10 reasons to visit Norfolk
Looking forward to a break in Norfolk? Linda Pyke recommends ten attractions for all ages to enjoy – from Bishy-barney-bees to antique teapots and going ape in Thetford Forest
1) Visit Norwich cathedral
It’s one of the finest complete Romanesque buildings in Europe, with walls of pale, honey-coloured limestone from Normandy (www.cathedral.org.uk) . Look out for the wooden misericords (‘mercy seats’) in the choir stalls. They were for the comfort of the monks and the undersides are adorned with carvings and scenes that reflect life in mediaeval society. More recently, one has been carved to celebrate the importance of Norwich City Football Club to the city. The cathedral also has the largest cloisters and close in England.
2) Trace the history of the nation’s favourite drink
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk) has the world’s largest collection of ceramic teapots. The castle was built 900 years ago as a royal palace, then used as a prison between the 14th and 17th centuries and is now a museum and art gallery. There’s the castle keep and dungeons to explore, interactive displays and paintings by the Norwich School of Painters. The museum is child-friendly, with special family activities during summer and half-term holidays.
3) Take a picnic and get back to nature
Roots at Gressenhall (www.museums.norfolk.gov.uk) is set in 50 acres of beautiful Norfolk countryside. As well as enjoying river walks, country trails, gardens and orchards, you can find out how Norfolk people used to live. Gressenhall Workhouse housed ill or destitute people from 1777 until the 1940s with displays and audio guides bringing to life their experiences. Outside, The Village Row is a recreation of a village street, while the museum farm is run as a traditional farm of the 1920s, with rare breed animals native to the region. Special events are held throughout the year.
4) Walk on the wild side at Pensthorpe Nature Reserve
This 500-acre reserve (www.pensthorpe.com) has miles of nature trails around lakes and through woodlands and fen meadows rich in wild flowers. It’s home to more than 120 species of waterfowl and there are walk-through aviaries, special feeding stations and hides so you can get close to the action.
5) Discover your ancestors at Origins
This award-winning attraction (www.originsnorwich.com), in The Forum, Norwich, brings to life 2,000 years of Norfolk history. Suitable for all ages, there are three floors of interactive exhibits, games, films, pictures and sounds. You can discover what the Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Danes, Normans, Dutch and Americans did for us and test your knowledge of Norfolk’s culture, traditions, and distinctive dialect. So find out what a Bishy-barney-bee is and try recording some Norfolk words and phrases to see how you score.
6) Get up close and personal with animals
Banham Zoo (www.banhamzoo.co.uk) is rated one of the top three in the country and has almost 1,000 animals and birds, many of them rare or endangered. Amazing Animals is a 30-minute presentation featuring several species, demonstrating how animals behave naturally – how they eat, live and survive. There’s also a spectacular Bird of Prey display, including up to nine vultures. It’s quite an experience when they fly straight towards you, their wings brushing your hair.
7) Take a stroll around Norwich
The city (www.norwich.gov.uk) is compact enough to discover on foot. It has many individual shops, ancient streets and buildings, plus attractive riverside walks along the banks of the River Wensum. It’s said that Norwich once had an inn for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday. Of the 57 mediaeval churches, 31 still exist. St Peter Mancroft, which stands at one side of the market place, is the largest and one of the finest in England. There’s been a thriving outdoor market in Norwich since 1300 and today’s stalls are well worth a visit.
8) Go Ape in Thetford Forest
The Forest Park has special way-marked walks and easy access trails, 30 miles of cycle routes, adventure play areas, a giant play sculpture trail and a Squirrel’s Maze. But the more adventurous come for the aerial assault course – Go Ape (www.goape.co.uk). It has 41 rope bridges, hanging crossings, scramble nets and zip slides, some up to 35ft above the forest floor. Fitness and strength is required and you’ll need to wear something you won’t mind getting grubby. You have to be over 10, a minimum of 4ft 7in tall and under-18s must be accompanied by a participating adult.
9) Discover Norfolk’s gardens
They range from the Royal Estate at Sandringham to private gardens open for only one day a year under the ‘Yellow Book’ scheme. One of the most interesting and creative can be found at East Ruston Old Vicarage (www.e-ruston-oldvicaragegardens.co.uk), close to the county’s north-east coast. Created over the past 15 years by Alan Gray and Graham Robeson, this exotic garden surrounds an Arts and Crafts Vicarage, and is broken up into a series of walled and hedged areas.
10) Award-winning food and drink
Norfolk remains a predominantly agricultural county and many of its restaurants and pubs have local produce on their menus. The award-winning Mulberry Tree in Attleborough (www.the-mulberry-tree.co.uk) is an old hotel which has been stylishly transformed into an informal restaurant and bar. Its imaginative dishes incorporate a variety of influences and vegetarians are well catered for. Beer lovers should head for Norwich, where you’ll find top CAMRA pub The Fat Cat (www.fatcatpub.co.uk), an ale drinker’s paradise, selling up to 25 guest beers from British brewers.