Monday, June 22nd 2009
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I am writing this lying on the bed in our minuscule hotel room in Great Yarmouth. You never know quite what you will get at the cheaper end of the market and I suppose this isn’t too bad, given that we will only sleep and have the odd cup of tea here.
We were given the choice of two rooms, one on the ground floor and one upstairs which, said the receptionist cum waiter cum barman, has a better view. Looking across recreation grounds we can just make out the sea.
We could have taken a taxi from the station but decided to try walking with the option of taking a bus if we found a stop. In fact, we walked the whole way and this took us about 20 minutes. The sun has welcomed us to Yarmouth and the walk probably did us some good after being cooped up in the train.
For two big people to move about this room will require some careful choreography.
Everything is more or less stowed away and we are relaxing with a cup of tea. There is an electric clock on the wall with a rather loud tick. It sounds somewhat like the pendulum beat of a grandfather clock. According to this, it is 1:16 and we plan to go out at 1:30 and look for lunch.
As planned, we went out and started to walk along the Promenade. Our hotel is at the northern side of the town, so we walked roughly south. Perhaps because it is a weekday, the place is fairly quiet. The beach is nearly deserted and many of the funfair rides are empty and waiting for customers.
We decided on the Europa hotel restaurant for lunch as they had several vegetarian dishes. We had a good lunch, stretching to the full three courses as it was the first day of our holiday.
After lunch we continued along the prom, as far as the Britannia monument celebrating Nelson’s victories.
Having walked this far, we took the bus back to the town, getting off more or less at random. We explored the streets and found the market but by now everything was closing down for the evening.
We went onto the beach and lay on a blanket in the sun for perhaps half an hour. Both of us dozed off for a while and when I awoke, I felt rather chilly, so we returned to the hotel where we made tea and sketched plans for the rest of the holiday.
We have rover tickets providing three days of unlimited rail travel. On the other days we will use the buses. There are plenty of places to visit so we should have no trouble filling in our time.
Around 8pm we ventured forth again with an idea of seeking an evening meal. Tigger had earlier spotted a couple of Indian restaurants and we made for the nearest of these, the Saffron Tandoori.
In the absence of thali, we choose some dishes to share. The decor of the restaurant was clean and interesting, the service polite and efficient. The food seemed freshly and carefully prepared but even so I would say it was only average and rather bland.
After eating, we went for a walk, and took some more photos. By now it was quite chilly outside and we were happy to go back to the hotel.
Tuesday, June 23rd 2009
Today is warm and sunny, so an expedition is in view.
We went down to breakfast and found the dining room in the basement. Knowing we were vegetarian, the cook came out and asked us what we could eat – an unusual degree of solicitude.
We are going to use one of our rover train days today. All routes start at Norwich (or “Narch”, as we have taken to calling it in a caricature of the local pronunciation), so we shall inevitably have to start each train journey by going to Narch.
Tigger gathered a collection of railway timetables at the station and set to work with her highlighter. The upshot of this was a plan to go to Lowestoft. Having missed the 9:17, we are having to wait for the 10:17 to Narch. In future we will try to get here earlier though with breakfast starting at 8:30, it won’t be easy.
Arriving at Lowestoft, Britain’s most easterly railway station, just before midday, we walked into town and spied Godfrey’s department store where we had coffee and toasted tea cakes in the Library Cafe.
Then we went on a long walk, first along the High Street, then Battery Green Road, following the edge of the sea on the sea defences. We thought we might visit the Maritime Museum. The coast is rocky here and not fit for bathing.
When we eventually reached the museum, we found it was closed for refurbishment. Along this part of the coast, a number roads, called “scores”, climb back up to the High Street. Each score has steps in order to reach the necessary height. We went up via Mariner’s Score, with its long staircase that becomes steeper towards the top.
The High Street, sometimes referred to as the Old High Street, contains a mixture of buildings of different ages. Many of them were built in the 1800s and display their dates proudly.
On the left is the building that is reputedly Lowestoft’s oldest house, a high quality merchant’s house (now including a shop) with parts dating from the 15th century.
We stopped for a drink and a rest and realized that with the heat, we were quite tired. Nonetheless we continued walking along the High Street all the way back to the station.
Even though we have by no means explored all of Lowestoft, we felt we had done enough for one day and waited for the 16:47 Norwich train. We had learnt from this morning’s journey that this train goes on to Yarmouth so we could simply stay aboard.
Lowestoft provided some interesting sights and we found some beautiful old buildings but I cannot say it particularly charmed me. I recognize, however, that we saw only part of it and so for now I will reserve judgement.
Arriving back in Yarmouth, we walked into town, past the Town Hall with its tall bell tower, and looked for our evening meal. We saw the Bombay Nite and decided to try it. We had a similar selection of dishes to those of the night before but the food was much better, as we both agreed.
After a final visit to the beach we returned to the hotel and made tea. We are both tired from our long walks in the sun and as I write this, at 8:30pm, I think Tigger is already asleep.
As we went by train today, tomorrow will probably be a day of bus travel.
Wednesday, June 24th 2009
Below you see the hotel breakfast room. It is in the basement. When you enter the dimly lit room, it is natural to be attracted by the light from the windows. Every table has a number on it corresponding to a room in the hotel. You are supposed to sit at the table corresponding to your room number even though there have never been more than two other tables occupied while we were having breakfast. If you sit at the window, you are gently led back to your correct table.
It’s another warm sunny day today, so much so that I have finally relinquished my jacket and gone into shirtsleeves like everyone else. Those who know me, know what a momentous step that is!
The fine weather made it a good day to visit King’s Lynn. As we are riding the buses today, the journey is quite a long one. I am not a fan of long bus rides because the knee room is usually limited and the seats not very comfortable and I end up feeling cramped. Nonetheless, bus rides can be more fun than train journeys, especially where the roads are narrow and winding.
We started by walking to the bus station where we boarded the X1 bus. ‘X’ stands for “express” but the trip still takes about 2 hours 20 minutes. If necessary, you can break your journey at various points as the buses run every 30 minutes during the day.
Shortly after arriving at Kings Lynn, we went for lunch. We found Antonio’s on Baxter Plain. The food was good (and there was a lunch-time deal, too) though the service was rather slow.
After lunch we started to tour the town starting with the Custom House, which is nowadays a visitor information centre and museum explaining King’s Lynn’s trading history and membership of the Hanseatic League.
At one time, Kings Lynn comprised two towns, not just one, and each had its own market. Today, the Saturday Market and the Tuesday Market still take place in their respective venues.
Kings Lynn is a beautiful town and there are enough buildings and views to keep a photographer happy for days, let alone a few hours. Here is just a small sample.
From Kings Lynn we took the X1 back towards Norwich but with the intention of breaking the journey along the way. Our first stop was at Swaffham where we had a drink at the King’s Arms. Here they regaled us with stories of the pub ghost which, among other things, was naughty enough to pinch the bottom of the landlord’s girlfriend while she was in the bathroom.
We caught the next bus and stopped at Dereham, where the poet William Cowper died in 1800, apparently.
We discovered the Akaash Tandoori restaurant and as it was now 7pm it seemed reasonable to have dinner.
We ordered a vegetable thali and it was very good. By the time we had finished the meal, the running interval of the X1 had decreased to 60 minutes. We therefore wanted to be sure we caught the 20:34 which would take us all the way back to Great Yarmouth. Fortunately, we managed this comfortably.
The bus ride to Gt Yarmouth was uneventful. At the bus station we had the prospect of a walk to the hotel but we decided that as we had taken plenty of exercise yesterday and today we could justify taking a cab.
What a luxurious end to the day!
Thursday, June 25th 2009
Today the sky is slightly overcast with a pale sun breaking through intermittently. It is warm, though, and perhaps a little humid.
We are using the second of our train days and heading north. Hoping for the best, we went down to breakfast early and and then rushed off to the station and surprised ourselves by being just in time for the 9:17 Norwich train.
At Norwich we had nearly an hour to wait for our connection so we crossed the bridge to the Premier Inn which has a Costa coffee bar within it. You can choose the window seats overlooking the river or the ultra-soft difficult-to-get-out-of settees. Tigger calls these “Nemi couches” and if you have been following the Nemi strip in the Metro, you will know why.
In due course, we returned to the station and boarded the 10:45 for Sheringham, our target. The sky has cleared somewhat and the sunshine is more continuous. The temperature has risen in consequence and it promises to be a very warm day.
Sheringham station is a one-platform terminus. There is only one way out of the station but this fortunately places you within sight of the Poppyline Railway, a steam service run, as these usually are, by enthusiasts. We didn’t ride on the train but we had coffee in the station buffet and explored the station, including a signal box that no longer functions but can be visited.
After this agreeable interlude, we went into the town and at this point I nearly wrote off Sheringham completely. I expect that Sheringham was once a pleasant seaside town whose main street curved gently down to the sea, whereas today… Well, imagine collecting all the worst bits of Brighton or Southend – the “gift shops” selling rubbish, amusement arcades, chip shops exuding the stink of rancid oil – and you have some idea of this section of Sheringham.
We had lunch at the Crown Inn and then took a turn around the town away from the horrid main street. Here I was agreeably surprised. These streets are quieter, the houses pretty, many with well-kept gardens or decorated with flowers.
Then there is also the sea. Fortunately, the beach seems relatively untouched and the gentle sigh of the waves under a blue sky was reassuring. Perhaps if we had stayed longer we might have gained a more complete and more positive impression of Sheringham.
On the other hand. plenty of people enjoy what the stinking high street has to offer. though I will be in no hurry to return.
We took the 14:46 train out of Sheringham. It was 10 minutes late but this did not worry us too much as we intended to travel only two stops, that is, to Cromer, billed as “The Gem of the Norfolk Coast”.
So how gemlike was Cromer? I preferred it to Sheringham though that may be a little unfair as it is a bigger town and therefore has a greater range of interest.
The highlight of our short visit was perhaps our visit to the Hotel de Paris. This must once have been a splendid hotel, a place of elegance and luxury. It has come down-market somewhat from its heyday but the decor is still beautful.
We went into the lobby and asked if we could have coffee and while we drank it, we photographed our surroundings.
After this we continued our tour and sat for a while overlooking the sea and trying to photograph black-headed gulls swooping overhead.
Then it was time to make for the station and the 17:00 train. It was no surprise that this one too was late.
This train took us to North Walsham, where we had a little walk around the town centre. We spent too little time there to get a more than a cursory view of it but it seems a pleasant little town.
We returned to the station for the 18:17 train to Norwich and thence back to Great Yarmouth. There, we made our way to the Jaipur Indian restaurant (do you notice a pattern here?) as we had not yet tried it. I think it was about average and that Akaash in Dereham is still the best of those we have sampled so far.
Tigger tried a new way back to the hotel. I will admit to being lost but I just left it to Tigger and her inner pigeon. She led us unerringly to our destination and en route we visited the Fisherman’s Hospital, a beautiful old building, built in 1710, originally conceived on the pattern of almshouses for poor fishermen.
We were soon back at the hotel where we made tea and rested from the day’s wanderings.
Friday, June 26th 2009
Today the sky is overcast and there is fog dimming the distance and shrouding the tops of tall buildings. Will it clear later or turn to rain?
We took a long walk through town on the way to the bus station and encountered another example of shameful neglect and waste.
This handsome building was once the College of Art and Design and Arts Centre. It closed in 1996, apparently because of falling student recruitment. Fair enough, but why has this handsome and potentially useful building been left to rot and be vandalized? What a disgrace.
The plan is to go for a boat ride but we have to go via Lowestoft to find a service that runs today, because, for some strange reason, none of the others operate on Fridays.
At Lowestoft there was some confusion as to the bus to take. We were told the 102 went to our destination by the driver denied it. We checked again and were then told which stop to ask for. Drivers apparently know the names of their stops but not necessarily the names of the places where these stops are.
At the second attempt we caught the 102 and asked for the Commodore Mission in Hall Road, the stop for Oulton Broad and the Waveney River Tours.
Having stopped for a snack lunch at Crispies cafe, we found we still had a while to wait until the time of the tour but we weren’t displeased because the harbour presents a beautiful aspect, enhanced by the sun that had finally appeared. The place abounds with water fowl—swans, ducks, geese and others—which are always active and interesting to watch (see top picture). I was particularly taken by this pretty goose, though I don’t know what species it is. (See Note added later below.)
The River tour takes you along part of the Oulton Broad, turns back and branches off along the Waveney River, turns again and follows its path back to the mooring. This takes about 2 hours and is quite enjoyable, taking you at a sedate pace through beautiful scenery with water fowl, dragon flies and riverine birds to add interest.
When we landed, we had a drink in The Wherry, a quayside hotel with a restaurant and bar open to the public. We had a J2O and a double espresso for which they managed to charge us £6.20, which I think is exorbitant.
It turned out to be harder to get away from Oulton Broad than it had been to get there. I won’t go into boring details but simply say that when a bus turned up that was going to Carlton Colville, we took it, on the basis that it was at least going somewhere. Even the bus driver found it hard to believe we really wanted to go there.
“Carlton Colville? There’s nothing there…”
When I realized the bus went to Lowestoft first, I was all for getting off there but Tigger wanted to see Carlton Colville, so to Carlton Colville we went.
The bus driver was right: there’s nothing there. Well, to be precise, there are two pubs, The Bell and the Old Red House. The bus driver kindly took us to the latter and dropped us off and we waited there for the next bus out.
This took us back to a virtually deserted Lowestoft bus station where we had a half-hour wait for the 19:48 King’s Lynn bus which would deposit us at the bus station in Great Yarmouth.
We had our evening mail in the Alexandra restaurant in Regent Street. We also had a long and pleasant conversation with the young woman who served us, the daughter of the proprietors.
It has been a long day and the heat was a factor because after a grey start the sun came out and then shone all day, although it remained humid.
Tomorrow we shall pass over some of the ground covered today, although our destination and main visit will not be the same.
Note added later
My “pretty goose” turns out to be an Egyptian Goose (Alopochen aegyptiacus). For more information, see here.
Saturday, June 27th 2009
The sky is grey again today and the atmosphere humid and misty. We didn’t manage to get to the station in time for the 9:17 so we took a walk to fill in time until the 10:08.
We had a look at the church of St Nicholas and at the North-West Tower, built 1344, which is part of the old town walls, surviving today as an architect’s office.
While we were exploring, a siren began to sound. The noise was eerily similar to the air-raid warnings of WWII. At first we assumed it was a test but when the siren continued wailing we asked an elderly native what its significance was. He informed us that it was a flood warning. Let’s hope we will not find the town under water when we return this evening.
In its day, Great Yarmouth was an important town and can boast a long history.
Sadly, it has not made anything of this. Unlike Kings Lynn, for example, it has allowed its historic treasures – of which the North-West Tower is one – to remain uncelebrated and to slide into oblivion. The column erected to Nelson has been rescued and renovated, however, and perhaps this is a sign that interest in Gt Yarmouth’s heritage is beginning to revive, although it’s already rather late.
The 10:08 is non-stop to Norwich where we transferred to the 10:57 Lowestoft train. As we have plenty of time, we had hoped to break our journey at Reedham but are out of luck because this train too is non-stop to its destination. It’s ironic how you get the fast trains when you don’t want them.
We left the train at Oulton Broad – the same place we had visited yesterday by bus. Moreover, we now took the bus to Carlton Colville, the place of which our bus driver yesterday had said “There’s nothing there.”
There is something there:and that is what we had come to see: The East Anglian Transport Museum. Today it is open only between 2 and 5pm which is why we had wanted to visit Reedham first. In the event, we went for a walk and had lunch at The Bell, the pub we did not go to yesterday.
After lunch we still had some time to wait so walked slowly to the museum and waited half an hour or so for them to open.
We rode on everything moving: a London Transport electric trolley bus, a double-deck Blackpool tram, a single deck Netherlands tram and the narrow gauge railway. Of all of those my favourite was possibly the trolley bus. I would like to see these quiet, non-polluting vehicles make a comeback in our cities but I cannot imagine that this will occur.
There are various other exhibits of interest to historians or people of a nostalgic disposition. It turned out that 3 hours was sufficient to see all that was on offer. Like all museums run by volunteers, this one has difficulty recruiting staff, especially for the less glamorous jobs such as the cafe, but I hope the museum will survive and carry its many projects to completion.
On emerging from the museum, we found that we would have to wait for nearly an hour for a bus. We decided to walk further along towards Oulston Broad in the hope of finding a wider choice of buses. This turned out to be a bad idea. We walked a considerable distance and then waited for an hour at a bus stop without seeing more than one bus which was going only a short distance.
We were by now very tired so we decided to walk to a Tesco store and filling station and ask whether they had a phone number for a cab. They kindly phoned for a cab and this took us and out aching feet to Oulston Broad North station.
We had an hour before our train so went for dinner to the Indian restaurant that occupies the old station building. We hurried through the meal, which was very good, only to find that the train was late.
The train eventually arrived and carried us first to Norwich and then to Great Yarmouth. We dozed during much of the two legs of the journey and still felt tired enough at journey’s end to take a taxi to the hotel.
This was our last full day in Norfolk. Tomorrow we return to London.
Sunday, June 28th 2009
When we went down to breakfast today, we took our bags with us and asked for them to be kept until we called for them later.
We strolled down to the bus station for the last time and took the X1 to Gorleston. We didn’t have time to see much and perhaps there wasn’t much to see in any case.
After this briefest of forays, we took a bus back to Great Yarmouth bus station and looked for a taxi. We took the taxi to the hotel where we recovered our luggage and then continued on to the station.
Our tickets were for the 13:22 to Norwich but as we had nothing else to do, we took the 12:18. We would have to wait again at Norwich but we suspected it might be cooler in the waiting room there and it turned out that it was.
For lunch, we had bought sandwiches and yogurt at Great Yarmouth and ate half while waiting for the 12:18 and the other half in the waiting room at Norwich.
Because of rail works, we cannot travel by train all the way to London but will have to transfer to a rail replacement bus for one section of the journey.
The 14:00 departed on time and delivered us at Ipswich without incident. Cramming a trainful of passengers onto several coaches is always going to lead to a certain degree of chaos. Having done this before, we made for the last coach, and got good seats just behind the driver.
At Marks Tey, we found that no reservations had put out. Our reservations were therefore useless though we managed to get seats without too much trouble.
There are no racks for luggage on this train – how are operators allowed to get away with this? – and we have had to stuff our bags as best we can on the parcel rack. I just hope if any one is injured by a bag falling on him, he will sue the rail company for thousands.
This final leg of the journey went off normally and we arrived safely back in London. As we left the train and walked along the platform, I felt the old happy sensations: we were home again!
Great Yarmouth has been a success, not so much that town itself, though it has good points, but our travels around the region that have renewed our acquaintance with some familiar places and introduced us to some new ones.
Will we return? Quite likely, though next time we may prefer to base ourselves in Norwich itself to save the daily trip into that city in order to transfer to other trains or buses.