Norwich – a city well worth celebrating – It is the annual City of Ale festival, one that stands head and I suppose heads above the rest, that draws me to Norwich.
The prospect of a refreshing break brings with it the opportunity to get reacquainted with the unique Norfolk countryside and one of England’s most energetic historic cities.
Both have been at the top of tourism’s A-list for as long as anyone can remember – and with good reason.
As the memory banks flicker into life I recall a picture of an imposing castle keep, striped colours of market stalls and a childhood holiday under sail on the Norfolk Broads that was pure adventure; all a long, long time ago – the Kinks were at No 1 with You Really Got Me (you work it out).
Naturally, significant changes have taken place over the years but the City guardians who have managed that change are to be congratulated.
So many towns caught up in the dash for malls and modernisation have ended up with shabby and soulless streets.
Norwich is a city of consummate style – confident, compact, it has the largest intact medieval street pattern in Europe, relaxed and made for visitors. After all it welcomes over 4m people every year.
Up until the Industrial Revolution Norwich was England’s second city after London, enormously prosperous, a cultural beacon and home to a politically powerful elite (just count the number of times various Dukes of Norfolk figure in our favourite historical dramas).
Its enduring charm owes a lot to the fact that it was able to keep heavy industry and its attendant ravages at arms length.
Even today locals joke that the nearest motorway is in Holland.
Exploring ancient streets, lanes and alleys is a leisurely walk offering pleasant surprises around every corner.
On the shopping front the flagship Jarrold department store, family run since 1823, lays a marker for a thriving local and independent retail sector.
Over 40% of Norwich’s shops are unique to the city, beautifully presented and ambassadors for regional crafts and skills.
It is easy to understand why Norwich is one of the top 10 places in the UK to shop.
At this point I should say that, while I understand that shopping is important, it is not my thing. So, I rely on my wife Linda, without question the world’s best shopper, for feedback. We have a longstanding arrangement – the UShop/ISnoop Accord.
My first port of call is the Bridewell Museum that turns out to be a very good starting point.
Like so many of Norwich’s visitor attractions it comes with a colourful history. Parts of the building date back to 1325 and has been, at one time or another, home to the first Mayor of Norwich, a prison and a tobacco factory.
After a £1.5m transformation the Bridewell is for the ‘must visit’ list. Its beautifully arranged, walk through displays, provide a fascinating trip through time.
Norwich may have been by-passed by the Industrial Revolution but it was certainly industrious. And the fact that this is Norwich seen through the eyes of local people adds a nice touch, too.
Human endeavour is at the heart of the Bridewell, where a treasure trove of collections are brought to life and paid tribute – from the perfectly preserved chemists shop to the City’s first fire engine and local skills that made the designer dresses, hats and footwear of the day.
Going further back in time, and a short walk away, is the imposing Norwich Castle and Keep, dating back to the 12th century and one of the finest examples of its kind in Europe.
The castle, built by the Normans, is also home to the county’s principal museum and Colman Art Galleries, and constantly changing special exhibitions. Another must visit and a treat for all the family.
Norwich’s Anglican Cathedral (the City also has a Roman Catholic Cathedral) is held as one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture in Europe. It has the largest cloisters, the second tallest spire in the country and 1,200 carved stone roof bosses.
But statistics can go so far. Nothing compares to the real thing.
Like all great cathedrals, Norwich has its own special atmosphere and stillness. I have experienced the same at Chartres, Durham and Salisbury.
The Castle and Cathedral are part of the Norwich 12, a collection of outstanding heritage buildings spanning 1000 years of history. It’s as I stroll around the cathedral that I realise I won’t be able to take in all Norwich is offering on this visit. The good news it is well worth making plans for a return.
Getting round Norwich is easy and you can also take a City sightseeing tour on an open top bus or link up with the team of Blue badge guides for an expert introduction to the City.
You’ll find accommodation, local restaurants and eateries that suit all tastes and budgets and complement the attractions on offer in this wonderful City.
The other vital component that made this visit memorable was the universal friendliness of the people we encountered during our stay. Cheers Norwich.
Planning a visit to Norwich? Your journey starts here – www.visitnorwich.co.uk