If you’ve always wanted to combine a sophisticated city break with day trips to the British seaside, a long weekend in the arty medieval city of Norwich is the perfect base for exploring. Just two hours northeast by rail from London, at Norwich, the Bittern and Wherry Line train transports you to Sheringham and Cromer, where the ambiance is still circa 1950s. There you can catch the Coasthopper to experience more of the 93-mile long North Norfolk coast. Best of all, you never have to get behind the wheel of a car!
Getting about couldn’t be simpler when you stay at the newly refurbished Premier Inn Norwich Nelson. Nestled on the banks of the River Wensum and sited directly opposite the Norwich Railway Station, the inn combines economical rates with surprising comfort, superior staff, and waterside views.
That’s Show Biz
Developed by the late Victorians as a seaside resort, the town is famous for good eats (Cromer crab), museums, and one of the first wooden piers built in the 20th century. Perched at the end of the pier, its 510 seat Pavilion Theatre is home to Britain’s most famous and long-running vaudeville shows. Authentic cabaret with a touch of saucy postcard humor, its annual summer and Christmas spectaculars feature cruise ship-like entertainment. That’s often where tomorrow’s stars are born. Like Luke Cooke, a teen-aged magician who placed first in the 2008 television contest “Find A Star,” winning a spot in the 12-week 2009 summer run. Other stars like Bradley Walsh of Coronation Street and Darren Day, who plays in West End musicals, were also discovered at the pier.
The Seaside Special runs from late June to mid-September. The winter Christmas Seaside Special draws enthusiastic visitors from across Britain and beyond, selling out months in advance of its December schedule.
Heroes of the Sea
Built in honor of Henry Blogg, one of the world’s greatest lifeboat heroes, the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum vividly depicts the history of 150 years of lifeboats. Through photographs, letters, recorded interviews with crew, models of lifeboats and tidal flow charts, it demonstrates the challenges of sea rescue during WWII when lifeboats relied on naval escorts through mined waters. As coxswain, Blogg steered his boat from 1894 to 1947, saving 873 lives and earning a plethora of medals including the George Cross and British Empire Medal.
Get insight into the life of fishermen and their families at the Cromer Museum featuring a 19th century bathing machine, oilskins, and the heavy irons used for pressing. Wet clothing often had to be dried over the fire twice a day, and repeatedly ironed.
Grab some fish and chips at Mary Jane’s, famous for fresh catch expertly prepared, and hop it to Sheringham. Just 8000 residents strong, the tiny town successfully resisted the economic incentives offered by Tesco, UK’s quintessential big box store, which could have eviscerated local businesses.
At Peter Cooke’s Bookshop on St. Peter’s Road, the owner, a local historian and author of four books on the town, stocks more than 25,000 new and used volumes. At the ironmonger’sCrowe’s of Sheringham on High Street, you can purchase hand-painted Victorian-style drawer knobs and piggy banks, Art Deco posters, French soap dishes, and even a handcrafted child-size ridable Morris Minor wooden car. Across from the impressive town clock, once the source of the town’s water, is Sheringham Little Theatre, perfect for a light lunch, followed by a film or community theatre.
Housed in an original long-shore fishing shed, one of the few remaining on the Norfolk coast, the Fisherman’s HeritageCenter on West Cliff celebrates the 200 lifeboats and crew who safeguarded fishermen from 1894 to 1935. On display is the Henry Ramey Upcher lifeboat, operated without engine or radio communication until 1935. Nearby is a memorial to the 37 fishermen lost at sea from 1707 to 1931.
At the Sheringham Museum knitters will be awed by the collection of ganseys. These dark blue sweaters, patterned onthe top and on the sleeves, were knitted in the round on five needles (and sometimes on umbrella spokes). To ensure ganseys were waterproof, sweaters were knitted of oiled wool that retained its natural lanolin (that explains why sheep don’t shrink in the rain!). To keep out the elements, sweaters were knitted so tightly that children’s earlobes often bled when they were pulled on over their heads.
Kings Lynn – The Gem of West Norfolk
Last stop Kings Lynn, a fascinating 12th century city once the third largest port in England.
Renamed Kings Lynn from Bishops Lynn by Henry VIII when he abolished the monasteries, Kings Lynn is best appreciated with a guided walking tour. During Victorian times, the river was the center of life. When cholera devastated the population, London sent a minister to determine why few residents lived past age 40. When he discovered that the river was used for everything from drinking water to rinsing bedpans, he reported that “Kings Lynn people like their sewage, and they like it neat!”
The architecture tells the story of life throughout the centuries. At Hampton Court, you can understand how illiterate messengers navigated their way around the city during medieval times. Those who couldn’t read looked for symbols to the merchant’s identity in his coat of arms displayed over the archway. Note too how the second stories of buildings protrude over the first – a strategy devised by citizens to cut their tax bill. Once a fortified city, today little of the walls and gates still stand.
Just six miles from the Royal residence of Sandringham House, Kings Lynn is a cultural delight. Don’t miss the Custom House museum that tells the story of the city’s prominence in the Hanseatic League, a European trading alliance from the13th to the 17th centuries. There you can learn about famous city sons Lord Horatio Nelson and Captain George Vancouver, whose sailing skills enabled him to reach America’s northwest coast and declare it “British Columbia.” The Lynn Museum features a full-sized replica of Seahenge, a 4000 year-old timber circle dating from the early Bronze Age, along with impressive Nelson memorabilia; the Corn Exchange is a premier performing arts venue.
The untamed, ever-changing beauty of the North and West Norfolk coastline; its pretty villages and towns, and its designation as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty makes it a destination for all seasons
If You Go
The well situated Virginia Court Hotel in Cromer is under new ownership with attractive special rates; book a redecorated room. (www.virginiacourt.co.uk)
For a sumptuous golf holiday, check out Heachman Manor Hotel, a four star hotel converted from a 16th century farmhouse in 2009, and now the first golf hotel in West Norfolk. (www.heacham-manor.co.uk)
In Norwich, find information on the 4 star Premier Inn Norwich Nelson at www.premierinn.com/en/hotel/
Plan your Norwich holiday at www.visitnorwich.co.uk.
Information on North Norfolk at www.north-norfolk.org.uk
Coasthopper information at www.coasthopper.co.uk; the Bittern and Where Lines at www.bitternline.org.
Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every are professional worldwide travel writers. Visit them at www.writersobell.com.
All photographs are courtesy of Richard N. Every.
Copyright 2009 by Sheila Sobell and Richard N. Every.
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