The City that Time Forgot
The atmosphere in Norwich is unique and unspoilt. How it got to be that way is a story in itself. When the great era of UK road building took place in the 1950s and 1960s, most of the big motorways headed north and south, from London to Scotland and to the great industrial cities of Northeast and Northwest of England - Newcastle, Stoke on Trent, Derby, Birmingham, Manchester. The bulbous lobe of sparsely populated East Anglia, north east of London, was largely overlooked by the highway builders.
So the big corridors lined with industrial parks and huge shopping centers, the steady, heavy traffic of giant semis (or articulated lorries, as they say here) never made it to Norwich. The city, that at one time was one of England's most important capitals, was left off the highway grid, able to amble into the 21st century with its own unique style.
That style is a combination of the best of old and new. Norwich has the contemporary sophistication you'd expect of a great university city, full of students and faculty from the University of East Anglia (home of the UK's first and most prestigious Creative Writing program) and Norwich University College of the Arts, in the center of town.
Yet right beside a few modern shopping malls, the city's open air market and its pedestrian shopping areas are like something out of Dickens. Its Cathedral district hasn't changed much in hundreds of years. It has a castle right in the middle of the city, scenic walks along the River Wensum and surprising green spaces waiting to be discovered.
What is There To See?
- Norwich Cathedral is almost 1,000 years old and is surrounded by a 45 acre "Cathedral Quarter" (the largest in England). The Cathedral is notable for the dizzying height of its fabulous vault, dotted with 1,000 bosses, and for the largest cloister in the England. The surrounding area, the Cathedral Quarter, is crisscrossed with cobbled streets, many lined with houses that have changed little in 500 years - when a great fire destroyed most of the older houses. Make sure to visit Elm Hill the most atmospheric street in the quarter.
- Norwich Market The largest Monday to Saturday open air market in England has 200 stalls under colorful striped awnings. It occupies its own special square, under the castle and the city hall. The awnings were recently replaced and some purists object to the gentrification of the market, but it looks to me much the same as it did years ago when I first visited. I was in the city for an interview at the University and bought some yarn in the market. I'd planned to keep my mind busy with a knitting project so I wouldn't worry too much about getting into the University. I finished the sweater on the same day that I received the good news, so Norwich Market has always held a special place in my heart.
- Norwich Castle Built by the Normans as a royal palace 900 years ago, Norwich Castle is today an art gallery and museum of local history. That includes exhibits on Queen Boudica, the Iceni Queen who led a rebellion against the Romans. The Iceni exhibits include examples of their fine work in gold.
- The Norwich Lanes, a short walk from Norwich Market is a district of narrow, cobbled lanes,tiny historic buildings and a very good selection of individual shops and galleries. It's one of the most atmospheric and creative shopping areas you'll find and great fun to stroll around in. Look for Upper and Lower Goat Lanes, Cow Hill, Dove Street and Pottergate. See a Map of the Norwich Lanes
- The Norwich 12 A collection of Norwich's most architecturally outstanding buildings, ranging from the earliest - Norwich Castle ( built one year after the Norman Conquest in 1067) to the newest - The Forum, built to celebrate the Millennium. Don't miss the 15th century Dragon Hall, a medieval trading hall with a timber framed ceiling that includes a wonderful dragon carving.
- The Plantation Garden A surprising, hidden walled garden on Earlham Road, just a few hundred yards from the city's main shopping area. It's not easy to find but there are good directions on the garden's official website.
- The Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts This airy public art gallery, a short bus ride from the center of the city, is on the grounds of the University of East Anglia. The building itself is notable as it was the first public building designed by British architect, Sir Norman Foster. Admission to the gallery's permanent collection is free, and there's also a pleasant cafe for a tea break.
How to Get there
Trains from London's Liverpool Street Station leave every few minutes and take just under two hours. If you book in advance, the lowest fare (as of February 2012) is £16 when purchased as two, one-way tickets.