Wanderer at Large: Norfolk

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the East coast including Lincolnshire and Norfolk.


Norwich Cathedral by Gerry Balding. CC license BY-NC-ND 2.0

Norfolk

The city of Norwich is the ‘capital’ of Norfolk. In medieval times, it was the largest and most important town in England outside of London. Aside from its position as a wealthy centre of agriculture trade, it became well known for its banking expertise. However, it suffered a fall from grace after the greatest financial crash in history in 1866. Up to this point, there had been a global financial boom, particularly in shipping and railways. But as greedy investors speculated on riskier investments the stocks inevitably became overvalued. Shareholders panicked. The independent local banks of cities like Norwich couldn’t fund themselves and became bankrupt. Gurneys of Norwich for example, lost the equivalent of £1billion. The Bank of England agreed afterwards to rescue the banking system if it failed ever again, but much damage to the financial muscle of Norwich had been done, and it fell behind the up-and-coming industrial cities of England.

Agriculturally though, the city remained important. It became known as the Mustard City. English mustard became a condiment of choice across the continent. French Dijon mustard only uses brown seed, but English mustard uses brown and white mustard seed and has a smoother texture. Mustard flour is also produced from the seed. English mustard was first manufactured on a large scale in 1720 in Durham. In Norwich, the industrialist Jeremiah Coleman set up the Colman’s Mustard company in 1850. They brought out a ready-made mustard in the 1960s. Before then it was all powdered. At its height, Colman’s was producing 250 tonnes a week. The local football team, Norwich City, wear ‘canary yellow’ shirts, though they might just as easily, and more aptly, be described as ‘mustard yellow!’

Norwich has a welcoming feeling as a city, has a bustling centre mixing old and new architecture with ease, and has a very fine cathedral which is well worth visiting.

The region’s traditional financial clout may have been down in no small measure to a medieval trading community based in King’s Lynn. They were part of a guild of British, Dutch, German and Baltic traders known as the Hanseatic League, or Hansa. King’s Lynn was just one of up to 80 member cities of the league that stretched across the North and Baltic Seas. Hanseatic merchants were also called Easterlings. Their headquarters was the Steelyard on the River Thames in London. The league survived until 1669 when the Merchant Adventurers finally drove them out. There was then a lull in King’s Lynn’s fortunes. However, in the past 150 years or so, the town has re-established itself as a centre for tourism. King’s Lynn is synonymous with the giant body of water in eastern England known as The Wash. If you’re lucky you may see common seals swimming in the water. If you’re luckier, you may find something precious: King John’s treasure was apparently lost in The Wash as he fled from opposition forces during the Barons’ Wars in 1216.

Thuxton is the centre of the Norfolk turkey trade. It is especially famous for the ‘Norfolk Black’. With its distinctive flavour, it is the oldest breed in the country. They are usually reared until they are nine-months-old for the best taste. Originally from South America, they were brought over from Europe and introduced to the court of King Henry VIII. Some claim that these turkeys were then re-exported to the New World in the 1600s, and may well have been the ‘bird of choice’ at early Thanksgivings. In England, it was Victorian novels such as Charles Dickens’s Christmas Carol that made turkey a popular choice for the festive dinner table, and gave the turkey farmers of Norfolk a ‘bootiful’ future.

Although the canal boats of the Norfolk Broads are a popular way to travel through the county, if you have the time, the Norfolk railway lines may be an alternative if you have not. There are some amazingly quaint stations such as Downham Market, with a bar and bookshop in its waiting room, and Wymondham, with one of the best station cafés in the UK. Another more antiquated way to travel is by mail coach, and you can have a go for yourself at the Swingletree mail coach driving centre near the town of Diss.

The churches of rural Norfolk are always worth visiting. The best include the 13th century St Peter and St Paul’s, Harling, with rare pre-Reformation stain glass survivals; the 14th century St Helen’s Ranworth, famous for painted saints and dedicated to women; the 14th century St Peter’s Walpole, with its magnificent double-decker porch, the top deck of which was a church court that dealt with local petty offences; St Catherine’s Ludham, a rare example of Bloody Mary’s mid-16th-century mini-counter reformation; St Margaret’s Tivetshall, with a royal coat of arms celebrating the power of monarchy over the church, and with the erect or ‘pizzled’ unicorn blanked out by the prudish Victorians; and the Binham Priory Church, on the Norfolk coast near Walsingham: once splendid. It was stripped of its treasures and limewashed during the iconoclasm of the Dissolution.

Local Norfolk delicacies to try include Honey Cake, Nelson Slice (fruit, lemon and marmalade), and of course, Cromer Crab. Cromer is a Norfolk seaside holiday destination, famous for seafood, particularly it sweet-tasting crabmeat. Davies, the fishmongers in the town, traditionally ‘dress’ 200 a day.

Norfolk: the east of England at its welcoming best.


Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com


*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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