OPINION: Tragedies will never tarnish Norwich's beauty spots

Cows grazing in beautiful Cary's Meadow on the outskirts of Norwich

Cows grazing in beautiful Cary's Meadow on the outskirts of Norwich - Credit: Nick Richards

A body lay undiscovered on Mousehold Heath for a couple of days.

A few days later a body was found in Cary's Meadow, just off Yarmouth Road in Norwich. 

Late July was a bad time for people in the east of Norwich who enjoy these two lovely beauty spots.

People like me.

So much of my spare time, especially in the last 18 months, has been spent at places like Mousehold Heath, Cary's Meadow, Catton Park, Lion Wood and St James' Hill.

They're right on my doorstep and I savour every minute I spend at them, it's one of the reasons I chose to live over that side of the city.

After the sorry tale of the Mousehold body, this paper reported the usual tales from nearby neighbours slamming the boy racers who congregate in the car park in front of the prison most nights and calling out the dodgy activity that takes place in cars in the dark of night.

I think it's a real shame that the only time these lovely places seem to hit the headlines are when something bad happens, so I wanted to redress the balance and celebrate them for what they are and the joy they bring to thousands of people.

Sure the area in front of the old Britannia Cafe has issues that seem to increase once regulars who gather to watch the sun set over the city go home, but you could point out that many other parts of the city change too at night.

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Prince of Wales Road goes from a road full of solicitors and dentists to a haven for clubbers and Gentleman's Walk seems to transform from the beating heart of Norwich life in daytime to somewhere you don't really feel that safe at night and as for Kett's Heights... well, I wouldn't want to go up there alone late at night.

Back to nature, though, and time to heap praise on the gorgeous green attractions in the part of Norwich I call home.

You've caught me in a rather reflective mood as we start August as I watched the fabulous Chris Packham documentary on iPlayer over the weekend.

Called Chris Packham: The Walk That Made Me, the hour-long programme showed the nature-loving broadcaster revisiting a walk in Hampshire he has done many times, particularly as a young naturalist.

He talks to wild swimmers, dog walkers, families fishing for sticklebacks and at one point watches a centuries old tradition of flooding a water meadow. As he points out, it is just water running along a ditch, but it was utterly mesmerizing. I've actually watched the programme twice already.

Like Chris I've had an interest in the natural world since a youngster and of course lockdown has not only made me enjoy it more but thrust these green places around me into my daily life. 

In the last week alone I've been to Catton Park three times, to Cary's Meadow, running over Mousehold, watching the sun set on St James' Hill and walking through Lion Wood.

Nick Richards enjoying a sandwich overlooking Norwich at St James Hill

Nick Richards enjoying a sandwich overlooking Norwich at St James Hill - Credit: Archant

I'm there all the time, regardless of the odd bit of anti-social activity. It happens, but it is engulfed by the good work of council workers emptying bins, sorting out the odd bit of fly-tipping and clearing up rubbish that may have been spread overnight by gulls. 

I see the same couple on my Cary's Meadow walks picking up litter from those who are drawn to this lovely area but can't be bothered to pick up their rubbish.

I regularly chat to another litter picker in nearby Woodrow Pilling Park who is there most Saturday mornings placing discarded energy drink cans and beer bottles in a rubbish bag. I helped him clear a load of smashed glass from the basketball court the other week.

And, like Chris, I engage with other runners, dog walkers, artists, dads, mums and people on bikes. I let other kids join in with my son and I playing football, I've passed the ball to complete strangers and told them to have a shot at my makeshift goal as they pass by. You'll be amazed at the smile that lights up their faces.

These tranquil places that offer an escape from the concrete and crowds of the city centre are generally populated by like-minded people that savour their time there, elbowing out space in their daily routine to make sure they can connect with the wilderness around them.

These are the places near me - I'm sure you have your own favourite place to get away from it all and I'm sure you cherish  them too, just like I do.

In a decade, my children probably won't want to throw paper planes off St James' Hill, ride their bikes in Catton Park, look at the small herd of cows in Cary's Meadow, run around Woodrow Pilling Park like Olympic sprinters or hunt for funny-shaped sticks on Mousehold Heath.

But I will still use these amazing outdoor spaces and will count myself fortunate that we are lucky to have so many of them in one city.