A Week in Norwich
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During the time I spent in England in 2010 I wanted to focus on some locations that I had never been to before. Norfolk is a county that I have seen many times in pictures and movies but not first hand. Therefore I found myself on LateRooms.com looking for accommodation for a week this past May in Norwich. At the time I did not realize that it was such a good place for shopping but I soon found out.
I booked five nights at the Wedgewood House bed and breakfast, a short taxi ride from the railway station and, as it turned out, just a block away from one of the main shopping areas. I had a spacious double room on the first floor with an en suite. The hosts were very accommodating and helpful. I used LateRooms.com seven times over the few months I was in England and was never disappointed. I always check the comments from previous guests and look for accommodation that is well situated for what I want to see and has good reviews.
After checking in and unpacking I walked to Theatre Royal to catch the last tour bus and get my bearings to prepare for a few days of site seeing. From Theatre Street across from Theatre Royal the bus travels to Castle Meadow for access to the Castle, The Mall Norwich shopping centre, Colman’s Shop (yes, the mustard) and Museum; Tombland for the Anglican Cathedral, Elm Hill and River and Broads Tours; Britannia Road for Mousehold Heath; the railway station for River and Broads Tours, Norwich Station and Riverside Quarter; King Street for Wensum Lodge, Dragon Hall, and St Julian’s Shrine; Castle Meadow for the Castle and the Mall Norwich shopping centre; the bus station for Surrey House; and Cleveland Road for the Roman Catholic Cathedral and Plantation Gardens. The tour costs £8, takes about 45 minutes and runs from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. on an hourly basis. The ticket is good for 24 hours so is useful the next day for getting from one destination to another more quickly. After the tour the bus driver dropped me off at Debenhams. It was the first night of a big sale and the store was open until 11:00 p.m. each night.
I did not get to all the destinations listed above but here is some information on the ones that I did manage to see. The Anglican Cathedral has stood here since 1096 and is quite impressive regardless from which direction you approach it. I approached if for the first time from Tombland by the Edith Cavell memorial statue and through the Erpingham Gate into the close. This is where the Hostry was built in 2009 which contains a new visitor and education centre. The cathedral close is a lovely quiet spot with cherry trees sheltering Nelson’s Statue in front of the Hostry and ex tends for a further 44 acres including tranquil walks along the River Wensum. Some of the cathedral’s points of interest are the world’s largest collection of medieval roof bosses (they tell the story of the bible), England’s second tallest spire (315 feet), the largest monastic cloister in England and the grave of Nurse Edith Cavell, a national heroine of the First World War. I spent at least 3 hours here exploring all the chapels, stained glass windows and wonderful carvings in the cathedral and walking round the cloisters. With a little help from one of the volunteers I found Edith Cavell’s grave behind the cathedral. I made a return visit to the cathedral and was glad I did because I was able to hear the choir during a service and it was beautiful.
The Roman Catholic Cathedral (aka Cathedral Church of St John the Baptist, Catholic Cathedral of East Anglia) also has some wonderful stained glass windows although I did not spend as much time at this venue. During my visit they were installing a new heating system under all the seats so half the cathedral was blocked off. Construction of the cathedral started in 1894 and the imposing building atop one of the highest points in the city is a great example of 19th Century Gothic revival. During the summer there are tower tours on Saturdays (£3.00) which will provide the opportunity for views of the city and the surrounding countryside. If you are unable to take one of these tours, go to the top of Mousehold Heath (either walking or on the bus) for similarly fantastic views of the city and its many spires.
I should mention that the Visitor Centre in the Forum has a lot of good information about Norwich and the surrounding area. I went in to confirm river boat cruises and found an extensive amount of information about what to do and see.
The Castle Museum and Art Gallery is well worth a visit. I spent a few hours here learning about the history of the castle with artefacts dating back to the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Queen Boudica although my favourite was a tapestry from 1906 The Adoration of the Magi. There are also a number of good local paintings in the Crome and Cotman Art Galleries, particularly those done by the Cotman family. I was also able to see a temporary exhibit which was very interesting called ‘Beatles to Bowie the 60s exposed.’ It contained over 150 photographs of the leading pop music personalities such as The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. The exhibit was organized by the National Portrait Gallery and included fashion, magazines, record sleeves and illustrated sheet music which all add to the atmosphere of the time. Entrance to the Castle and Art Gallery was £6.20 and included the special exhibit. Not included are tours of the battlements or the dungeons.
A visit to Norwich would be incomplete without a river cruise into the Norfolk Broads. City Boats has two quays within the city, one across from the Railway Station and one in Elm Hill. If you are staying outside the city there is another at Griffin Lane Quay off the A1042 and A47 at Thorpe St Andrew. There are a variety of different cruises of differing lengths and destinations. I took the 1:15 cruise one afternoon which is a 3 ¾ hour cruise along the Rivers Yare and Wensum through Thorpe St Andrew (where we picked up some more passengers), Bramerton, Brundall and Surlingham Broad. We saw a lot of birds on the trip – heron, cormorant, swans, geese, and various types of ducks. Although we did see a few of the traditional sail boats I have seen in photographs depicting the Norfolk Broads, many of the boats were yachts and some were massive. It was interesting to see all the different styles and sizes of houses along the river banks and their boats tied to their docks. As it was early May and not particularly warm there was not a lot of activity on the rivers. I think to see more of the traditional view of the Broads you would have to venture further out of Norwich than these cruises go.
A momentous occasion occurred in Norwich while I was there. After the river cruise I had walked back into the city centre and was just rounding the Castle when I saw a lot of police and the road was blocked off. The closer I got to my bed and breakfast the more people and police I saw. The Norwich football club had won a cup and was moving from one division to another in the league so there was a big parade and it went right by the bed and breakfast. Unlike many activities surrounding football in this country this was a well-organized and friendly occasion. Norwich has an old style club that is very family oriented. None other than Delia Smith was on the board and was in the double decker bus carrying the cup. One look at the fans lining the route made it evident that this was a family affair and the fans were talking to the police – no hostility to be seen.
This brings me to shopping. Right in the centre of town is the Market Square next to St Peter Mancroft church. Within the pedestrianized shopping area you will find not only the market but also Jarrold’s Department Store on London Street, Gentleman’s Walk and Royal Arcade (home of Colman’s Mustard Shop and Museum), The Mall Norwich by the Castle, Norwich Lanes, Chapelfield Shopping Centre, St Stephens Street, Timberhill and high street shops such as Marks and Spencer and Debenhams, both flagship stores. Jarrold has been in business since 1823, has twice won the UK’s Independent Department Store of the Year Award and it is easy to see why. It has 5 floors and 3 restaurants, one of which overlooks the Market. It is one of those stores, like Jenners in Edinburgh, that has been there it seems forever and the architecture in the old building is worth a visit in itself. Chapelfield Shopping Centre is a modern mall with more high-end stores than the Castle Mall such as its anchor store House of Fraser and smaller shops such as Hotel Chocolat and Zara. The real treat for me however are all the little boutiques along London Street such as Bowhill and Elliot for shoes, in The Lanes such as Under the Guildhall, along Guildhall Hill and Lower Goat Lane, and further afield on Elm Hill and Upper St Giles Street. Whatever you are looking for, large or small, household, clothing, accessories, jewellery, sweets, shoes, hip or vintage, you will be able to find it here. The shopkeepers were also very helpful in pointing out where you may be able to find what you need if they do not have it themselves, as they know each other’s wares very well. There are other shopping areas I did not make it to that are a bit further from the city centre but still within walking distance: Anglia Square, Cathedral Retail Park and Magdalen Street.
A few recommendations for lunch or a snack while you are touring around or need fortifying for some more shopping: Caley’s Cocoa Cafe in the Guildhall does a wonderful afternoon tea and the setting is very historic. Choose a table in the balcony overlooking the hall. If you are shopping in Upper St. Giles Street or on your way to or from the Catholic Cathedral, Cafe Ninety One Patisserie and Cafe on Upper St. Giles Street is a gem. There are a few tables outside in the courtyard at the back as well as inside and the food is delicious. The Refectory in the Anglican Cathedral has good drinks and snacks. It is upstairs in the new visitor’s centre and is open, airy and welcoming. There is an elevator for easy access. The Pantry in Jarrold on the top floor overlooking the market has great architecture. Try to get a window seat.
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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.