Norfolk

I lived in Norfolk for several years and thought I’d never leave. Life – inevitably – had other plans but I still snatch at chances to return. New experiences and new places mean it’s become part of my future as well as my past.

Stuck away in an obscure corner of the country, off the motorway network, Norfolk has largely avoided the layer of grime and depressing same-ness that’s overtaken most of the rest of southern, central and eastern England. That’s not to say it’s some kind of rural backwater – just that it’s not yet been completely ruined.

Click for Norwich, United Kingdom Forecast

What’s good

Norfolk Broads
The Broads are a National Park made up of waterways that wind their way across Norfolk and north Suffolk, linking the old peat diggings that are now small lakes. It varies from domesticated retirement bungalow territory near Wroxham to the wild and uninhabited Halvergate Marshes. Explore it on foot or by bicycle, hire a day boat, or take a river cruise from Norwich out to Surlingham.
The sea at Winterton
I’m not a great swimmer – scares the life out of me, to be honest – but I swam happily in the sea here. You can also sometimes see seals here.
Elm Hill, Norwich
Appealing little twisty cobbled street. Very touristy in that sense – take your mother – but the shops are mixed and not all of the obvious visitor honey pot type (I was a regular at the Games Room). There’s also a good cafe at the uphill end.
Cinema City
Great little independent cinema in St Andrews Street – the place to go for any film that’s not a Hollywood blockbuster (and even a few of those, from time to time). Foreign films, films to stop you in your tracks, films to make you think, and films to make you wish you made films. Also a nice little cafe – although my dad did once find a fridge magnet stuck to his soup spoon there as he struggled his way through a bowl of gazpacho. It was shaped like a letter ‘L’, and when we showed the waiter he looked at it for a moment and, absolutely deadpan, replied “Yes sir, it’s alphabet soup”.

What’s not

Norwich City FC
But I would say that, as a Tractor Boy… Actually, I do remember their great European run with affection (Jeremy Goss scores a screamer to beat Bayern Munich: The Sun headlines it ‘JERRY BURIES JERRIES’.) But I also remember being punched at an Ipswich-Norwich match and having to hide my Town scarf in order to make it out unscathed after we won 2-0.
Too many students
Yeah, I know, I was one. But I lived there for a few years afterwards and it didn’t take long to realise just how bloody irritating they are. You get 10 points if you run one down, you know.
Castle Mall
Take one mediaeval city centre street plan with a castle on a hillock in the middle. Dig a bloody great hole in the hillock. Insert a shopping mall into the hole and fill it with the same stores you can find in any other cookie-cutter city centre in the country. Pretend it’s the best thing since sliced bread.

Where to eat

The Waffle House, Upper St Giles St
I first ate here as a student in 1987, and it’s still going strong. Plain or wholemeal waffles with delicious savoury or sweet toppings, using healthy ingredients. Before I went vegetarian my big treat was the ham, mushroom and cheese sauce waffle with a Horlicks milkshake, followed by a small one with chocolate mousse. It’s nearly as good without the ham…
Adlards
Michelin-starred restaurant, also in in Upper St Giles. Not cheap, of course, but you get what you pay for in terms of quality, presentation and unhurried atmosphere.

Where to stay

Maid’s Head Hotel, Norwich
It may not be state of the art as hotels go, and it’s a bit close to Tombland (see later) but it has a certain style and charm, and it’s dead convenient for the Cathedral, the Adam and Eve, and the city centre. And if you’re wondering about the food standards there, I once knew a waitress who was sacked on the spot after dropping a beef sandwich on the floor and telling the customer waiting for it “pretend you didn’t see that”.
National Trust Cottages
For all its faults, one thing the NT does very well is make use of the odd little peripheral buildings that litter its big holdings. They rent them out as holiday cottages all over the country, of course, but Norfolk is particularly fertile territory because of the large number of great country estates now in the Trust’s hands.
The Broads by NBYCo boat
Relive the days of Arthur Ransome and potter round for a lazy week or two. There are a great many yards offering Broads holidays, of course, but we reckon the best way to enjoy them is by sail rather than by motor. The NBYCo is the yard we have the longest association with, as they used to look after our boat for us. Although their wooden boats don’t have quite the unique cachet of Hunters’ historic fleet they’re a great deal more user friendly, and Zoe is the oldest hire yacht on the Broads.

Where to visit

Grimes Graves
Climb 30ft below ground into a flint mine that was first dug some 5000 years ago using nothing but tools made from bone. From the surface, Grimes Graves is a strange landscape of round hollows in the heathland near Thetford. Each hollow is a filled-in mine, where Neolithic man first dug down, and then sideways, to find and follow seams of flint. One has been left open after excavation by archaeologists, and the whole site is now managed by English Heritage.
Inanna’s Festival, Pottergate, Norwich
For all your Wiccan, New Age or esoteric needs. Also does a great selection of greetings cards. I’m biased, because (among other reasons) I used to work there. But the owner, Naomi, has a deserved reputation for importing odd items or product lines from around the world that you won’t find anywhere else in Britain, and is fast becoming a local celebrity as spokesperson for the pagan community. It’s more than a decade since I used to visit regularly but, looking around the room I’m sitting in as I type this, I can see at least five items on display that were bought there – and that’s not counting the books, jewellery, crystals and tarot decks.
Burgh Castle
Part of the Roman defences that protected the eastern and southern coasts against marauding Saxons. Three sides of its walls are still in surprisingly good nick, and it hasn’t been heritaged to death. The site sits brooding above the inland end of Breydon Water, which is quite a sight in its own right.

Where to avoid

Tombland on a Saturday night
Unless it’s changed a lot since I was a student, this is a great place to go if you want to study the social dynamics of a bunch of boozed-up locals with chips on their shoulders going toe-to-toe against a bunch of snotty-nosed students with superiority complexes. The result is rarely pretty.

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I'm Andy Darley. Sometimes I want to say things. This is where I do it.