Norwich – Norfolk’s Pleasant Surprise

Elm Hill, Norwich
Elm Hill, Norwich. The traffic sign reminds us it’s 2019.

There I was, as per usual, hitting the (rail)road last bank holiday weekend. My journey took me to East Anglia. Norfolk, to be exact. I had planned to spend the bulk of the weekend wandering along the winds and waves of the North Norfolk coast. However, perhaps surprisingly, Norfolk’s county town stole the show.

Yes, I just wrote a sentence elevating Norwich as a destination. And I meant all of it.

Having seen the list of British cities visited growing steadily in the past few years, I’ve decided to experiment on a new blog format – lists. Mostly because, I love lists. And here to kickstart recording and sharing my experiences, travelling from Penzance to Lerwick, and everything in between.

NORWICH, Norfolk

Travel Notes

  • Last visit – May 2019
  • Time spent – a day and a bit
  • Method of arrival – by rail (Norwich station)
  • Distance from London – 98.6 miles; 1 hour 50 minutes from Liverpool Street
  • Did I stay in town – No

Four random facts about Norwich

  • Population: 186,682 (2011 Census); 32nd Largest in the U.K.
  • Parliament Constituency: Norwich South (where I was), Labour
  • Google autocomplete: Norwich is “inbred”
  • A famous local: Ayrton Senna spent much of the 1980s in a Norwich bungalow

Three Reasons to Go

  • Medieval Street Scene – some say Norwich is the most complete medieval city in England; my inspection agrees. Supposedly England’s second city until the railway age, Norwich acquired a wealth of medieval structures which also (largely) survived the turmoils of the 20th century. Elm Hill was particularly instagram-mable. With the antique shops and the old-school drinking holes, it might as well be 1549.
  • Norwich Castle – houses Norwich’s municipal museum. (Free with an Art Pass. I felt smug flashing mine) Built by the Normans, its interior is currently devoid of exhibits as it awaits a round of lottery-funded restoration. Great tour. The “usual” bit of the museum can be found in a weird 1960s underground annex. The Boudicca exhibition was interesting (this being her supposed homeland) if sugarcoated for the children.
  • Bookshops – Norwich seems to have a lot of them. And art/stationary shops too, I assume serving the burgeoning student population. They are often located in medieval buildings. As a fake hipster, I loved it. buildings. I particularly enjoyed browsing at the Book Hive on London Street.

Two places I ate/drank

  • Grosvenor Fish Bar – the kind of chippy that has Lichtenstein as background and serves tuna steak or something. Had a small cod, pretty good for £4.80.
  • The Sir Garnet – a medieval pub adjacent to the city’s historic and bustling outdoor market. Good place for a pint (cheaper than North Norfolk too) to round out the trip.

One place I missed

  • Stranger’s Hall – “a museum of domestic history” “beautifully preserved building [dating] back to 1320” Also closed on Saturdays.

One unmissable place

Norwich Cathedral from the Cloisters
Norwich Cathedral
  • Norwich (Anglican) Cathedral – in possession of its own quarter of the city. A Norman masterpiece and amongst the most beautiful cathedrals of the land; complete with well-decorated gates, exquisite ceilings and a unique double-storey cloister. A rival of the York, Canterbury and (I dare suggest) Durham without the crowds, noises, nor entrance fees *looking at you York Minster* It is underneath the blue sky, framed by the cloister’s arches, that I thought Norwich is perhaps, truly, a hidden gem. It has a great spire too, if any Russian tourists are minded to see that kind of thing.

One excursion opportunity (that I did do)

  • Bure Valley Railway, Wroxham – about 15 minutes north by train. Of course. The British obsession for heritage railways is on full display here – there was a little-used “normal” line once, then the enthusiasts decided to rip that apart and build a narrow-gauge line for fun instead. The tiny trains are shorter than me. The carriages have a rear window. Naturally, I sat there enjoying 270 degree-view of the idyllic Norfolk countryside i.e. a lot of grass.

One pointless memory

  • The weather was hilarious. I know British weather is susceptible to rapid changes, but altering between rain and sun every 15 minutes or so, with hales in between on a May day, is just a bit mad.

One point of concern

  • The city centre is charming. Its surroundings, not so much. The walk from Norwich station to the city centre is not exactly inspiring will make you believe that the above paragraphs are paid advertisements. Unfortunately not.

One line verdict

York without the crowds and pretentiousness