Sunday, April 06, 2008

Norwich & Norfolk

I had a wonderful weekend at the end of March staying in Norwich and exploring some parts of Norfolk that I have never been too before. The Friday travelling there was not pleasent at all, it was raining virtually the whole way and it didn't help that it was also windy. Nevertheless the journey there, via London, was relatively painless.

When I arrived at Norwich, I thought that I would walk to the Travelodge where I was staying, confident that according to my map it wasn't far too walk. In truth it was probably only about a 15 minute walk but I made into a half-hour hike through the pouring rain and lashing winds because as always my overconfidence in my sense of direction saw me walking completely the wrong way and making a very circuitous detour to the hotel. I was surprised to find that it had been almost five years since I had last been to Norwich and my knowledge of the city had certainly become rusty over that time!

Friday afternoon once I'd arrived and dried off was spent exploring Norwich, which is a great city with lots to do and I am reminded is one of the top shopping destinations in the UK. It has some fine buildings including the castle, cathedral and the relatively new Forum. I visited the cathedral on Friday, which I hadn't actually intended to do, it was a case that I was in that area and I like looking around these magnificent buildings. After that, it was a leisurely walk back through the city, stopping off for something to eat and then back to the Travelodge for a much needed good night's sleep.

Saturday I went to the North Norfolk Railway (NNR) at Sheringham. It is a preserved railway, running for about 6 miles through some lovely countryside to Holt. It’s the first time I’ve visited the line and it has a wonderful atmosphere and was surprisingly quiet. The line aims to recreate its heyday during the 1950s and was once part of the much larger Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway which was disparagingly called the ‘Muddle and Go Nowhere.’ Unfortunately this particular line, which was part of the route from Melton Constable to Cromer Beach, was closed in 1964 as part of the Beeching Cuts. There are plans to restore the link across the road at Sheringham to the Network Rail station and to run trains through to Cromer once again and more ambitiously to link up with another preserved line, the Mid-Norfolk Railway at Fakenham, although that is at least a decade away.

Sheringham itself is a lovely little town on the North Norfolk coast and not far from Cromer. It has all the typical delights of a seaside town and was surprisingly busy, considering the time of the year. I had a walk along the prom and visited the Lifeboat Station, which is well worth taking a look around. I also found a rather delightful shop that seemed to sell just about everything from tourist themed gifts to toys and models.

After another ride on the NNR, I spent the rest of the afternoon in Cromer, which is just a short hop by train away. This is somewhere that I have long wanted to go, although I am not sure why! I was a little disappointed; I thought that Sheringham was nicer but at least Cromer has a Pier, which I think is an essential ingredient for a great seaside town. On the seafront is the Hotel de Paris, where Stephen Fry once worked as a waiter, although I imagine a good many years ago. Cromer also has a Lifeboat Station, which I visited and learnt about one of the ‘bravest men ever to have lived’, Henry Bloggs, a coxswain of the Cromer lifeboat who gave 53 years service to the RNLI, saving 873 lives during that impressive career. He was decorated many times for conspicuous gallantry and was also awarded the British Empire Medal and the George Cross. I was quite moved by his story and the bravery of the crew who man the lifeboats all around the UK.

After an interesting and enjoyable afternoon in Cromer it was back on the train to Norwich as the sun was setting, retracing the route back across some lovely countryside.

Sunday was a more ambitious day and another early start. I got the X1 coach to Lowestoft, which is about an hour and a half from Norwich. I thought Lowestoft was a miserable place to be honest. Even one of the locals who I got chatting too said that there wasn’t anything to see in Lowestoft. It has a laughable excuse of a pier – actually it is part of the breakwater for the harbour and I couldn’t help feeling that it was a tired looking town, the gloss has definitely faded.

As I am sure everyone is aware Lowestoft is the most easterly town in Britain and thus has the most easterly railway station and of course I couldn't resist a visit. Lowestoft is also the birthplace of perhaps the greatest British composer of the twentieth century, Benjamin Britten. Sadly he suffers the indignity of having a rather tatty shopping centre bearing his name as the only notable reference I could find to his Lowestoft connections. Britten spent most of his life living at Aldeburgh on the Suffolk coast with his partner, the tenor Peter Pears. Britten sadly died in 1976, three years after under-going open heart surgery from which he never fully recovered.

After the disappointments of Lowestoft and a sausage sandwich for breakfast, it was back on the coach for the sprint cross-country to Kings Lynn, back in North Norfolk. When I arrived in Kings Lynn the contrast with Lowestoft could not have been much greater. This was a lively place, the sun was out and it was a glorious and warm afternoon. Kings Lynn has lots of historic buildings and a fine position on the River Great Ouse. A ferry boat links Kings Lynn with West Lynn six days a week and I was interested to read that it would take an Act of Parliament to suspend the operation of the service even though it is now largely redundant since improved roads in the area have made access across the river much easier. Kings Lynn was also the birthplace of George Vancouver, who gave his name to Vancouver Island and the city of Vancouver.

Monday was also a cheerful morning and I spent my last few hours in Norwich having a last look around the city and getting some bits and pieces to bring back. If ever in Norwich, the Colmans Mustard Shop is a worthwhile visit. Also I found a very good toy and model shop in the same arcade, where I could have spent many hours and lots of pennies, lol!

Then it was back to London and onwards to Milton Keynes. I did a lot in a few days and there were still a lot of things that I didn’t do or would like to go back and visit again. Next time I'd probably want to visit the other preserved railways in Norfolk and see more of the countryside but there will I am sure be further opportunities to do all that.


Morandia said...

Very cool! Sounds like a great weekend - especially the railways. Glad you had a good time! If I ever get over there again, I'll have to get you to be a tour guide for at least part of my trip!

Derek said...

That was a wonderful report Mark! Glad you had a good time. As you know, that area is where I grew up, so it was especially interesting for me to read. I love Norwich: it's a great city to visit for shopping and has an interesting olde-worlde atmosphere - the cathedral is amazing! Sheringham is a special place. Carla and I would move there tomorrow if money was no object! I'll show you around Gorleston-on-Sea and Great Yarmouth soon. Also, we'll have to do the Suffolk coast south of Lowestoft one day - Southwold etc.