A HISTORIC house near Ilminster has re-opened.

The National Trust has allowed some parts of the Barrington Court estate to welcome visitors from today (July 13) as restrictions during the coronavirus crisis are eased.

Currently, the parkland, garden and toilets are open at the historic site, with visitors required to book their trip in advance.

The Trust said the safety of visitors, staff and volunteers is central to the reopening, with one-way systems and measures to ensure social distancing is in place.

Hand sanitising gel will be made available and doors left open, while comment cards and other interactive elements of displays have been removed.

Sonja Rogers, Barrington Court house and collections manager, said: “Visitors will have the opportunity to see most of the extraordinary collection of architectural salvage, the fine panelling with its carved faces and animals, the beautiful fireplaces installed in the 1920s. It’s a real chance to listen to the echoes of the past.”

The National Trust charity, which looks after 200 houses, has carefully selected the seven sites across England and Northern Ireland to reflect the challenges of opening a range of different types of properties in the coming weeks and months.

Barrington Court, along with Kingston Lacy in nearby Dorset, are pilot venues for the National Trust, ensuring measures put in place enable people to explore and enjoy the properties safely.

Visitors will need to book a ticket in advance that is valid for entry to the house and gardens but, due to limits on capacity, it may not be possible for everyone to access the house during their visit.

At Barrington Court, with its fascinating story of 20th century restoration, the Tudor manor house will be even more atmospheric with fewer visitors.

There will be a one-way route through the 16th century house, following the normal visitor route.

Ensuring visitor safety has given the conservation team some headaches; the impressive oak staircase cannot be sanitised with modern products, which contain bleach that would damage the patina.

Fortunately, the staircase is close enough to the front door, so ensuring there are sufficient sanitising stations nearby with volunteers to guide visitors, has solved the problem.

Some of the interpretation has been moved to make rooms more spacious, and printed maps of the new visitor route will be put out around the house.

Somerset County Gazette:

WELCOME: Strode House, built in 1674, seen from the Lily Garden at Barrington Court, Somerset

John Orna-Ornstein, the National Trust’s director of culture and engagement, said: “It is just over 16 weeks since we closed all our houses back in March because of coronavirus and we know people have been really keen to get back inside and see their favourite properties and collections once more.

"The lockdown has taught us how important it is for people to engage with our cultural heritage and connecting with cultural activities.

“Our houses are remarkable places, full of hidden corners and many packed with treasures – but that in itself can create the challenges for us to re-open and meet the guidance safely.

"It isn’t as simple as just taking the dust sheets off the furniture and opening the doors, our plans have involved working out how many people can be in a room safely, how long they might spend there, while trying to ensure as much as possible they can still enjoy their time with us.

“But it is right that we take a cautious approach, so we ask visitors to remain patient a little longer while we work through how best to make sure everyone who wants to visit is safe and enjoys themselves.”

The Trust aims to reopen further properties in the coming weeks, building on the experience of Kingston Lacy and Barrington in the pilot. However, it is expected to be a slow and steady process which may take some time.

For more details and to book visits, log on to www.nationaltrust.org.uk.