We've been National Trust members on and off for years. If you're remotely interested in old buildings or magnificent gardens (or just want somewhere to let children let off steam) it works out as excellent value, in my opinion. For a while, through my parents' last years, we've been confined to local places, but last week we at last took a proper break - three whole days away from home - and visited five National Trust properties!
Day One started with an old favourite - Belton House, just outside Grantham
I've visited here SO many times - even before it was a National Trust property, so lots of things are familiar - the Moondial,
the Italian garden with its fountain,
the orangery, and the more relaxed flowers beds behind it.
There's always something new to find though.
The scent of lavender drifting as I walked past these borders - the plants are probably always there but just have to be caught at the right time for the scent.
A small feline friend, who wanted to accompany us around
Incredibly it's the first time I've been inside the church,
or seen these completely relaxed deer grazing by the car park entrance.
Our next stop was somewhere new to me - Peckover House in Wisbech.
In comparison to Belton, it seems modest in size, and it's almost the sort of place you could imagine living. The library though is huge - easily the biggest room in the house, showing where the owners' priorities lay.
Maybe its fireplaces and ceilings are just a little ornate if you have to dust them yourself.
It fronts almost directly on to North Brink which runs alongside the river Nene, but to the rear is a much-larger-than-expected garden, divided into 'rooms', with croquet set out for visitors on the lawn, and meandering paths among the flower beds. I'd have stayed and explored for longer, but we had to reach Norfolk that evening.
Day Two started with a visit to Felbrigg Hall - or rather, it's exuberant walled garden full of colour and scent.
I've visited the Hall before but for some reason, maybe the weather, never seen the garden.
Vegetables share the space with flowers, doves flit in and out of the dovecot, chickens peck round your feet, and the walls shelter it all from cold breezes. It's wonderful.
The next morning found us at Blickling Hall, with its more formal parterres.
We're not talking council bedding here though - the strict square beds are raised in the centre and filled with drifts of mingling colours.
Away from the Hall, the formal gardens give way to woodland and secret paths, where we found a quiet place to sit awhile, without any other visitors.
The final property we visited was something entirely different. Besides all the stately homes and gardens, the National Trust own and care for countryside and coast too - and our last visit was to one of these. The Manor of Brancaster, to give it its 'posh' name, is an area of marsh and creeks lying on Norfolk's north coast.
Beyond the sea defenses, the land stretches out to the horizon, and for a person like me, used to undulating hills and valleys, it's a strange eerie place, even in bright sunshine.
The coastal path follows the edge of the marshes, and I'd intended walking from Burnham Deepdale to Brancaster Staithe - it's only a mile - but all the walking of the past couple of days had exhausted me, so I had to be content with a shorter stroll.