It's almost silent on the Warrington street where I have come to finally get my culture fix after nearly four long months of not being allowed to set foot inside an art gallery, museum or theatre.

Just a few cars drive past while I wait in the queue of four people, all standing a respectful two metres apart, and if it weren't for the white paper mask on an elderly man walking past with a stick, it would be hard to know lockdown had happened at all.

Warrington Museum and Art Gallery is a handsome two-storey red brick building with a smart sandstone entrance that, like World Museum Liverpool and its neighbour, was built by the Victorians both as a museum and public library. While Liverpool's is huge in comparison, Warrington's is 12 years older, opened in 1848 as the country's first rate-supported library.

Its size means it has been quicker than larger venues to reopen - the Walker and World Museum will remain closed until July 15, and Tate Liverpool until July 27.

I haven't been here before which explains why, after five minutes of observing my fellow queuers - headed by a grey-bunned woman propping a Morrison's shopping bag against the door to peep through the window in anticipation, I realise my mistake.

When the lock is eventually thrown back with a clunk and I ready myself for the momentous occasion of breaking my gallery fast, I am told by a visibly alarmed member of staff that I have come to the library entrance. The museum one is around the corner and there is no way, she insists, I can walk through from here and flout the carefully constructed one-way system.

Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

Once outside the correct entrance I am met by a woman with a clipboard taking pre-booked names and phone numbers for covid contact tracing purposes should I or someone I've crossed paths with later come down with coronavirus symptoms. There is little chance of infection however as the staff are all wearing the perspex PPE masks that were so hard for NHS staff to get their hands on at the beginning of the pandemic but have now become a regular part of 'normal' life. There are only three other visitors in the museum while I am inside - two women and a boy. It's easy to walk around without touching anything and I am wearing a cloth mask.

White tape arrows on the floor guide you around, and through, the different rooms. There are signs reminding you to "keep a safe distance" but they aren't particularly distracting. Museums and galleries are usually places full of labels and signage anyway, the exhibits are far more attention-grabbing.

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If the venue were busier, I might have felt more uneasy, especially on the narrow staircase where posters ask you to stick to one side. I would hope a bit of common sense from visitors would avoid people passing on the stairs but it's hard to know for sure.

Another issue, though not a big one, is that you can't strictly follow the one-way system and see every exhibit in every room. So to look inside all the cases of fossils in the first room for example, you would have either have to flout the rules or walk around the gallery twice.

Social distancing signage at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Social distancing signage at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

I do actually end up doing this as, when I walk past the closed ladies toilets, there's a banging coming from a storage room next door.

"Help! I'm locked inside!" calls a woman's voice. Valiantly, without a thought to any potentially lingering covid germs, I try the door handle. No luck. She's trapped inside with the keys. So I walk-run around the one-way system until I'm back at the beginning, where there's a member of museum staff to alert.

Drama over, and my skin drying out from a coating of hand sanitiser, I find myself really enjoying the old-fashioned quirkiness of the exhibits, which are an intriguing mix of biological and geological specimens, anthropological artefacts and bits and bobs from 20th century domestic life, as well as a variety of Victorian and contemporary art.

The museum section is a walk-in cabinet of curiosities - glass case upon glass case of fossils and chunks of rock, anaemic-looking creatures in bottles, a replica of "Warrington's dinosaur" the ticinosuchus, porcelain dolls, coronation mugs, a 200-year-old green fire engine, an air raid warden's bell, death masks from Ancient Peru, gambling buttons made from walrus teeth, an Inupiat seal hunters decoy stick.

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There are three walls entirely covered in stuffed fish gawping at the passing visitors, a life-size recreation of a 1950s kitchen complete with mannequins, and a case showing life in the 1980s that includes a cuddly Roland Rat, a Rubix Cube and a Commodore 64.

A number of items demonstrate how much attitudes towards 'appropriate' museum curation have changed - objects collected in Victorian times including an Ecuadorian shrunken head and the mummified body of an Ancient Egyptian child.

The art gallery part of the building is completely different - light and airy with a temporary exhibition programme that currently includes a display of paintings by Jan Penketh, inspired by her 10,000 daily steps through the nearby landscape of Great Sankey and Penketh. It's strange to see a sign saying the exhibition will end on April 5 when we're already well into July.

Lorna from the NHS Heroes series by Derek M Dick at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery
Lorna from the NHS Heroes series by Derek M Dick at Warrington Museum and Art Gallery

I had been looking forward to this visit as an escape from the outside world but actually many of the things I look at are coloured by our recent experiences. A child's 'Mickey Mouse' gas mask from the Second World War reminds me how lucky we are that our children have been the least affected by the pandemic, at least in terms of the risk to their health. A comfort that parents during the Blitz did not experience.

A large-scale oil painting of a Venetian Water Seller by Warrington -born Royal Academician Henry Woods makes me nervous. Why are those people standing so close together? They're clearly not all from the same household. Contemporary work by another of the town's artists, Derek M Dick, features portraits of NHS heroes in masks - I barely notice their faces are covered.

In years gone by - and in years to come - these images would have had an entirely different effect on their viewers. The very best galleries and museums reflect your own lives back at you while teaching you something new and in this Warrington's has succeeded.