The City of Norwich, Norfolk, UK - A Great Place to Visit or Live
It has been suggested by some people I know, especially Londoners, that Norwich is situated somewhere in the Back of Beyond. Perhaps there is some truth in that - after all, it is only 1 hour 50 minutes by train from Liverpool Street, but can take significantly longer in a car. There are no motorways in Norfolk, and even when travelling along some of the main 'A' roads, slow moving tractors can hold you up. Aside from that, if you are heading towards Norwich, then you are not on your way to anywhere else - unless your destination is the coast, or a rural town or village. Quite simply, stuck out on the bulge they call East Anglia, there is no other major place to go - assuming you are not thinking of taking a spin across the North Sea.
Finalist for UK City of Culture, 2013
In any case, perhaps sitting somewhere in the Back of Beyond only adds to the attraction. After all, who really wants to live on everyone else's doorstep? And anyway, Norwich is now one of the Top 10 shopping destinations in the UK. With plenty of big-name stores as well as many quirky, independent shops hiding down historical back lanes, there is something to suit everyone. Not only that, but Norwich was declared a finalist for the title of UK City of Culture, 2013. One of only four British cities chosen, it eventually lost out to Derry - although that in no way takes away from the fact that Norwich has a lot to offer both visitors and those who live there.
Culture, I hear you say? In the middle of this land of tractors, farmers and squashed pheasants? You'll be surprised. These days, Norwich is becoming more and more diverse. The Norfolk and Norwich Festival, a two week long programme of art, world music, circus displays, elaborate cabaret and family entertainent, takes place during May and has something for everyone, some of it free. Aside from that, there is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, popular musicals and plays staged at the Theatre Royal, and a whole host of well known bands that have performed at the University of East Anglia (UEA).
From Medieval to Modern
Norwich is a comparatively small city, dating back to medieval times. However, it used to be one of the most important cities in England. Many examples of its medieval history still remain for all to admire - out of the 57 medieval churches originally contained inside the city walls, 31 still stand intact.
Norwich has an attractive city centre, with two modern shopping malls blending effortlessly with history. There are also many appealing independent shops, located down the small side streets, such as the 'Lanes'. Norwich has a thriving and colourful outdoor market selling everything from fruit and vegetables, to second hand books, to pet necessities, asian spices, hats, bags and clothes. It also has an organic fruit and veg stall, one of the only independent places to purchase organic goods in Norwich.
To the side of the market stands the Guildhall, on Gaol Hill, dating back to the sixteenth century. The Guildhall was built, like so many constructions in the city, from local flint. In the past it was a government building, where people went to pay taxes, and was also both a prison and court. Today it houses Angel's Crystal Shop and Caley's Cocoa Cafe.
Norwich Castle Museum
Norwich Castle is an imposing but majestic building that looks down over the city centre. It dates back to the 11th Century, and was built on the orders of William the Conqueror, as a Royal Palace for the Normans. Stone for the castle was brought by boat from Caen, in northern France - a long, ardous process. The boats brought the stone as far as Great Yarmouth, Though Norwich is now considered a relatively small city, back in those bygone days it was actually one of the biggest cities in England - only London and York were larger.
Life in Medieval Britain was colourful and violent. The city was surrounded by a stone wall, of which only ruins remain today, with the castle used to spot any invaders. The castle became a prison (a very bleak and torturous one) in the 1400's, and executions took place outside for all to see. You can take a tour of the dungeons and learn all about the grim lives of the prisoners held there. Tours of the battlements are also available.
Following its days as a prison, Norwich Castle became a museum in the 1800's. It is interactive in some areas and, amongst other things, you can learn about the Iceni people, see Egyptian treasures and find out about old prison life in the Keep. If you depart through the attached Regiment Museum, you pass through a First World War 'bunker', but once you have left the Museum at this exit you may not re-enter.
Norwich Cathedral and the Adam and Eve Public House
Norwich Cathedral is a fine example of Norman architecture. It is over 900 years old and stands tall and proud amidst lovely surroundings. It has the second tallest spire and second largest medieval cloisters in the whole of England. It also boasts the largest amount of decorative roof bosses in the country. It is a stunning building, with beautiful displays of artistic stone work, carvings and stained glass.
Many a time, we have eaten lunch in the nearby Adam and Eve pub, with its low ceilings, stone floors and its own stories - records date back to 1249 and it is known as the oldest public house in Norwich. In fact, underneath this old alehouse a Saxon well still remains, verifying that the site has been in use for at least 1500 years. Interestingly, it was workers who were helping with the construction of Norwich Cathedral who used to drink in the Adam and Eve. They were not paid with money, but given bread and ale for their laborious efforts, by the monks who owned it. The monks also used to give their ale to the patients in the Great Hospital - apparently to aid their recovery!
In its time, the Adam and Eve has seen both blood thirsty battle and notorious murder. Thankfully, times have now changed, and the Adam and Eve is a popular location for a quiet drink or a spot of lunch.
From the Adam and Eve, you can walk along the riverside, right down and round and back through the Cathedral Close to the cathedral itself. There are old houses situated within the grounds, many are residential - but not just anyone can live there, you have to apply. The Close with the little houses and green are almost like a little, old fashioned village, perhaps from a Miss Marple film - without the murders of course!
Perhaps somewhat usually, there are actually two cathedrals in Norwich. The Roman Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist is located on leafy Earlham Road, across the bridge and just outside the main centre. Though seemingly of historical appearance - it has a rather gothic look about it - the Catholic Cathedral was not built until the turn of the twentieth century. Both cathedrals dominate their skylines.
Would a visit to Norwich be complete without a walk down the cobbled street of Elm Hill? I think not. Close to both the city centre and Norwich Cathedral, Elm Hill is a small but quaint street of historic, timber framed buildings dating back to the Tudor times. In fact, there was life at Elm Hill well before this period, yet many of the pre-existing houses were destroyed by the Great Fire in 1507. Elm Hill was rebuilt, and many of the Tudor houses remain today. In fact, this small, medieval cobbled street actually contains more genuine Tudor houses than the entire city of London.
Nowadays, most of the houses in Elm Hill are occupied by independent businesses. Elm Hill is a haven for those interested in antiques. There are tea rooms, like Britons Arms on the corner and a cafe selling organic tea at the forefront of a tiny courtyard. There is an old fashioned toy shop and a shop dedicated to teddy bears. But you don't have to buy anything - shopping just isn't the point. Simply ambling down Elm Hill is a real delight; a step back in time. It has also found its way onto the big screen - most recently, in the film 'Stardust', released in 2007. To quote Stardust location manager Emma Pil, 'It is a magical street....'
Situated on King Street, Norwich, Dragon Hall is a medieval building dating as far back as 1430. It was actually a merchant's trading hall when it was first constructed, and is now a Grade 1 listed building. In the Great Hall, you can see the magnificent carved dragon, from which the building gets its name.
Though Dragon Hall's days as a trading hall were relatively short lived, the site on which it was built has a long and varied history. From the 1300's, it is known that Anglo Saxon's lived on the site.
Free guided tours are held on Tuesdays at 2pm. The Hall is closed to the general public on Saturdays.
The Plantation Garden - A Hidden Victorian Gem
The Plantation Garden is like a secret, almost hidden from the street. It would be easy to walk straight by and never notice it was there at all, if not for the sign. The garden is situated behind the Beeches Hotel on Earlham Road, just past the Catholic Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. There is a small charge/donation for entry, to help with the general maintenance and upkeep of this Victorian treasure - all the work is carried out by volunteers.
On most days, the garden is quiet and guests explore the three acres of greenery at their leisure. On open days, however, free guided tours explaining the history of the garden, are offered. There are also many other events held throughout the year, such as tea and cakes every Sunday afternoon, a jazz music evening and a big band night.
In 1897, Henry Trevor acquired the site where the Plantation Garden now lies, and transformed it from a disused chalk quarry into this beautiful garden. In fact, this part of Norwich is riddled with old chalk mines, as a county bus driver found out some twenty years ago when the front end of his bus nosedived into the road and became stuck.
Henry Trevor put a lot of care and thought into his garden. Because it was created in a quarry it is set on different levels. He planted flowers, grasses, and even built a fountain and a summer house, overlooking the lawns. But Henry Trevor, a well known character in the area, wasn't satisfied with creating a garden simply for his own pleasure. He delighted in seeing other people enjoying it, so he often invited many guests for his numerous garden parties.
Whitlingham Country Park
Whitlingham Country Park is situated at Trowse, so close to the city centre that it is almost as though a part of the countryside exists within the city itself. If you fancy a break from all the hustle and bustle that city life undoubtedly brings, then take a visit to this peaceful and clean, partly man-made area. At Whitlingham, ducks bob alongside swans and geese on still waters. Tall, mature trees bring a welcome calmness; while fishermen wait patiently (fishing is only permitted in certain areas). A new activity centre allows you to experience the excitement of canoeing or sailing (pre-booking is necessary), or you can sit on the stony 'beach' and skim flat pebbles. Further down, you can walk through cool woods - or you can even walk round the whole of the country park, following the water's edge, if you have a good couple of hours to spare. Sometimes you might see a train, as the track lies nearby, but other than that, Whitlingham is a haven for walkers; nature lovers and those just looking for peaceful respite.
Staying in Norwich
There are many hotels and guest houses in Norwich. The most convenient location to stay in is around the Earlham and Unthank Road area (the Golden Triangle). There are many guest houses around here, though they do get quite booked up in summer. It is an attractive area in which to stay, and it is also within walking distance of the city centre and many of the main attractions. The walk into the centre from here is pleasant, and there are places to eat right on your doorstep.
Moving to Norwich
If you are thinking of moving to Norwich, then the 'Golden Triangle', a residental area close to the city centre, is the place to be. People arrive and never want to leave. It's so easy to become caught in this little bubble; it's almost a village within a city. The community feeling in this part of the city is quite magnetic. There are families with children (the best primary schools are found here), young couples, many professionals and a hoard of students, for Norwich boasts the excellent University of East Anglia. The School of Environmental Science is considered in very high regard - in fact, it is one of the best research centres of its kind in the world.
It is also worth noting that Norfolk has recently been declared the 'safest county in England'. Not only that, but East Anglia has the lowest rainfall in the country. Beautiful countryside and coastline are also within easy reach.
A City Still Going Strong
Norwich is both modern and cosmopolitan, yet at the city's very heart its historical overtures still play on. From Medieval to Tudor, Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian - the stories of Norwich's past stand proudly beside all things new. Everything considered, this small city called Norwich, stuck out on the bulge they call East Anglia, really does have a lot going for it.
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