The county of Norfolk is where I spent most of my formative years and is still a place I hold dear to my heart. In the whole of England there’s nowhere quite like the flat, salt-marshy, bleak landscape. The soil is rich and fertile, the coastline goes on and on for miles and is quite beautiful. There are a series of man-made lakes known as the Norfolk Broads, hand dug many years ago for the peat that lay below, now a haven for tourists with small boats, and fish.
In the heart of the county is its only metropolis, the fine city of Norwich. A unique city in that it’s not really on the way to anywhere, there’s no passing traffic, unless they’re on their way to Cromer, for the best crabs in the country, or the north norfolk coast, known as ‘Chelsea by the Sea’, named after it’s rather affluent weekend visitors who live in London during the week or have retired from the advertising world and found respite on the north coast of the county, not only far from the madding crowd but far from just about everything else as well.
The city though, like many, is a real mixture of people from all walks of life. In medieval times Norwich was the 2nd largest city in the country and although that mantle was lost many years ago it did leave its mark. Even if it’s not the most cosmopolitan city in the world, it is more sophisticated than you’d imagine.
They say that you can’t stand anywhere in the city without being able to see at least one church and at least one pub, although I’ve never actually tried it I think it’s probably true. There are some great pubs and over the years it’s been the home to a number of large breweries and was a stronghold for CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) in the 70’s and 80’s which gave birth to the Norwich Beer Festival, held every year in St Andrews Hall, a must for all those with a raging thirst.
One of the things that makes Norwich a vibrant city is the influx of youth due to the University of East Anglia, the Norwich Art School and a large Polytechnic College. Combined with a local youth population that has nothing else to do but go ‘Up the City’ at weekends, it gives the place a certain lifeblood and it’s kind of kept on its toes by plenty of live music, theatre, drinking to excess and general nightlife fun. There are a number of clubs along the Prince of Wales road, which on a Saturday night becomes one of the most violent streets in the country. A fact that comes as no surprise really as Saturday night is when the carrot-crunchers, or rednecks, come out to play. They all go to the local village pub during the week and come into town at the weekend for a big night out, which often involves somebody going to hospital or the local constabulary, or both.
Along with the plethora of pubs there are plenty of good restaurants to choose from plus the famous Norwich City Market, right smack in the centre of town, you can’t miss it, it’s a great place for a proper mug of tea, fish n chips, roast pork rolls, full English breakfast, Thai, Chinese, lots of great food. You can read a couple of restaurant reviews here.
I was in a bookshop in Capetown a few years ago, flicking through a magazine and spotted an article about someone who had commissioned a number of British artists to paint a postcard of their hometown, a great idea. The sign as you enter Norwich says ‘Welcome to Norwich – A Fine City’. The local artist copied the sign but changed it to ‘Welcome to Norwich – The Graveyard of Ambition’ which is not only hilarious but pretty close to the mark. The city is full of people who came here to go to college or whatever and ended up staying for the long haul, some I’m sure regret that but there are plenty of much worse places to end up. And Norwich has a cathedral, a castle and her royal highness Delia Smith, majority shareholder of the mighty Norwich City Football Club and author of the best cookbooks known to man. God bless her.
THE ROYAL ARCADE