views of Horsey Mere and across the broadland landscape to the coast.

The Horsey Estate is of exceptional nature conservation interest, notably for breeding birds and wintering wild-fowl. It was acquired by the National Trust in 1948 from the Buxton family, who continue to manage the Horsey Estate with nature conservation as a priority.

There is also a new wheelchair-accessible nature garden, including raised ponds for pond dipping, wildflower meadow and local varieties of fruit trees.

Sheringham Park

Open Sat-Sun 11am-4pm until March 11 then daily, dawn to dusk. Admission is free with a charge for car parking for non-members. More details: 01263 820550,

With fabulous displays of rhododendrons and azaleas and viewing towers providing amazing views, Sheringham Park is one of the finest examples of the work of renowned author and landscape designer Humphry Repton.

Repton was a minor squire who in 1788, at the age of 36, decided to take up the profession of landscape gardener. A series of commissions led him to publish his famous book of Sketches and Hints on

Landscape Gardening. He worked at many major houses and estates, including Tatton Park, Woburn Abbey and Harewood House, but mixing architecture as well as garden design, Sheringham Park is regarded as the most successful of his projects.

Stroll along the paths through woodland and parkland or follow the 'Tree Trail' to discover some rare and unusual trees and discover the new additions to the exhibition, including more information about Repton.

Ickworth House

Opens on February 28, Mon-Tues and Fri-Sun, 11am-5pm. The park is open daily 8am-8pm. House, park and garden admission �9.50 (�6.60 cons), child �3.65, family �22.50. More details: 01284 735270,

Ickworth's huge central Rotunda, flanked by two massive wings, dominates this eccentric house built by the equally eccentric 4th Earl of Bristol, who dreamed of creating an Italianate palace within an English landscape.

This impressive building houses important collections of paintings (including work by Vel�zquez and Titian) and fine family portraits (several by Gainsborough), as well as Huguenot and ambassadorial silver and Regency furniture.

The fabulous State Rooms were only used by the family on special occasions, and are as pristine and aweinspiring today as they were when originally created. Today, the West Wing contains visitor, conference, banqueting and wedding facilities, while the East Wing is now

The Ickworth Hotel. Wooded Pleasure Grounds provide a shady and delightful contrast to the formality of the Italianate Garden. Beyond there are acres of idyllic parkland, including a vineyard and dense woodland offering miles of walks.

For the more adventurous, a family cycle route, 'trim trail' and challenging play area offer opportunities to burn off some more energy.