One of the consequences of my trip to
Siena not happening, following BA's cancelling of my flight, was that I
attended one of my V&A 16th Century Northern Renaissance course
sessions that I would've missed, at which Clare the tutor raved about the
Rembrandt etchings exhibition on in the Norwich Castle museum. So, what
with the Cathedral to see too, it all seemed to have been fated, and a
broadly medieval experience was anticipated.
Looking in the Smith's at Liverpool Street station I was drawn to a plush
BBC History Magazine special on Medieval Life which just
went to confirm my medieval fate suspicions. Waiting for the 10.30 train
to Norwich a call went out over the P.A. for Inspector Sands which, as we
all know, is panic-minimalising announcement code for FIRE! But luckily it
was just a drill. I got a cinnamon swirl and an Americano as boarding was
announced, and in no time at all it was blue skies, flat fields and brown
trees out the train window. And my carriage was pretty peacefully full of
middle class white people, mostly with white hair.
After checking in, at the Premier Inn just over the river from the
station, I did a recce of the castle, had a late-lunch cheese baguette
there, and then went in search of the Cathedral. A seasoned traveller like
myself doesn't expect to have to do anything so wimpish as look at a map
to find a flipping great cathedral (with the second tallest spire in the
country) which is why I got truly lost, and ended up admiring the Roman
Catholic cathedral (see photo below).
But fate dictated that nearby I passed a bakery window displaying a most
tempting pistachio, almond and raspberry cake, although when I say passed
that sort gives the impression that I didn't go in.
My (eventual) first look around the real Cathedral was not exactly in full
sunshine, as it was cloudy and coming onto evening, but it was in almost
complete solitude, which was grand. The greeting ladies at the entrance
where more than happy to look after my cake, to ease my photo-taking, with
much joshing reassurance about my being safe in trusting them. And inside
the church, just as I was leaving, remembering that I'd not seen the
famous retable, a chummy and knowledgeable attendant took me personally
back to the chapel where I had failed to spot it, his torch coming
in handy as work being done on the lighting was making for frequent sudden
I'm liking Norwich muchly, so far, with the natives proving very
personable. Tea and my cake was taken rather late, and the sugared-up rush
seemed to fend off my evening appetite, so I had a bath instead of a
and an early night.
The breakfast bar lacked muesli, for
some strange reason, and so I began with a cocktail of Crunchy Nut
Cornflakes topped with Rice Crispies and dried fruit, which was followed
by nice fresh croissants and honey, with good juice and coffee. Perfetto!
The early walk along river, taking in Pulls Ferry, Bishops Bridge and the
Great Hospital, heading for the back of cathedral, was enlivening and full
of fine photo opportunities. The almost-empty sun-bathed cathedral gave
good cloister and sun-patched nave, and the Despenser Retable looked much
better for some daylight. It's rare for anything so like an Italian
medieval altarpiece to survive in this country, and it seems to have even
been painted locally, as the red pigment used is only to be found around
here. It survived to be rediscovered in the 19th century by being used,
face down, as a table top.
The Rembrandt exhibition at the Castle was a revelatory treat, and the
Norwich school landscapes there were a very soothing Dutch-tinged treat to
follow. I almost missed the actual castle keep - up the stairs behind the
ticket desk - but then accidentally got involved with a very engaging half
hour tour, taking in garderobes and graffiti. Looking for lunch I found a
chocolate shop nearby dominated by marzipan - Niederegger and Mozart - and
succumbed to a couple of seasonal varieties, but manfully resisted the
marzipan advent calendar. Lunch was a cheese and onion pasty (with
ketchup, and a packet of chilli crisps) in the Cathedral refectory cafe.
The gift shop in the nave had a handy and well-illustrated booklet on the
retable, a sweet little stained-glass roundel of Julian of Norwich's cat,
and some tempting festive fruitcake. Back to the hotel for a cup of
redbush tea and some bites out of said cake. And a snooze.
In the evening I took a shopping constitutional around the city centre,
admiring floodlit churches too, before returning to the hotel restaurant
to try their Asian Style Veggie Burger - in which quinoa, soya beans,
sesame seeds and rocket featured - a decision I did not regret.
Some indecision about what to do with
the morning, as my train back to Liverpool Street isn't until 1.30. A
river walk heading towards the RC cathedral was looking highly likely. My
breakfast decisively began with porridge and dried fruit, which worked.
Checking my sites' Facebook page as I munched a croissant I found a
recommendation from a locally-resident follower called Julia that I really
should try to visit the Rosary Cemetery. I found it on a map, it was very
close, and then found it in reality, and was very smitten: Victorian and
overgrown, raking sunshine and autumn colours, solitude,
squirrels...perfect! The delayed river walk was a sunny treat too, with
complete strangers wishing me good morning! By the time I got to the
Catholic cathedral time was tight, so I only managed a quick look and a
few photos. It's not that old, but it is a handsome space inside - a very
restrained gothic. A mozzarella, tomato and pesto panino was bought for
the journey home, which passed without incident.
I know that many look to these trip reports for philosophical insights, so
I'll leave you with the observation that whilst trips to warmer climes
often entail decisions about air-con settings and ice cream flavours,
off-season stays in the UK make for decisions as to whether lunch will be
the soup or the hot pasty, and wondering whether to plug in the handy
little wheelie radiator in your room.