By Judi Lees
Vacationing in Britain is always a dream trip – exploring historic sites and lovely green spaces, wandering through picturesque villages, enjoying pub time and admiring illustrious gardens. All of this and more is possible in East Anglia, yet, aside from famed Cambridge, it is one of Britain’s less travelled regions.
Norwich is conveniently reached by train (only about an hour or so), and you see Olympic sites followed by rural landscapes along the way. The best introduction to this medieval town is with a Blue Badge Guide (a 90-minute walk for £4). The city’s 1,500 historic buildings yield many highlights and many surprises; at times you feel little has changed over the centuries although at one time it was surrounded by a wall with 12 huge gates.
©BritainonviewEveryone is impressed with the Norman Cathedral circa to 1096. Located on lovely grounds the vast, perpendicular style church with lofty columns, is a peaceful place. There is a modern tearoom and exhibit rooms attached to it. The cloisters date back to the 13th century and are the largest monastic cloisters in England. Another famous architectural wonder is the 12th-century Norman castle; today it is modernized and houses the Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery. Hours can be spent here, it has excellent exhibits for children.
The walking tour takes you through Elm Hill where you truly feel you have stepped back in a time where graceful Tudor buildings line cobbled narrow lanes. Today you visit galleries, craft shops and restaurants but in early days trades people worked here. I loved the stories our guide wove as we walked these streets. It seems that Anne Boleyn visited while she was queen and raised the ire of the locals as she rode her horse sidesaddle.
Nothing Like Norfolk
To further explore Norfolk, we rented a car and headed north towards the famed beaches. The coastline of Norfolk boasts welcoming sweeps of pristine beaches, salt marshes rich in birdlife, forested trails, and adorable little market towns with the usual mix of great pubs and galleries. (It’s also convenient to take a train to Sheringham along the coast and take in the sights on a handy Coast Hopper Bus that allows you to hop on and off.)
Picture one of Europe’s best beaches, add a sweet, historic inn, slip in a gorgeous estate complete with lake and forests and mix this with a few memories of famous movie scenes and presto, you have Holkham. Yes, this was a favourite place and really, there isn’t much there but what is there, is sweet. The beach where walkers and horseback riders add to the perfection, was, in its movie life, the beach of Illyria in the movie Shakespeare in Love. You can walk for two or three hours or simply laze and enjoy the scenery.
As well as the beach, the star attraction is Holkham Hall, a stunning 18th-century Palladian-style manor that can be toured April through October. Known as one of England’s best, it epitomizes grandeur and gracious living. It overlooks a lake and pastoral parkland; there is also a walled garden that was closed for restoration and just reopened this year.
Judi LeesIt is a short drive to Burnham Market, a picture perfect market town where keen shoppers stroll in and out of shops so cute they remind you of doll houses. Those less enthusiastic about filling shopping bags head to the pub. We went to nearby Burnham Thorpe to lunch at the Lord Nelson pub. The claim to fame of this tiny village is that the famous admiral was born here in 1758. As we cozy up to the fireplace, the proprietor regales us with stories of Lord Nelson who even came back to live in the village at one time with his first wife. Should you go, I can guarantee you will enjoy both the tales and Nelson’s Blood Bitter, a spicy ale brewed locally.
We continued south to Cambridge. Here you can marvel at beautiful architecture, such as the Chapel of King’s College where the renowned choir sings, walk an ancient Roman road, stroll across Parkers Piece, where the rules of soccer were defined in the early 1800s.
The best way to tour Cambridge and savour the sights is with a Blue Badge Guide. Time and again, you come face to face with history – King’s College was founded by Henry VI in 1441 – counterbalanced by some modernism like the controversial Corpus Clock, unveiled by Cambridge physicist Stephen Hawking in September 2008.
©Britainonview/Rod EdwardsYou must also go punting – so romantic, so picturesque, SO Cambridge. With Scudamore’s Punting Company you skim along the peaceful waterway viewing the illustrious setting – Queen’s and King’s Colleges are even more impressive from this angle, the incredibly pretty bridges such as the Bridge of Sighs, famous Trinity Hall….
For more information: www.visiteastengland.com; www.visitbritain.com