Today is my birthday, in celebration of which we are taking this Norwich trip. In view of yesterday’s disruption to rail services, we are making today a bus day. Whether the buses will be any more reliable remains to be seen. The sun is rising noticeably later these days and at 8 am it’s not clear whether it will be a sunny or a grey day. It is at least dry so far.
At the bus stops in town there are notices asking you to save time by buying tickets before boarding the bus. However, many of the ticket machines are out of order and, in any case, do not take notes, which is rather a nuisance if you want to buy a weekly ticket at £27. Nor can you buy tickets at the information office at the bus station.
There is also a lack of coordination between the bus companies and no joint timetabling. You need to know which companies serve which destinations in order to look up times of buses. Similarly, there are no tickets usable on all buses except a "Fusion" ticket, valid in the centre of Norwich only. As a result we waited until 11:10 for bus X3 to Dereham, when we could have taken an earlier and quicker bus, the X1.
Dereham (pronounced “deer’um) is a small town that we have visited before. There is not much to be said about it, but it does have one interesting feature: the Akaash Indian tandoori restaurant. It is also the place to get a bus to the Gressenhall Museum of Norfolk Life.
If ever you do take the bus there (number 7), be sure to tell the driver it is the museum you want, as the village, further on is also called Gressenhall and you wouldn’t want to get stuck there because there are very few buses on that route. For the same reason, check carefully the times of buses back to Dereham and make sure not to miss the last one.
Gressenhall has a working farm with rare breeds and you can visit it, as well as the pleasant walks and Victorian country gardens. There are some reconstructed village shops and a 1950s living room and kitchen, but Gressenhall’s main claim to fame is its workhouse.
Gressenhall workhouse opened in 1777 and closed in the 1930s. When it first opened, its regime was more liberal than that of the average workhouse but after the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1834 set basic standards for institutions of this kind, the regime became harsher.
There is much to be said for and against the workhouse system and Gressenhall’s "Workhouse Experience" helps situate these arguments in their context. The life of the inmates was unenviable, to say the least, and there is an irony in the fact that we can now visit the place – prettified in comparison with what it would have looked like in its heyday – and enjoy a meal or refreshments in the cafe sited in what used to be called the "Itch Ward", the room where all new inmates started their journey through the system, many of them suffering from afflictions that made the name appropriate.
If the farm and the workhouse are the two poles of the museum, there are plenty of other exhibits that, while coming under the concept of "Norfolk Life" form a less coherent pattern and it is easy for "museum fatigue" to set in.
After we had finished viewing, we had an hour to wait for a bus back to Dereham. That was when it started to rain. Fortunately, the rain didn’t last too long or the situation could have become uncomfortable.
We reached Dereham again about 5:45 and had to wait 15 minutes for Akaash to open at 6 pm. It was worth the wait and we had an enjoyable meal.
To return to Norwich, we took the X1. This bus arrives at Dereham with various destinations displayed on the front and even the bus staff we asked for advice were uncertain which one we should take. The answer is that to go to Norwich from Dereham, you take the X1 going to Lowestoft. The journey back was much shorter than to outward leg on the X3 because the X1 spent less time rambling around the countryside.
There were a few frustrations attendant on our bus travel today, mostly to do with poor information and bad timekeeping, but the day turned out well enough in spite of them.
The main focus of the day was the visit to Gressenham. Was it worth the effort and would we go again? I think it was worth the effort as it provided an opportunity to learn about an important element in British cultural history, but I doubt whether we shall go again as one visit suffices in my opinion.