Following in the footsteps of Norwich’s tourists
PUBLISHED: 09:50 08 October 2012 | UPDATED: 11:12 08 October 2012
We take it for granted that Norwich attracts thousands of visitors every year — but what is it that attracts them? STACIA BRIGGS turns tourist for the day.
Norwich is a Fine City – but living in Norfolk, it’s easy to take its beauty for granted. It’s refreshing therefore to spend the day in your own city as a tourist and appreciate Norwich for everything it has to offer.
Despite having lived here all my life, bar a few years spent in Liverpool, London and Newcastle, I’ve never taken one of the city’s sightseeing tours which are available by boat, double-decker bus, foot or vintage car. So I decided to kick off my day as a tourist in Norwich by taking a ride on The CitySightSeeing Norwich bus tour, which operates until October and offers a hop-on, hop-off service so you can use the bus all day and take advantage of the tour commentary where you are guaranteed to discover something new.
We boarded in Theatre Street on a day where the sky looks threatening but never delivers a downpour. From outside the Assembly House, we travel towards Castle Meadow, along Rampant Horse Street where our bird’s-eye view allows us to see the aforementioned horse in all its glory outside the main doors to Debenhams.
Turning left into Red Lion Street, the bus continues past Orford Place, once the city’s tram terminus, and along Castle Meadow which used to be filled with grazing sheep and cattle and was a popular meeting place for Norwich’s vagabonds and criminals.
Along Tombland, past the cathedral, over Whitefriars’ Bridge and past the former Norwich yarn mill and Jarrold’s print works where Anna Sewell’s classic Black Beauty was first printed, we continue along Barrack Street. A steep climb up Gurney Road, named after one of the city’s wealthiest families, delivers the bus to one of Norwich’s best vantage points, outside Norwich Prison and the former Britannia Barracks to Mousehold Heath.
From Mousehold, the city is spread before us, each landmark clear to see – both cathedrals, the castle, The Forum, St Peter Mancroft, city hall – we then descend back into the city, dodging overhanging branches when we’re warned to, and head along Riverside Road, past Bishop’s Bridge, once the only bridge into the city from outside and until recently, the oldest bridge in England still open to traffic.
At the railway station, we get off to take the Riverside Walk. Down the steps at Foundry Bridge, Riverside Walk begins. A whistlestop tour of some of Norwich’s most famous sights, the walk follows the River Wensum, past pleasure cruisers and some of the city’s instantly-recognisable landmarks.
Pull’s Ferry, the grand 15th century water gate which still stands sentry on the Wensum, marks the place where stone was ferried to build Norwich Cathedral and where a ferry service ran until the 1930s.
Walking towards Cow Tower, Norwich’s first brick-built building, you are afforded a spectacular view of the cathedral across the Norwich School playing fields before walking through to Bishop’s Bridge and The Red Lion pub, with a statue of its namesake looking out over the river.
Retracing our steps, we rejoin the bus at Norwich Thorpe Station – built to look like a country home and formerly one of three railway stations in the city – and take in Norwich City Football Club’s ground at Carrow Road, and Black Tower, one of the 40 towers that once stood proudly along the city walls.
Into King Street, the bus continues past the Music House, the oldest domestic dwelling in the city dating from 1175 and then right on to Rouen Road, passing Prospect House, home of the Evening News, before taking in the bus station and Chapelfield Road back to our starting point, handily opposite our next port of call.
Next we head to Norwich Castle, literally a treasure trove of artefacts and curiosities which is a must-see for tourists or locals alike. Founded by William the Conqueror between 1066 and 1075, it was originally a motte and bailey construction involving the destruction of 98 Saxon homes, becoming one of 11 urban castles mentioned in the Domesday Book.
Used as a gaol from 1220, visitors can still descend to the dungeons on an atmospheric tour which is a rite of passage for anyone living in Norwich (as is the tour of the battlements, although those scared of heights may demure).
When the castle was bought by the city in 1887, it was earmarked as a museum. It contains many of the exhibits which our ancestors have been enjoying since that time and has two wonderful galleries featuring the castle’s decorative art collections including costumes, textiles, jewellery, glass, ceramics and silverware and a large, and somewhat bizarre, collection of ceramic teapots.
Other gallery themes include Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Queen Boudicca and the Iceni tribe, ancient Egypt and natural history.
From the castle, we take a walk down to Elm Hill, where there are more Tudor houses than in the whole of the City of London. Rebuilt after a major fire in 1507 which destroyed more than 700 Norwich homes, it was once home to prosperous merchants, craftsmen and dignitaries but fell into disregard by the 1920s and had to be saved from the bulldozer by the creation of the Norwich Society.
Now home to lovely shops and cafes, it’s worth exploring the street’s courtyards and gardens and definitely taking stock of the view where number 20, 22 and 26 Elm Hill stand, which is where Queen Elizabeth I was rumoured to have watched a pageant from the first floor of Augustine Steward’s house, which stood on this site.
After a day spent looking at Norwich in a whole different light, my daughter put it operfectly: “It’s like going on holiday without getting travel sickness!”
■ For City Sightseeing general inquiries call 01708 866000 or visit city-sightseeing.com
BE A TOURIST — 5 THINGS TO DO
1 Visit Thomas Gooding’s tomb in Norwich Cathedral. Buried vertically in order that he could spring up and be the first into heaven, his tomb features a skeleton and an atmospheric epitaph that includes the words: “As you are now, even so was I.”
2 Drink a locally-brewed beer in one of Norwich’s wonderful pubs. The saying used to be that in the city there was a pub for every day of the year and a church for every week.
3 Wander down Magdalen Street which is fast becoming the ‘vintage quarter’ of Norwich, packed with antique shops and charity shops.
4 Shop at Norwich Market – there are 190 stalls under brightly-coloured canopies selling everything all you wish for.
5 Pop in to the Mustard Shop and Museum in Royal Arcade (an art nouveau extravaganza) to find out about the history of Colmans and to buy a pot of speciality mustard.