Norwich 2010

Saturday, September 4th 2010

Our train was not until 10 am and as we had done most of our packing yesterday, we could afford a leisurely start this morning. The sun is shining once again, making another golden autumn day. The 205 carried us to Liverpool Street station where we had coffee and porridge at the Camden Food Co cafe.

Norwich station, interior
Norwich station, interior

We had reserved seats on the train (together this time!) but preferred a different pair of seats right at the end of the carriage. As I write, the train is trundling past the new Olympic Stadium on its way to Great Yarmouth. That is not our destination, however: we are travelling to Norwich, which will be our base for the week. We have rail rover tickets and will be exploring various parts of the region.


The journey was uneventful but the weather turned less cheerful and by the time we reached Norwich the sky was clouded over.

Norwich's rather handsome station exterior
Norwich’s rather handsome station exterior

The hotel is within sight of the station, just across the bridge over the river Wensum (remember that name – it might come in useful in a pub quiz!). It includes a commodious Caffè Costa where we went for refreshments.

A cup of coffee in Costa
A cup of coffee in Costa

There are two ways to reach hotel reception: you can go down the steps beside the river or, to avoid the steps when you have heavy bags, you have to leave the cafe, walk a few yards along the street and then descend the ramp into the car park – not the most inviting of entrances.

A view of the river
A view of the river

Although it was only about midday, they allowed us to check in as our room was ready. We are on the first floor with a small balcony that offers a view of the river and a distant glimpse of the castle.

A distant glimpse of the castle
A distant glimpse of the castle

The room is a comfortable size and the bed is long enough. Apart from Premier Inn’s usual squashy pillows, it is very comfortable.

In town in Norwich
In town in Norwich

We left the hotel and walked into town, heading for the Millennium Forum where there is a tourist information shop, which Tigger always likes to visit in each town we go to.

The Forum
The Forum

We then found our way to the bus station with the idea of taking a ride to some pleasant spot where we could also have lunch. It soon became apparent that while Norwich has plenty of buses run by various bus companies, it doesn’t have a unified timetable or map of services. To go anywhere, you need to know which company runs services there or which route numbers take you there. Not very helpful for a visitor.

Norwich bus station
Norwich bus station

The alternative is to ask someone who knows the bus services, which is what we did. The man at the information desk suggested that Thorpe St Andrew, being on the river, was a good place to go, and told us that buses 12 and 12A go there. We caught the 12A and asked the driver to let us know when we arrived. He had a colleague aboard with him and, chatting 19 to the dozen, they forgot about us.

Inside the Rushcutters
Inside the Rushcutters

We eventually got off of our own accord and walked back to where we had last seen the river. Coming upon a fine old pub called the Rushcutters, prettily situated beside the River Yare, we decided to prospect for lunch. Lunch was very good and afterwards we sat beside the water and fed the swans, ducks and geese.

Feeding the swans
Feeding the swans

We continued walking and arrived back in Thorpe St Andrew. There we had a look at the the parish church. This is interesting for the fact that there is a functioning church with, standing between it and the road, the ruins of an earlier church.

A busy bee A grazing hoverfly

We were told that in Victorian times, the church had been felt to be too small and so a new, larger one was built. Stones from the old church were incorporated into the new one but because of the Victorian love of romantic ruins, part of the old church was left standing.

The old tower The new tower
Thorpe St Andrew Episcopi, the old tower and the new

Whether or not this story is true, the ruins remain an unusual and intriguing foil to the current church.

We now caught a bus back to Norwich and went to the hotel to rest, thinking we might go out again later.


After I had written the above words, I felt sleepy and settled down for a nap. When I finally roused myself, it was 10:42 pm! That had put paid to the day. Neither Tigger nor I felt hungry (though I did finish off the box of Pringles we had opened on the train!).

Tree shared by doves and pigeons
Dozens of doves and pigeons shared this tree near the river in Thorpe
St Andrew. They seemed unafraid and allowed me to approach quite close

So we made tea and I uploaded my photos to the laptop and geotagged them, while Tigger pored over pamphlets and timetables collected from the tourist information shop and other places.

A pair of swans mirroring one another's movements
A pair of swans mirroring one another’s movements

Our rail rover tickets give us 3 days of travel, so we have the choice of assigning these days carefully and using buses the rest of the time or of buying a second rover ticket, giving us 6 days in all. Norwich itself is a beautiful as well as historically interesting city and if we decided to spend the day within its precincts, there would be plenty to see and do.

An impressive array of tankards at the Rushcutters
An impressive array of tankards at the Rushcutters

Sunday, September 5th 2010

It is our first full day and the weather seems to be holding. When I looked out of the bedroom window onto the river, I saw a Lesser Black-backed gull paddling back and forth like someone out for a stroll. It made a pleasant tranquil scene.

A Lesser black-backed gull takes his ease on the river
A Lesser Black-backed gull takes his ease on the river

As usual, we are not having breakfast at the hotel but will go out and see what is available. In a town like Norwich there must be some pub or cafe serving breakfast.

Then we shall have to decide what to do today.


Because it was Sunday and early, the streets were virtually deserted, making a strange contrast with their usual crowded state.

The usually busy streets were deserted
The usual busy streets were deserted

Even the beautiful Royal Arcade was empty and silent.

The Royal Arcade was empty and silent
The Royal Arcade was empty and silent

In the absence of jostling crowds we could take time to admire the decor, such as this stained glass window.

Stained glass window, Royal Arcade
Stained glass window, Royal Arcade

And we could see the beautiful floor tiling free from trampling feet.

Beautiful floor tiling
Beautiful floor tiling

Even the market was barely showing signs of life.

The market barely showing signs of life
The market barely showing signs of life

Sir Thomas Browne looked rather bored and lonely without his usual retinue of pigeons.

Sir Thomas Browne sans pigeons
Sir Thomas Browne sans pigeons

Although plenty of places advertise breakfast, all were closed, presumably because it’s Sunday today. Eventually, we settled for porridge and coffee at a branch of Starbuck’s. Then we followed the familiar path to the bus station.

Part of the justly famous Norwich Union building
Part of the justly famous Norwich Union building

We investigated bus services but found that each route we thought of taking didn’t run on Sundays. In view of this, we are staying in town. Fortunately, the weather is warm and sunny and it is pleasant to explore and take photos.

Just after 11 am, we found the Bell Hotel. This is a coaching inn of 18th century (though its origins go back to the 15th century), known also during part of its history as the Blue Bell. The front part of the building is occupied by Santander.

The Bell Hotel, 18th century coaching inn
The Bell Hotel, 18th century coaching inn

The other side of the building, however, still functions as a pub, and quite a pleasant one run by Wetherspoons. There we had Breakfast Part 2.

The Bell Hotel a la Wetherspoons
The Bell Hotel a la Wetherspoons

A mystery attends Norwich. This is an all-pervading stink of sewage, especially in the central area. It changes subtly during the day, sometimes taking on overtones of cheese. It is very noticeable and quite unpleasant.

Seeking travel information at the bus station, we asked the clerk the reason for it, but he claimed not to have noticed the smell. Perhaps he is inured to it and unconscious of it or frequents only those areas that are ventilated by the winds.

We have been to Norwich on previous occasions without suffering olfactory assault, so we are determined to find out the cause.


We plan to visit the Castle Museum but as this opens only at 1 pm, we have to fill in our time until then.

The multi-level Palace Mall
The multi-level Palace Mall

Across from the Bell is a shopping complex called The Castle Mall. It is a multi-level shopping centre of which most is below ground with only the roof, comprising a glass superstructure, being above ground. It is quite extensive and many familiar and less familiar retail names are represented within. Norwich is to be congratulated for burying a potential eyesore in this way.

The Castle gardens
The Castle gardens

From here we went up to the castle grounds. Today there are gardens in part of what would have been the dry ditch around the motte, and it is a climb from there to the present-day entrance to the Castle.

The Castle stands upon an impressive motte
The Castle stands upon an impressive motte

The Castle stands on an impressive hill or motte, giving it prominence and a masterful view over the surroundings. We read that the hill had been created artificially. That must have been a huge undertaking, especially in those days when only hand-held tools would have been available.

We started our tour by climbing this staircase
We started our tour by climbing this staircase

The Museum and Gallery consists of several parts. There is an entry fee but also extra charges for some of the other exhibitions. The castle had fallen into a ruinous condition and the present structure is not so much a restoration as a rebuild incorporating such parts of the original fabric as survived.

A rebuild incorporating surviving original parts
A rebuild incorporating surviving original parts

The castle’s main hall survives as a vast open space extending over two floors. It houses various exhibits, including modern style hands-on ones such as working models and garments to dress up in. To me this approach seems to be entertainment more likely to distract from the castle’s history than to illuminate it, but it is the modern style and few museum directors show the courage to depart from it.

The main hall of the Castle
The main hall of the Castle

The museum is large and we found that it contained more than we could comfortably view in one go. That is not a criticism but rather the opposite: a compliment to the noble effort and hard work that has produced such a wide range of exhibits. We were happy to leave some of it for another visit.

"Medieval" tapestry designed by Burne-Jones, Morris and Dearle
“Medieval” tapestry designed by Burne-Jones, Morris and Dearle

The museum covers the castle’s history from Norman times when it was built. Alongside this are departments setting out periods of the history of Norwich and Norfolk, beginning with the Roman invasion.

Native life and culture are illustrated and compared with those of the incoming Romans, with special reference to the powerful Iceni tribe who occupied this area and, under their Queen Boudicca, rose in revolt against the invader. The Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods are also covered.

I went down this spiral staircase and found it a bit of a squeeze
I went down this spiral staircase and found it a bit of a squeeze

There is an extensive art gallery, covering local painters and the Norwich school, and special exhibitions, one called Flashback, featuring works by Bridget Riley and another called Beatles to Bowie: the 60s exposed. Neither of these interested me but seemed to draw crowds, especially the second.

Having a chat in the castle toilet
Having a chat in the castle toilet

As if that were not enough, there is also a “wildlife” section though it might be better described as a collection of stuffed animals.

'Sanp' the Guild procession dragon
‘Snap’ the dragon, who caused amusing chaos in medieval Guild processions

Finally, from about the 15th to 18th century, the castle was used as a prison. By all accounts, conditions there were pretty appalling until the end the 18th century, when some rebuilding was done in line with prison reformers’ ideas. This long and inglorious part of the castle’s history is recalled with mock-ups of cells, showing the living conditions endured by the inmates.

The castle well
I felt somewhat queasy looking down into the castle well – a coin took
an
awfully long time to reach the bottom!

Fortunately, the museum also has a good cafe, which provides necessary rest and refreshment. We availed ourselves of both (twice!).

Suit of armour
‘E’s just popped out for a mo’

Leaving the museum at last (after a look around the museum shop which sells a slightly better range of goods than what is usual for museum shops) we made our way slowly on foot back to the hotel.

Trying on a chain mail glove
Trying on a chain mail glove

Today we didn’t fall asleep and around 7 pm set out to prospect for dinner. We could have gone downstairs to the hotel restaurant but that would have been too easy.

Evening falls in Norwich
Evening falls in Norwich

We found a good place and enjoyed a somewhat self-indulgent three-course supper, following this with a walk along the river. It was now becoming dark and Norwich was presenting its illuminated face to us. We walked back to the hotel along the river bank, enjoying the quiet and the play of lights on the water.

A walk along the river bank
A walk along the river bank

We have spent today entirely within the boundaries of Norwich but it was an enjoyable day. The castle museum exceeded my expectations, even though there is no longer much of the original castle fabric to be seen.

Back to the hotel
Back to the hotel

Norwich itself can bear a lot of exploring and in that sense will invite us to return in the future.

Monday, September 6th 2010

When I got up this morning my lower back felt sore. It was not as bad as one of the major onsets and even eased a little as I moved about. Just in case, though, I have put my folding walking stick in the bottom of my shoulder bag. All being well, it will stay there.

Norwich station, just across the road from the hotel
Norwich station, just across the road from the hotel

It is sunny again today, which is the first of our train days. The station is just across the road from the hotel (one reason why we chose this hotel) and we should find breakfast there too. With our rail rover tickets we can travel only after 9:30 so we have plenty of time.


There is usually one day when things go wrong and all being well, today’s the day for this trip.

The plan was to go to Stowmarket and we therefore took the 9:30 London train. The train stopped at Diss and then began to pull out but stopped after only a few yards. I noted the time as 9:48.

Jumping ship at Diss: the train still stuck in the station
Jumping ship at Diss: the train still stuck in the station

Nothing happened for several minutes though we noticed train staff and platform staff making their way to the front of the train. At last came an announcement that there were “track problems” between Diss and Stowmarket and it was not known by how long we would be delayed.

We waited at the bus stop
We waited at the bus stop

We waited until 10:15 and then jumped ship. Following our phone GPS we went down to the main road and found a bus stop. According to the timetable there would be a bus to Stowmarket at 11:15. We settled down to wait.

Moth taking a nap in the bus shelter
Moth taking a nap in the bus shelter

Several buses came and went but not the one for Stowmarket. In the end, at about 11:30, we gave up and boarded a bus for Ipswich.

A bus at last, if only for Ipswich
A bus at last, if only for Ipswich

Our bus rattled merrily through sunlit countryside on the way to Ipswich. Did we choose wisely in leaving the stranded train? All I can say is that I did not see the train leave the station by the time we belatedly boarded the bus. If we are not going to our intended destination, we are are least going somewhere, and this better than sitting for an indeterminate time on a motionless train.

Drivers stop to confer
Drivers stop to confer


The only inconvenience with taking inter-town buses is that, unlike the train, they do not go straight from A to B but divert again and again from the direct route to visit small towns and villages. This lengthens the journey by a considerable amount and as we pass through empty village after empty village where no one ever gets on or off, it seems to me a wasteful use of resources.

Lloyds Avenue, Ipswich
Lloyds Avenue, Ipswich

Why not have a local dial-a-ride service in these villages to take people to the main route when required, allowing the inter-town service to operate more efficiently?

Buskers
Buskers

We reached Ipswich around 1 pm and set out to look for lunch. The Cock and Pye pub proved to have a good menu with several vegetarian dishes.

The Cock and Pye
The Cock and Pye


After lunch, we walked through Ipswich down the "Historic Waterside". While there are some interesting buildings, Ipswich did not impress us particularly. The upset with the train and the non-appearance of the bus for Stowmarket made us late and impacted on our mood to some extent. It meant that one day of our rover tickets had been wasted.

Ipswich Waterside
Ipswich Waterside

We arrived at Ipswich station to find that services to and from Norwich were returning to normal but were still delayed. An announcement told us that the trouble had been a tree on the line. We thought to return to Norwich but a train arrived that would take us to Stowmarket, which is where we wanted to go to start with, so we went aboard.

The tower of St Lawrence
The tower of St Lawrence

Then it was announced that the first train to leave for Stowmarket would be the train on platform 3 – a train that we had previously been told wasn’t going anywhere. We grabbed our bags and ran. This was really the last straw as far as our mood was concerned. Not only were services disrupted by a fallen tree but the useless gonks running the show seemed unable to make up their minds where their trains were going when these actually ran.

Handsome pargetting
Handsome pargetting

In view of this we decided to give the day up as a bad job and return to Norwich, where this train is supposedly headed (we’ll believe it when we see it). Tomorrow we will use the buses in the hope that this will give the train companies time to sort themselves out.


At Norwich we crossed the road to the hotel but stopped off at the incorporated Costa coffee bar for a beverage before returning to our room. Later, when it was time for supper we took the easy course and went downstairs to the Nelson, the restaurant associated with the hotel. I would say the meal was adequate without being anything special.

Old Post Office
Old Post Office

All in all, this was a somewhat disappointing day. The failure of the railway system put a damper on matters and caused us to waste time. The trains were held up by a fallen tree which damaged or compromised the overhead power cables, something which sounds very much like negligence to me as there were no gales or other extreme weather conditions.

Stained glass window at St Stephens
Stained glass window at St Stephens

Admittedly, the buses also let us down, adding further to our troubles. I would like to know why the advertised Stowmarket bus failed to put in an appearance.

Almshouses 1550
Almshouses 1550

The good news is that the soreness in my back faded away and my walking stick remained folded in my bag.

However, tomorrow is another day and a slightly special one. If things go well this time, we can forget about today’s frustrations.

A somewhat eroded relief of a lion
A somewhat eroded relief of a lion

Tuesday, September 7th 2010

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.

Remains of city walls in Norwich
Remains of city walls in Norwich

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.

Sign celebrating Dereham's history
Sign celebrating Dereham’s history

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.

Prettily decorated cottage, Dereham
Prettily decorated cottage, Dereham

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.

The courtyard at Gressenhall
The courtyard at Gressenhall

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.

Piglets taking it easy on Gressenhall Farm
Piglets taking it easy on Gressenhall Farm

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.

Suffolk Punch horses, the main workhorse on Norfolk farms
Suffolk Punch horses, the main workhorse on Norfolk farms

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.

Hen Cat
Turkey Blackfaced sheep
A few more inmates of the farm

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.

Unlike some workhouses, Gressenhall had a schoolroom for younger children
Unlike some workhouses, Gressenhall had a schoolroom for younger children

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.

The village Post Office
The village Post Office

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.

Akaash Tandoori, Dereham
Akaash Tandoori, Dereham

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.

A scarecrow watches over the workhouse garden
A scarecrow watches over the workhouse garden

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 jolly grocer awaits you in the village shop
The jolly grocer awaits you in the village shop

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.

Enjoy a walk around Gressenhall
Enjoy a walk around Gressenhall

Wednesday, September 8th 2010

The day has started grey but it may brighten later as it did yesterday. Of more concern is that we both had slightly upset stomachs yesterday evening, with the usual consequences. Let’s hope that will not affect us today.


We took a bus to Wymondham. Ignore the "mo" and pronounce it "Wind’am".

Wymondham town square and market cross
Wymondham town square and market cross

The plan was to have a look around, perhaps visit the museum, and take a ride on the steam railway. Unfortunately, things didn’t go quite according to plan – Norfolk is turning out to be a rather frustrating place.

Curving village street
I love these curving village streets where you wonder what’s around the bend

We followed the sign for the steam railway but either we misunderstood or someone had turned the sign around. Either way, we ended up at the current railway station where we learnt that the steam railway was at Wymondham Abbey station, on the other side of town, and that we would be too late for the 10:30 departure.

Wymondham station
Wymondham station

Wymondham station is itself quite pretty and we had tea in the Brief Encounter Cafe, which is decorated in period style and with railway memorabilia.

Brief Encounters Cafe
Brief Encounters Cafe

We then visited the small Wymondham Heritage Museum (where photography is allowed) and then went to enquire about further travel in the tourist information office that is upstairs in the market cross.

Wymondham Museum recalls the Briton Brush Factory
Wymondham Museum recalls the Briton Brush Factory

We asked about going to Thetford. They said "It can’t be done". They tried to get us to spend the day in Wymondham (“Lots of people stay here all day”) but we had had enough of the place and wanted to move on.

Tourist Information: they don't like you leaving Wymondham
Tourist Information: they don’t like you leaving Wymondham

I don’t know what the people in this part of the country have against Theford (some dispute dating from medieval times perhaps?) but it is true that you cannot go there by bus. Not from Wymondham; not from Norwich. By National Express, yes; by train, yes; but by bus, no. Why not? Another piece of Norfolk nonsense?

I am told the unofficial motto of Norfolk is "Do different". I think it should be "Do cack-handed", as that would be nearer the truth.

The charmingly named Dancing Goat bookshop, Fakenham
The charmingly named Dancing Goat bookshop, Fakenham

Back at Norwich bus station, we decided to play bus bingo. A bus arrived for Fakenham and so we went aboard.


The bus ride was long but provided some interesting views. We reached Fakenham just after 2 pm and started looking for lunch. It turned out the most places stopped serving food at 2 pm. They must have seen us coming.

Fakenham town sign
Fakenham town sign

Fortunately, the owner of Becky’s Cafe is made of sterner stuff and we were able to get a meal there. We were even able to compose our own meal, not strictly according to the menu.

Fakenham has a Conservative Club. No surprise there, then.
Fakenham has a Conservative Club. No surprise there, then

Fakenham is a pleasant enough little town with a few features of interest. Unfortunately, by the time we had had our late lunch and looked around the antiques market in a disused church, the town was beginning to close down. Shops close at 4:30, for goodness’ sake.

Miller Walk
Miller Walk

According to the timetable at the bus stop, there would be an X29 back to Norwich at 4:30 pm. So we went there and waited. And waited. And waited. Buses came and went but none was ours. Then the driver of one of the buses reported that there had been a bomb alert at Kings Lynn bus station, causing it to be closed for 3 hours and delaying many of the buses.

The antiques market in a disused church
The antiques market in a
disused church

I might have been sympathetic if we had received good service up to this point but as we have in fact been let down consistently by both the trains and the buses over the previous 4 days, I saw this just as another piece of bungling incompetence.

Upper Market
Looking across Upper Market to the tower of St Peter & St Paul

As if to underline this point, shortly after we received this information, an X29 did arrive. It let off its passengers and, then, as we all moved to board it, the driver closed the doors, changed the sign to "Sorry, not in service" and drove off… Norfolk seems to be in need of training in customer service.

At 17:34, another X29 turned up and we were allowed to board this one.

Back in Norwich, we took a bus to the station and then walked along the river bank opposite where there are quite a few restaurants. We found one called Artorios that served "Mediterranean" food, including a good selection of vegetarian meze.

Lamp commemorating the coronation of Edward VII (1902)
Lamp commemorating the coronation
of Edward VII (1902)

Although we managed to explore a little and see two towns, this was another day of frustration because of poor performance by the bus companies. Even the first bus we took this morning was late to arrive.

I have grumbled about the early termination of bus services in Cornwall and described bus timetables in Wales as works of fiction, but I have never encountered bus services as shambolic and unhelpful as those here in Norfolk. Not only is there no integrated timetable, making it hard to plan journeys, but late running and failure of advertised services to appear make travel a nightmare.

Plenty of restaurants: Artorio's is along here somewhere
Plenty of restaurants: Artorio’s is along here somewhere

On the other hand, bus drivers were usually polite, amiable and helpful, often giving us the information that was not available where it should have been.

Thursday, September 9th 2010

It’s a sunny day today and one of our train days. For breakfast, we tried AMT on the station concourse as they at least have tables and chairs.

Looking out from AMT
Looking out from AMT

Norwich station is light and airy and the AMT cafe is glass fronted, giving a good view of the comings and goings of travellers. Our train is not until 9:45 so we have time to sit and watch the world go by.


Our train left on time, so let’s hope that today transport will run according to plan. The train goes to Sheringham but we will be getting out at Cromer. We have previously visited both places and while I disliked Sheringham, I was impressed by Cromer with its magnificent and historically interesting Hotel de Paris, and I hope a return visit will not disappoint.


There were no trees on the line today and no other untoward incidents. Our train reached Cromer as advertised, and we set out to explore.

Church Street, Cromer
Church Street, Cromer

We paid a visit to the museum which occupies a row of old cottages altered to accommodate the displays.

Victorian fisherman's cottage, Cromer Museum
Victorian fisherman’s cottage, Cromer Museum

The exhibits are mainly about Cromer and its history, with a section on the early autochrome colour photographer, Olive Edis, who I think should be better known for her work which is artistically excellent and throws valuable light on the life of her day.

Part of the Olive Edis exhibition
Part of the Olive Edis exhibition

As you can see, photography is allowed in Cromer Museum, for which the management deserves due credit.

The Jarrold name pops up all over Norfolk. They're quite good shops, too.
The Jarrold name pops up all over Norfolk. They’re quite good shops, too.

From there we progressed to the seafront and had lunch in the Lifeboat Cafe overlooking the beach and pier.

A view of the seafront, the pier and the Lifeboat Cafe
A view of the seafront, the pier and the Lifeboat Cafe

An autumn sun shone strongly from a blue sky merely streaked with white and we enjoyed it for a while, sitting on the pier.

On Cromer Pier
On Cromer Pier

Sited at the end of Cromer pier, is the very important Cromer lifeboat station which you can visit. As well as the hi-tech modern lifeboat itself, the station contains memorabilia, historical items and films about the service.

Lifeboat station: stained glass window depicting a rescue
Lifeboat station: stained glass window depicting a rescue

One of the notable features of Cromer is the Hotel de Paris. There have been several guesthouses and hotels on the site and the present building, a quirky individual design by George Skipper, was built in 1895-6. Last time we came to Cromer, we visited this hotel and took coffee in the lobby. We thought we would do so again.

The Hotel de Paris
The Hotel de Paris

The hotel now belongs to a chain but although it has been modernized, something of its original elegance and charm remains. Maybe we will manage to stay here for a few days or a weekend.

Lobby and main staircase, Hotel de Paris
Lobby and main staircase, Hotel de Paris

A bit later we dropped into the Buttercup Tearooms next door for an excellent cream tea, one of the best I’ve had in recent times.

Buttercup Tearooms
Buttercup Tearooms

Casting around for somewhere to go to finish the day, we took a bus to Sheringham. I was not keen on the idea because when I went there before I hated it. I went along with the idea, however, thinking that this time I might receive a better impression of the place. I did not.

Sheringham, a general feeling of tackiness
Sheringham, a general feeling of tackiness

Sheringham is a victim of its own success and as so often happens, the influx of tourists to a popular resort destroys the very qualities that made it attractive to start with and reduces it to the lowest common denominator – pointless "gift shops", garish games arcades, fast food outlets infecting the atmosphere with the stink of rancid cooking oil and a general feeling of tackiness.

The 1862 water tower
The 1862 water tower

One feels that under the scabs, a pretty seaside town is struggling to get out. Will it ever reappear? No, I don’t think so either. If I were a citizen of Sheringham, I would feel badly let down by the town planners who allow this degradation to occur.

Sheringham steam railway station
Sheringham steam railway station

There is one feature that slightly redeems the place and that is the steam railway with its period station, lovingly restored by enthusiasts, and vintage trains that run on its track. For railway fans, amateurs of British history or simply those who love to spice their holidays with a tingle of nostalgia, this is somewhere to visit and sample the delights on offer.

The two stations at Sheringham
The two stations at Sheringham

There are two railway stations at Sheringham, the old steam railway station and the modern nondescript one. As you can see from the photo, they are separated only by a narrow road. We noticed that the tracks in the old and modern stations have been joined, raising the possibility that one day steam trains could again run on the main line.

Our train arrives (on time!)
Our train arrives (on time!)

We took the (modern) train out of Sheringham and returned to Norwich. For supper we took a light repast at Frankie and Bennie’s and then retired to the hotel.

Frankie & Bennie's
Frankie & Bennie’s

In any other part of the UK, I wouldn’t bother to mention that both the trains and the buses turned up as advertised and ran on time, but as that is by no mean usual in Norfolk, I have made a point of it. For the first time since arriving here, we enjoyed a day without frustrations caused by shortcomings of public transport.

Swan on a darkling river
Swan on a darkling river

I don’t claim that the above photo is a good one. It was taken on the river bank beside the hotel, in darkness, without flash, and with only incidental lights. In the circumstances, it was surely a good try!

Cromer Pier (note the lifeboat slipway at the end)
Cromer Pier (note the lifeboat slipway at the end)

Friday, September 10th 2010

It’s a grey wet day today and a little chilly. Still, after a week of dry warm weather we shouldn’t grumble. We had breakfast in the Costa coffee bar attached to the hotel, which we could reach by going through the hotel lobby and restaurant, avoiding the weather.

Hypnotic arches on Norwich station
Hypnotic arches on Norwich station

The rain had eased off by the time we crossed the road to the station but the sky remains grey and overcast. Umbrellas are out in force in the streets and people are wearing warmer clothes. It’s as though autumn has finally declared itself after allowing the summer to linger on in its place.

"Hello...? Hello...? I'm on the train..."
“Hello…? Hello…? I’m on the train…”

We took the 9:40 Cambridge train, intending to change at Ely to a connection for King’s Lynn. Oddly, this destination is not included within the scope of our rail rover passes, so we may have to buy separate tickets for the last leg of the journey.


As we progressed towards Ely, the sky lightened and there was even a brief moment of sunshine. After that, however, the clouds closed in and the rain started again, heavier than before.

Bicycles on Ely station
Bicycles on Ely station

At Ely station, we had a wait of 13 minutes, enough to change platforms and buy return tickets to King’s Lynn.

Sparrows keep busy on the station
Sparrows keep busy on the station

The land around here is famously flat but the view from the rain-streaked windows of the train are closed by mist.


We stepped out of King’s Lynn’s small but neat station building at 11:20 am and proceeded to explore the town.

King's Lynn station
King’s Lynn’s small but neat station

These chubby (and somewhat grubby) cherubs sit atop an ornate fountain in St James’s Park. The fountain was presented to the town in 1903 by the Mayor, one F.J. Carpenter.

Chubby cherubs in St James's Park
Chubby cherubs in St James’s Park

This is Greyfriars Tower, the only above-ground remains of the Franciscan friary that was closed in 1538 on Henry VIII’s orders. In 1577, a new prison was built and many of the stones of the friary were carted away as building materials.

Greyfriars Tower
Greyfriars Tower

There are many carved and sculpted heads to be seen around King’s Lynn. Here is a selection.

The Scholar The beast The Sun
Some carved heads around King’s Lynn

We had a good lunch in a branch of Prezzo (which had some rather fine prints on the wall), and then continued on our way.

We had lunch in Prezzo
We had lunch in Prezzo

King’s Lynn is a pretty town, well worth exploring. On a dull and damp day like today, however, we had three destinations in mind, all of them museums. The first was the King’s Lynn Custom House, built in 1685 and situated on the Purfleet Quay.

King's Lynn Custom House
King’s Lynn Custom House

The Custom House was set up to extract revenue from Lynn’s extensive overseas trading with, among others, the Hanseatic League. Customs officials operated on the ground floor and the upper floors were used for trade.

Custom House clock
Custom House clock

The Custom House is free to visit and you can take photographs. Inside, its history and that of Lynn as a trading port, is explained and illustrated with models and with items surviving from the period such as the “Parliament clock” above, so called because for a brief period, Parliament taxed clocks and even when the tax was removed, the name remained.

George Vancouver
George Vancouver

In front of the Custom House stands this rather green statue of George Vancouver , a son of Lynn and a famous navigator after whom Vancouver Island is named.

Picturesque Kings Staith Lane
Picturesque Kings Staith Lane

Our next port of call was the Town House Museum, which covers the lives of the inhabitants of Lynn from medieval times to the 1950s. Again we were able to take photos.

17th century room
A 17th century room A
19th century kitchen
A 19th century room
1950s living room
A 1950s room

Nearby in Church Street is a venerable old building called St Margaret’s Church. Now you know that I don’t go in for the superstitious twaddle dispensed by these places but this church does have an interesting feature, a tide clock. Instead of the more usual numerals, there are 12 letters spelling out LYNN HIGH TIDE.

Lynn's Tide Clock
Lynn’s Tide Clock

We now moved to the Lynn Museum of Norfolk Life, where again we were allowed to take photos. In this respect, the museum authorities in King’s Lynn are enlightened and deserve to be recognized as such.

An early inhabitant of Norfolk
An early inhabitant of Norfolk

The museum covers the history of Norfolk from the earliest times but at present pride of place is given to the 4,000-year-old Seahenge, a structure similar in design to Stonehenge but made of wood. Because this artifact is so large, it cannot be displayed, let alone photographed, in its reconstructed entirety. This model gives an impression of what it was like.

Seahenge
Seahenge

Because of encroachment by the sea, Seahenge would soon have been overwhelmed and eventually destroyed. Archaeologists therefore decided to uproot it and carry it to safety in the museum. Unfortunately, this decision proved controversial. Some people apparently wanted it to be left where it was, to be lost, instead of saving it for the benefit of science and the pleasure and edification of future generations.

The central stump
The central stump

Above is pictured the strange upturned tree stump that was in the centre of the complex. I think it’s in pretty good condition for a 4,000-year-old oak tree.

The museum contained many other interesting sections and would require quite some time to do it all justice but I will – self-indulgently – mention only one further item.

Cat's head in wood
Cat’s head in wood

Anything feline catches my attention, and this cat with its bold expression and distant gaze, demanded to be photographed. The card described it thus: “A wooden carved prototype for Lefevre’s Jumping Cat’s fairground roundabout, made by Savage’s of Lynn, circa 1880”.


Despite the weather, our day out in King’s Lynn was a success. The town itself is very pleasant and contains many beautiful old buildings (I have not done it justice in that respect – perhaps another time) and has many interesting things to learn about and some good museums to entertain and educate us.

Our return journey to Norwich was without incident and, as it was our last night here, we finished off the evening with a meal in the hotel restaurant.

King's Lynn's Corn Exchange, 1854
King’s Lynn’s Corn Exchange, 1854

Saturday, September 11th 2010

This is the day we return to London but as our train does not depart until this evening, we still have time to spend here and some idea of how to spend it. A quick look around the curtains shows that is it not raining at the moment, at least. Let’s hope it stays dry today but, if not, we have indoor activities to keep us occupied.

A view from Fye Bridge
A view from Fye Bridge

I am packed and ready. As my old wheelie bag was showing signs of wear and even had a few holes, it was safer to buy a new one, which I did yesterday evening in King’s Lynn. Seeing bags and cases of various sizes side by side in the shop, it is hard to gauge which of them is the same size as the one back at the hotel. As a result, I have bought one that is larger than I need. My possessions will be rattling about inside it like the pea in a whistle. On the other hand, there will be room for any late purchases of Tigger’s that she cannot accommodate in her own luggage🙂

The house of Henry Bacon, Sheriff of Norwich in 1548
The house of Henry Bacon, Sheriff of Norwich in 1548

We will evacuate our hotel room and have our bags kept for us to collect this evening prior to boarding the train. This is where it pays to have a hotel near the station.


We had breakfast in Costa and then took a bus to Magdalen Road. We were intending to visit Strangers’ Hall but were earlier than the advertised opening time and need to find a way to wait. Tigger was seemingly impressed with Magdalen Road and some of the buildings but to me it seemed just another dull suburban street with the usual selection of grubby shops.

Looking up St John Madder Market
Looking up St John Madder Market

Strangers’ Hall is one of a succession of buildings put up on this site since the 13th century or even earlier. The heart of the present structure is the Great Hall built in the 15th century by a wealthy merchant.

Looking down into the Hall from the gallery
Looking down into the Hall from the gallery

Rather than being conceived as a whole and designed by an architect as such, the Hall grew by accumulation as successive owners extended it and added rooms.

The Walnut Room
The Walnut Room

Because it was owned and cherished by wealthy and powerful citizens (who often served as mayors of Norwich) the Hall survived and was adapted internally, and to a lesser extent externally, to reflect new fashions in decor  and furnishing instead of simply being demolished and replaced.

The Regency Music Room
The Regency Music Room

Today there are rooms decorated and furnished to give an impression of how they might have appeared at different historical periods such as the Tudor, the Georgian and the Victorian.

A quiet corner for writing letters
A quiet corner for writing letters

The name Strangers’ Hall derives from the arrival in the later 1500s of cloth weavers from the Low Countries, invited to support the weaving trade that already existed in the region. These were the "strangers" (the word perhaps meant "foreigners" then) who first lodged in the Hall before finding their own accommodations in the town.

The Victorian Dining Room
The Victorian Dining Room

Normally, you have to pay a small fee to enter the house that is now run as a museum and supported by volunteers who explain features of the building and its history and conduct guided tours, but because today is Heritage Open Day when a lot of building are open to the public, entry was free.

The Kitchen
The Kitchen

The house is certainly worth a visit if you are interested in history and historic buildings.

After visiting Strangers’ Hall, we returned to the centre of town and had lunch in Pulse, a cafe bar with a big selection of vegetarian food and drink.

Pulse Cafe Bar, above Rainbow Wholefoods
Pulse Cafe Bar, above Rainbow Wholefoods

The question now was how to spend the rest of the afternoon. The early greyness had turned into showery weather, despite a brief sunny interval after lunch. Following our experience of bus delays and failures to appear, I wasn’t keen on the idea of going for a ride out of town in case we became stranded and missed the train.

The river from Riverside Road
The river from Riverside Road

So we returned to the hotel and settled in the lounge which is beside the river, where we could relax, chat and read (or blog!).


After some time, the sun came out so we went for a walk, first in the hotel garden then along the riverside until we found the way blocked and had to divert around the buildings.

The pond in the hotel garden
The pond in the hotel garden

We crossed the small pedestrian bridge and made our way to a bus stop. As we are taking the 6 pm train and will therefore be getting home fairly late, we thought it would be a good idea to have a light meal before departure and went to the town centre to find a restaurant or cafe.

A medieval survivor: the Dragon Hall
A medieval survivor: the Dragon Hall

Unfortunately, it was now the Silly Hour for restaurants, when they have closed after lunch and not yet opened for the evening. We took the bus once more and returned to the hotel where we collected our bags. Then we crossed to the station and had a snack in the Pumpkin cafe there, not quite what we had had in mind, but it would have to do.


We had reserved seats on the train but the reservation cards had not been put out. According to our seat numbers, we would have been placed diagonally at a table where someone was already sitting. Fortunately, the train was only lightly occupied so we were able to find seats that suited us better. As the train carried us to London, the sun sank slowly towards the horizon and we enjoyed a very pretty sunset.

Goodbye, Norwich, but I expect we'll be back
Goodbye, Norwich, but I expect we’ll be back

At Liverpool Street station we managed to storm the 214 bus and stack our bags in the front luggage rack. At the Angel, we left by the front door instead of trying to wrestle our bags along the aisle to the back door.

And here we are, home once more!

SilverTiger in Strangers' Hall
SilverTiger in Strangers’ Hall

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