After checking out of our hotel and leaving our luggage to collect later in the day, we walked across the city to visit Elm Hill. This historic, cobbled lane is the most complete medieval street in Norwich with many of its buildings dating back to the Tudor period.
The photogenic properties, some with thatched roofs, were once the homes of merchants and are now small speciality shops and inviting little cafes. Our morning stroll continued through the narrow lanes of central Norwich, passing the cathedral to the river at Pulls Ferry.
This stone arched building was once a 15th century watergate from where the Norman’s ferried stone from quarries in northern France to build Norwich Cathedral. A gate to the side of the building marks the riverside path which we followed in the morning sunshine.
A few minutes further on and we had reached the 15 metre high Cow Tower built in the 14th century. From there, the river takes a sharp turn to the left and the banks take on a more modern appearance passing modern waterside apartments, a former textile mill and the Norwich City Football Club.
Nearby, we left the river and made our way back towards the city centre, pausing to admire the beautiful Dragon Hall which used to be a medieval merchant’s trading hall. It’s Great Hall was built in the 15th century but some other parts of the building are even older. The building is currently being renovated and extended and will open as the National Centre for Writing in the summer to support the rapidly changing world of writing. As someone who spends quite a lot of time writing, this sounds very interesting and I’ll definitely be looking into its facilities once it’s underway.
Our morning exercise had left us feeling hungry so we headed to the local branch of John Lewis for a pot of tea and slices of their delicious chocolate fudge cake. Sitting in the cafe’s sunny conservatory, it felt like spring was around the corner.
There was still one more museum we wanted to see and as it’s only open on Wednesdays and Sunday afternoons at this time of year, we just had time to squeeze in a visit before heading back home.
Strangers’ Hall is another of Norwich’s historic buildings, this Tudor house has, since the 14th century, been home to several of the city’s merchants and mayors. By 1890, Strangers’ Hall stood empty until a local solicitor saved it from demolition and ten years later opened it to the public as a folk museum.
The building looks quite small from the exterior but stepping inside we found it to be deceptively spacious. Entering the Great Hall, it was easy to see that this was the heart of the medieval home. The huge oak table was laid out with fine tableware, pewter and a feast for guests to enjoy. From the Great Hall, an oak door leads out into the garden with old fashioned varieties of rose bushes surrounded by traditional box hedges.
Back indoors, we toured the rest of the house and going from room to room we were able to see how a family lived from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Each room was presented in the styles of its successive owners and showed how the architecture of the building had changed over time.
Being fond of visiting toy museums, I was delighted to find that Strangers’ Hall has one of the earliest surviving baby houses of its kind. Baby houses were traditionally created by architects who would either base their designs on a real life property or from someone’s imaginary home. There was also a collection of Victorian dolls and toys to admire, making it an enchanting place to end our visit to the city.
By late afternoon, we were back on the train home after having spent a lovely weekend in Norwich. We found lots of fun things to do, interesting museums to explore and even managed to find time for a day at the seaside in Great Yarmouth.
If you have enjoyed reading about our weekend in Norwich, you may also be interested to read about our weekend breaks in other parts of the U.K.
After breakfast in Norwich we travelled by train to the seaside resort of Great Yarmouth. Getting there from Norwich is very easy with a frequent service on Greater Anglia trains and journey times of 35 minutes, with off-peak return fares costing £8.30.
Arriving into Great Yarmouth, we followed signs to the seafront, the route taking us through the shopping centre and alongside the market before reaching Marine Parade on the seafront. Just across the promenade stands the Britannia Pier which first opened to the public in 1858. It was our intention to take a stroll along the pier but to our dismay we found it to be closed with its shutters down. We thought this somewhat strange for a Saturday in February but it might have been due to the blustery conditions.
The pier was originally 700ft in length but after being opened for only one year it was badly damaged by a boat resulting in it being reduced in size by 50ft. Viewing the pier from further along the seafront we could see that it contains a theatre, cafe and amusement arcade.
There was a biting wind coming from the North Sea as we continued along the promenade in a southerly direction. The sandy beach between the two piers is a popular location for a family day out at the seaside during the summer months but was deserted during our mid-winter visit.
The next landmark to come into sight was the Wellington Pier, the town’s second pier which was only the 7th to be constructed in Britain. The pier underwent considerable reconstruction in 2008 utilising much of the original steel and ironwork. From the end of the pier there were good views along the coastline but it was bitterly cold so we decided to warm up by visiting the nearby SeaLife Centre.
It seemed a long time since we last visited an aquarium so it was interesting to look around. The tropical ocean display is the central feature of SeaLife with its underwater tunnel. Here we were able to see giant sea turtles and a group of sharks.
The delicate looking seahorses were one of my favourites along with the penguins, jellyfish and coral reef displays. I would liked to have taken photos of the penguins but the outdoor viewing deck was closed due to the inclement weather and from ground level they were partially obscured.
Leaving SeaLife, we wandered a little further along the promenade to another of Great Yarmouth’s attractions, the Merrivale Model Village. It was our first visit to a model village and it was interesting to follow the trail through the landscaped gardens to view an entire village in miniature.
Thankfully, the gardens were quite sheltered and it didn’t feel quite as cold as on the seafront. Wandering through the village, we were amazed at the attention to detail. The village high street was complete with shops, hotel, town hall and post office with people going about their daily tasks.
We loved the little garden railway which runs along a 350 metre track through the garden. The model village has 28 different types of locomotive with a selection of rolling stock operating daily.
In front of many the exhibits were little buttons to press, one of which operated the funfair rides whilst another gave authentic sounding announcements at the local airport.
It was great fun visiting the model village and I would recommend it for all age groups. As well as being perfect for children, it’s also popular with model railway enthusiasts who come to see the trains passing through the beautiful little station. A round of crazy golf is also included in the ticket price but as it was so cold and we had plans for the remainder of the afternoon, we decided against having a game.
There was one more place we wanted to visit whilst in Great Yarmouth, so we studied our map and headed inland to the Time and Tide Museum on the site of the former Tower Fish Curing Works. The herring curing works were built in 1850 and operated until 1988. The building was empty for ten years and then converted into a museum in 2004. It is thought to be the best preserved herring curing works of its kind.
The museum tells the story of Great Yarmouth and its herring industry. The tour starts along a reconstructed narrow street from 1913 where we were able to wander down a Victorian Row and glance in shops and houses to visualise what life was like at that time.
The galleries describe what it was like living and working in a town that depended on the herring industry from the men out on their fishing boats to the women repairing the nets.
Parts of the building have been preserved which enabled us to see how it was once used. We explored the tall smoke sheds where fires used to be lit on the floor to cure thousands of herrings at one time. The fish used to be placed on long sticks and these would then be laid across wooden bars. Although the building has been empty for about 20 years the smell of smoked herring seemed to be hanging in the air, adding to our authentic experience.
Other sections of the museum are devoted to the development of tourism in the town from it’s early days as a Victorian resort to how it has adapted in recent times. Time & Tide is Norfolk’s third largest museum and one we found extremely interesting.
After a walk along the seafront and a visit to three of Great Yarmouth’s attractions we were in need of a little rest so we popped in to the Troll Cart pub for a cup of coffee and a sit down. A little later, we returned to Norwich by train and had dinner in the nearby Riverside development before returning to our hotel for the night.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also be interested in :
After a hearty breakfast in The Bell Hotel we were ready to spend the day viewing more of the city’s cultural attractions. We’d planned our first stop at the Plantation Garden but on the way discovered a hidden gem. Tucked away on Bethel Street is the South Asia Decorative Arts & Crafts Collection museum and shop housed in a restored Victorian skating rink. The internal architecture is exquisite and it was lovely to see that the building was still in use. In addition to being a skating rink, the building has also been a theatre and home to the first citadel of the Salvation Army in Norwich.
Continuing on our way, we soon arrived at the Plantation Garden which adjoins the catholic cathedral. Admission to the garden is £2 with an honesty box available for when the kiosk is closed.
This heritage garden was created in a medieval chalk quarry between 1859 and 1895. The gardens comprise almost three acres and feature a gothic fountain, Italianate terrace and woodland walkways. Even though our visit was in late February, there was still plenty to see and we enjoyed our morning stroll.
Just around the corner from the Plantation Garden stands the imposing St. John the Baptist Catholic Cathedral which is a fine example of the great Victorian Gothic Revival. Constructed in this style, it appears older than it actually is, as it was only completed in 1910. Originally built as a parish church, it is believed to have been the largest in England. In 1976, it became the cathedral of the new diocese of East Anglia.
We entered the cathedral through the Narthex which was completed in 2010 and comprises a visitor centre and cafe. The display boards were informative and after gaining some background information we started a self guided tour of the cathedral. Some internal refurbishments were taking place but we were still able to admire the fine stonework, roof bosses and beautiful stained glass windows.
We’d pre-arranged a tour of the tower and our guide led us up the spiral staircase consisting of 280 steps to the top of the cathedral tower. On the way up, we paused for breath on the crossing balcony from where we had stunning views of the transept and nave from a great height.
Opening the small, old oak door out onto the roof we were rewarded with magnificent views of the historic city. It was overcast and bitterly cold but we were still able to make out the castle, city hall and other Norwich landmarks pointed out by our helpful guide. If visiting Norwich, I would recommend taking this tour, more details of which can be found here.
After so much exercise, we were ready for a short rest and a coffee, then feeling revitalised we headed over to Bridewell Alley to visit the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. From the exterior the museum appears to be quite small but stepping inside it’s deceptively spacious. This museum focuses on the lives of the residents of Norwich from medieval times to the present day.
The galleries tell the story of how Norwich became a thriving merchant’s city, gaining its wealth producing textiles, chocolates, shoes and mustard. We discovered how the industrious citizens worked and spent their free time, viewed a recreated 1920’s chemist’s shop and also a 200 year old jacquard loom.
In the glass showcases we found lots of old packaging from well known local companies such as Colman’s mustard and Van-Dal shoes. Sadly, Colman’s which was established in Norwich back in 1858 and now owned by Unilever, will close its Norwich factory in 2019 with production moving to Burton-on-Trent and Germany. To retain the city’s association with the Colman’s brand, packing of mustard powder and the milling of the mustard seed will remain in the Norwich area.
Leaving the museum we walked across the city to Surrey House, one of the most elegant and opulent Edwardian office buildings in England. The building was constructed between 1900-1912 as the new headquarters for the Norwich Union Insurance Company who are now known as Aviva.
Surrey House is still in use as an office building for Aviva but visitors are welcome to look around its Marble Hall during office hours. Guided tours of the building can be booked in advance which we had arranged.
Our knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide showed us around the building with its Marble Hall. This splendid yet functional office space was designed to incorporate Greek influences with the themes of insurance, protection and well-being. The effect of this was to re-assure policy holders of the company’s strength and prosperity.
No expense was spared in using the finest marble and wood to furnish the building. The Marble Hall is adorned with 15 types of Italian marble, originally destined for Westminster Cathedral. The spectacular glass domed ceiling contains an innovative Edwardian air-conditioning system whilst the marble columns are reputedly the finest of their kind in the world.
Walking up the steps of the grand marble staircase, we admired the beautiful stained glass window and the elegant chiming skeleton clock which was made for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and is thought to be valued at £2 million. Our guide opened the glass case for us and explained that winding the clock once a month was one of his duties. The clock chimes on each quarter and can be set to play twelve different operatic tunes hour by hour.
Continuing our tour we were invited to look in the Board Room with its beautiful carved mahogany wall panelling and its ceiling paintings. The West Committee Room was also impressive, still containing its original boardroom table.
Our tour of this hidden gem lasted one hour and was undoubtedly one of the highlights of our weekend in Norwich so do try to arrange a visit if you are planning on spending some time in the city. It is very pleasing that Aviva offer these free tours, showcasing the company’s heritage.
We still had one more cultural highlight to fit in, so we made our way over to Castle Meadow to visit Norwich Castle. The castle was built 900 years ago by the Normans as a Royal Palace with lavishly decorated interiors. By the 14th century it had been transformed into the county gaol but after the prison’s relocation in the late 19th century the castle fell into disrepair. It was eventually converted into a museum as we see it today. We started our self-guided tour in the Norman Keep learning about medieval Norwich life in the castle. There are further galleries on natural history, fine art, archaeology, costumes and textiles. A temporary exhibition running until June 2018 entitled ‘The Square Box on the Hill’ was very interesting displaying photographs, maps and memorabilia about the history of the castle and designs for its future.
Leaving the castle, a busy day of sightseeing had left us feeling hungry so we headed over to the Grosvenor Fish Bar on Lower Goat Lane. This fish and chip shop had come to our attention as it had been featured on BBC’s The One Show. It’s a Norwich institution, having served fish and chips in the city for 90 years so we thought we’d book a table and sample it too.
As well as the usual fish and chip fare the menu includes sea bass, tuna, squid, mackerel and rock salmon. Seating for 70 people is downstairs in the cosy bunker, with room for 20 more in its new ground floor annex. It’s not essential to reserve a table, but as we didn’t want to miss out on sampling their menu, we chose to book in advance.
We were shown to our table by a friendly waiter and as we were ravenous, ordered large portions of haddock, chips and mushy peas. When the food arrived, I could hardly believe the size of the fish which was cooked to perfection. Home made sauces are available and I loved dipping my chips into the delicious garlic mayo.
If fish and chips wasn’t enough, we ended our meal with cups of tea and trays of chocolate making this the perfect end to a fun filled day. Walking back to our hotel, we were both in agreement that no future visit to Norwich would be complete without supper at the Grosvenor!
After enjoying recent weekends away in Bristol and Birmingham we decided to turn our attention to Norwich and take a look at the county town of Norfolk. Norwich lies approximately 100 miles (161 km) north east of London in East Anglia. We travelled by train and coming from the north of England, I took a Virgin East Coast train to Peterborough from where I changed onto an East Midlands service to Norwich. For passengers arriving from London there is a direct service from Liverpool Street station. As I was leaving the station, I glanced back to admire the attractive building which is built around a central clock tower with matching wings on each side.
It was a deceptively sunny, yet extremely cold afternoon as we followed signs to the city centre, crossing a bridge over the River Wensum on our way. Mid-way between the station and the centre lies the Travelodge Norwich Riverside where we had reserved a room, so after leaving our luggage we were able to start exploring.
Our first stop was to the Jarrold’s Department Store on London street. This family business is one of the most renowned landmarks in the city and has been trading in its current building since 1823. After taking a look around the store, we enjoyed a light lunch in the Pantry restaurant located on its top floor.
Across from Jarrold’s lies the Guildhall on Gaol Street. This historic building was constructed between 1407-1413 and served as the seat of city government from the early 15th century until the 1930’s. At the time of the building’s construction and for much of its history, Norwich was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in England. Nowadays the Guildhall is used as an events venue and cultural centre.
Continuing our walk, we browsed the outdoor market on Gentleman’s Walk with over 200 stalls selling everything from fresh produce to household items. Not far from there, we strolled along the Norwich Lanes which are a series of alleyways, courtyards and open spaces. It was fascinating wandering along these car free lanes with their delightful array of small independent shops, cafes and galleries.
Just off Tombland (originally Norwich’s market place) we arrived at the entrance archway to the Anglican Cathedral. Set on a 44 acre site, the cathedral is one of the finest Romanesque churches in Europe boasting the second tallest spire in England, after Salisbury and unlike many other cathedrals in the U.K. admission is free.
We strolled through Cathedral Close with its many listed buildings and beautiful tranquil spaces. Clusters of snowdrops were a promising sign that spring was around the corner.
Entering the cathedral through the largest monastic cloister in England we admired the stunning medieval high arches and roof bosses. The interior of the cathedral was beautiful with its sumptuous decorations, elaborate carvings and stained glass windows.
I was fascinated by the unusual font and read about its history. The confectionery company Rowntree Mackintosh was a major employer in Norwich and in 1969 Rowntree took over the Mackintosh factory which made toffee. The factory eventually closed in 1994 and later gifted to the cathedral two of its burnished, copper bowls formerly used in the manufacture of toffee. These bowls now form a shining, modern font with historic links to the city and its certainly a talking point to be able to say you were baptised in a toffee making bowl.
On our way back to the hotel we made one final stop at the Royal Arcade. Designed by George Skipper and opened in 1899, it is one of the most beautiful covered streets in Norfolk. At the time of construction, arcade shopping was immensely popular and browsing the shop windows today, it’s home to many high-end retailers.