Friends everywhere suggested that we were flipping crazy, or something that sounds similar, to be voluntarily visiting England in late February. Even G&C, our frequent travel partners, questioned our judgment. Said C:
“You really do pick your times to visit the UK…couldn’t you for once select a decent month weather-wise? Last time November, this time February…if you thought Edinburgh was windy, wait till you see/feel Norfolk in February…bring raingear!”
As usual we ignored all reasonable advice. Soon enough we were packed into a 747 and heading to the UK. G&C would welcome us to their home in Norwich no matter how loopy we were for coming in the first place.
We arrived and found that the weather roulette wheel spit out a jackpot. For this time of the year in this area of the world, the conditions outside were unexpectedly pleasant. It was far from the mind-numbing, marrow-chilling cold that we experienced in Edinburgh. The decent weather ultimately encouraged us to get outdoors for a walking tour through Norwich’s interesting old quarter. Once on the streets in the old town we found few other tourists about. It seems that the other travelers had heeded the advice of their friends and stayed away from Norfolk this time of year.
Norwich’s heyday was in medieval times. Did you know that in the 11th Century Norwich was the second most populated city in England behind only London? We certainly didn’t. The remnants of the medieval street plan, those areas having escaped the ruinous bombing during World War II, remain to give modern Norwich an historic feel. It is a good place for a short visit; it is a good place for a city break.
Scattered about the old town are 31 churches from the Middle Ages and two grand cathedrals. Norwich has a particularly high density of churches, especially old churches. Some say that there is no city north of the Alps that has more medieval churches than Norwich. It is also said that Norwich has one church for every week of the year and one pub for every day. Perhaps the pubs have more influence than the churches; as of the 2001 census, 28% of respondents in Norwich stated that they were of “no religion”, the highest percentage in England.
Most spectacular is Norwich’s Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity. First finished in 1145 the Norwich Cathedral is the cathedral church for the Church of England Diocese of Norwich. The well-restored building is grand and dramatic both inside and out.
Built of cream-colored Caen limestone in the Norman style, the Norwich Cathedral is architecturally interesting. The Norman variation of Romanesque architecture chronologically precedes the frilly Gothic style. Despite the wide geographical range of the Normans buildings of this style are relatively rare in present day Europe.
We visited Norwich’s grand cathedral soon after seeing the Late English Gothic-style King’s College Chapel in Cambridge. It was for us an education about the two architectural styles. There are obvious differences between Norman and Gothic structures; pointed arches appear commonly in Gothic buildings and are not typical of Norman-style constructions. But there is much more than that. The progression to the Gothic style came with the ability to construct thinner walled buildings that let in more light. Gothic churches such as King’s College Chapel feel airy. Lost in the transition to Gothic is some of the weight and intimidating power of the Norman Romanesque style. Entering Norwich’s Cathedral there is no doubt that you are inside a substantial permanent place. It is a place of strength.
(Interested in the difference between the Norman and Gothic styles? Compare the picture of Norwich’s Norman cathedral to this picture of the inside of King’s College Chapel.)
From the cathedral we wandered back through town by way of the market. A market has existed in the middle of Norwich for ages. Established by the Normans over a thousand years ago Norwich’s marketplace remains as the largest six-days-a-week open-air market in England. Today permanent stalls selling a variety of items are tightly packed into a central square. Each stall is capped with a brightly striped roof. The mass of colorful booths gives the market a distinctive circus-like appearance.
Our short tour finished up the hill at the base of Norwich’s massive cube-like castle. We didn’t visit the inside. (The interior is mostly taken up by museums.) Perhaps if G&C let us stay again in the future we’ll get another chance. And maybe next time we will even try visiting the UK in the summer. We hear the weather is nicer then.