Short Trips
A few days spent in a city in my own country,
usually taking in a cathedral and a castle.

1. Norwich
November 2017
More photos here


Wednesday 22nd
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 W.H.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 darknesses.

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 dinner, and an early night.

Thursday 23rd
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.

Friday 24th
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 websites' 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.


2. Lincoln
February 2018
More photos here



Sunday 11th
My senior-railcard-inspired Year of Cathedrals got off to a slow start, but Norwich in November (see above) was followed by a day in Chichester last week, and today I'm off to Lincoln. Having loved Norwich I wasn't entirely smitten by Chichester Cathedral. It was too much the well-scrubbed community hub for me - not enough Romanesque remains and too much modern art.

Trains from London don't run direct to Lincoln - you have to get the Virgin East Coast train to Leeds and change at Newark. You also have to put up with Virgin's hearty fake-friendly emails that mount up in the days before travel. And then there's the jabbering children at the next table in the 'quiet' carriage. Thank goodness, again, for noise-cancelling headphones. The journey was event-free otherwise, and so quick - two hours total from King's Cross to Lincoln. The Old Palace Hotel is based in the Georgian bishop's palace, built next to the ruins of the Medieval bishop's palace, now has its rooms in a the converted Victorian church of St Michael on the Mount. My room (see below) was cosy, warm and quiet.

Whilst unpacking I realised that my experimenting with minimal packing had resulted in a certain shirtlessness. Or maybe it had been stolen by fairies. So my first stroll, after a brief look inside the Cathedral, which is free to enter on Sunday, but a service was on, was down to Primark. (It might be useful for Non-Brits to be told that Primark is a shop selling notoriously inexpensive clothing, made in Asian sweatshops.) There I found that the nicest shirt available in my size was a grey check fave that I already owned. So I was faced with the choice of buying a duplicate of a shirt that I really liked or a different-coloured check that I didn't. Verily a quandary.

Having had no lunch I settled for a late afternoon McDonald's veggie burger and, after a bit more exploring and some evening photography, I returned early to my room with some very special Winter Spice fudge to take with tea, and have an early night.

Monday 12th
My hotel in Norwich had a restaurant, which made me appreciate not having to wrap up against winter winds to go eat. Here there's a walk across a garden from the church/lodge to the main building with the breakfast room. I decided to be hardy and not wear my coat to breakfast. The choice here isn't as wildly wide as at the larger hotels of recent experience. The croissants, orange juice and coffee where all well up to scratch, though, and the Full English is offered, as well as a veggie version, but I just ordered toast.

I spent a full morning - three hours! - in the Cathedral, wandering and photographing at first. I then got chatting with a friendly and helpful guide and ended up sticking around for his tour. I found the place infinitely more interesting and photogenic than Chichester, and the staff here were all much more amenable and chatty. Highlights included the chapter house (see right) and the way the sun projected the stained-glass windows onto floors and walls (see far right) -  a phenomenon that's not rare, but which here is everywhere, presumably because the hill is so high, and the south side so unovershadowed.  The famously all-wrong-looking vaulting in St Hugh's chapel (see below right) is sometimes said to be a mistake, but the guide here took the more convincing view that it was the work of a master builder playing with ingredients like a creative chef.

The cathedral refectory cafe I found to be heaving at half twelve, so I ventured uphill and found a veggie place, the Bailgate Deli, and enjoyed a slice of chickpea, sweet pea and spinach roll, with some salad. To take away to nibble with tea in my room I couldn't decide between the cinnamon and almond biscuit and the chickpea, peanut and cinnamon blondie. I had a pre-tea walk downhill to explore the river and the Brayford Waterfront area, and found a time-warp Market Hall, with three stalls selling actual paper books, but only one stall selling vaping supplies. The trudge back up Steep Hill was somewhat softened by realising that the road to the back entrance, to the garden in front of the lodge/church, cuts off the very final hike.

In the evening I plumped for the reliability of Pizza Express, and the Veneziana with a side-salad and a Peroni did not disappoint. Returning to my room in the church I heard an owl hooting nearby, which is not something that happens to me everyday.

Tuesday 13th
Yesterday I envied it, and today I got it: the table by the window with the panoramic view of the Cathedral. To the castle today. Rain was coming on so I did the Victorian prison and the Magna Carta first. The prison block was full of actors playing inmates and guards and such, who you were expected to interact with, so I wasn't long in there. The Magna Carta here is one of only four remaining copies of the original. The accompanying curved panoramic video presentation is well-made and interesting. The fact that King John put his name to it but implemented none of it was not, the guide and I agreed, what we learned at school. Only after years of civil war and bloodshed did Henry III implement it in any serious way. The prison chapel was actor-free, but from the pulpit you suddenly realise that some of the cubicles in the raked pews have lifelike dummies staring creepily back at you. The rain had eased, if not the biting wind, so I put on my woolly hat and headed up onto the walls. The free audioguide is a bit verbose but it does improve the experience, which features some fine views (see right). For lunch I had two yummy cream cheese bagels, with much salad trimming, at a place on Steep Hill called Basecamp. A bookshop nearby was a trove of local history books (and so many train books) and I picked up a tempting locally-written history, of a type so impossible to buy online or even at Stamfords. Today in the castle was much less of a photofest than the Cathedral yesterday. And I learned that the crane and girder action in front of the cathedral this morning is the beginning of restoration work on the fašade due to take a couple of years. Lucky me managing two days of fašade photos before it started. A. W. Curtis, a local bakery chain, provided the cake for my afternoon tea. But the fruit crumble tart I bought turned out to smell so strongly of cooking fat that it was discarded after one bite. I realised after that they are a bakers and butchers, so maybe the fat was animal.

I didn't really do the Brayford Waterfront area justice yesterday, so decided to head down there again this evening. My progress began with what was to become known as The Pottergate Incident. Admiring this archway I decided to cross over to admire/shelter under it, but one paving stone nearby was so slippery I just had to slip over on it and wrench a knee muscle. This choice I regretted as my knee became exquisitely painful the day after I came home, but then got miraculously much better the next day! Not so much pain immediately, even if the rain was a bit off-putting, but I persevered, taking a looping route around to the Eastern end of the river walk and heading steadily west, maybe a bit too far to preserve interest, and then backtracking through the University. It was raining a bit too much early on, but when I realised that if I'd been with any sensible person she would have insisted on curtailing I just had to persevere. I returned to the Handmade Burger Co. restaurant I'd passed, opposite the marina, as they had a choice of five different veggie burgers. I went for the Classic Cajun Beanburger with chips (which were actually called chips) and a vanilla milkshake.

Wednesday 14th
The main building of the Old Palace, where the hotel reception is, now houses the offices of the local diocese, and I had been warned that I might bump into a bishop. On my way to breakfast today I was wished a good morning by a priest, which was something.

With a bit of time before I needed to catch my train I decided on a last visit to the Cathedral with my two-visit ticket. The front entrance was closed due to the aforementioned scaffolding going up. Signs led to the entrance to the south transept through the Galilee Porch and the woman on the desk there confirmed that the work was to be on the Romanesque friezes and would take three years. The number of visitors this morning barely reached double figures, which was good for me. A sweet shop on the way down Steep Hill I'd been meaning to investigate provided some last-minute marzipan fruits and cinnamon truffles and the train journey went fine, except I got on what I thought was my train arriving early, but which turned out to be an earlier train from Newcastle much delayed, which got me home fifteen minutes early.





. York
Was part of Leeds and York in July 2018,
a longer trip with a wider purpose.

Venice // Florence // London // Berlin // Trips