Take a step back in time at Norfolk's historic properties

Tracey GrayVisitors to some of the grandest homes in the region are being invited to take a step back in time and get actively involved in exploring the history of the buildings.Tracey Gray

Visitors to some of the grandest homes in the region are being invited to take a step back in time and get actively involved in exploring the history of the buildings.

After months of cleaning and conservation, hundreds of the trust's staff and volunteers are welcoming visitors again.

And this year, a new experience is on offer- with visitors given the chance to get up close to life in the past.

Felbrigg Hall in north Norfolk has re-opened with the dining room set up for a 1860s Victorian dinner party.

The table has been set up using original silver, glassware, porcelain and cutlery not normally on display, which includes a dinner service which belonged to the Upcher family of Sheringham Park.

Artificial food has also been cleverly crafted over the last few months to replicate a menu that was found tucked away in a drawer at the hall, written by Rachel Ketton, who owned the house in the 1860s with her Norwich merchant husband John Ketton.

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Ella Ingle, house steward at Felbrigg, said: 'We wanted people to see the real experience of what it would have been like dining in the 1860s. Before, people have asked about the paintings and the portraits in the house, but more and more we have been getting questions on what the family would have eaten, how they would have been served, that sort of thing.'

And staff are hoping the display will reveal some of those secrets, including the fact that the family would have had the meal served � la fran�aise, meaning everything would have been on the table at once. Puddings and desserts would have been on show decorating the table.

Guests would have also entered the room to dine in order of importance, with the host being the last to sit down at the head of the table.

The 1860s menu includes oyster patties and mutton cutlets for the first course, followed by pheasant or saddle of mutton, then stewed pear jelly and for dessert, savoury biscuits known as ramekins and cheese.

And to wash it all down would be a collection of drinks - hock white wine to start, champagne throughout the meal and sherry and cooled red wine to finish off.

Ms Ingle said: 'Unfortunately if you were a woman in the 19th century, you would have to wait to be toasted by a gentleman before you could have a drink, and the drink would have to be poured by a gentleman as well.'

The meal would also include walnuts - the ones on display at Felbrigg have ribbons on them, as they would have done in the 19th century.

The servants would break open the walnuts before the meal, take out the pips and the put the walnut back in the shell, tying it with ribbon, so women would not have to get messy trying to break into the walnuts.

Staff still have some finishing touches to put to the display, including table cloths and slip cloths which are being made in Scotland and have been held up in arriving because of the recent snowy weather.

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Other National Trust homes have also opened their doors again and created new visitor experiences.

Oxburgh Hall, a moated manor house in Oxborough, Kings Lynn.

Visitors are being given the chance to explore the hall through the sense of smell from the leather books that line the shelves in the library or the aroma of freshly cut sweet peas in the north bedroom.

Blickling Hall, near Aylsham, with the chance to view the internationally significant collection of books housed there, including a collection by Sir Richard Ellys who was an avid collector, antiquarian and theologian.

This year there will also be a series of book exhibitions, which will give visitors the chance to take a closer look at the books.

Visitors to Peckover House, in Wisbech, will also see more of what life was like behind the scenes as the back stairs of the town house are being revealed to the public.

A stunning mosaic floor has also been repaired at the house and the area re-decorated to look as it did in the Peckover era.

Horsey Windpump in Great Yarmouth, has also re-opened giving people the chance to enjoy striking views over Horsey Mere.

Regional director of the National Trust, Dame Fiona Reynolds, said of the thinking behind the new visitor attractions: 'The demands of conservation and public access can conflict, but shouldn't.

'So far, we are rethinking the way our built properties are presented to reduce their 'look, don't touch' atmosphere, and bring them more vividly to life.

'And we are rethinking how we use our land in a more creative way. We are experimenting with creating the look, sounds and smell of houses at crucial moments in their history.'

To learn more about the experiences on offer at National Trust properties and grounds, visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk