Neighbourhood Watch: Wisdom of the east

Not all historic, pretty cities cost a fortune. As old riverside warehouses are converted into cheap, chic flats, Jimmy Lee Shreeve falls for Norwich
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The Independent Online

Along the north coast of Norfolk, prices are high. Within striking distance of long, gentrified stretches of sand, towns such as Burnham Market have emerged as some of the country's most sought-after rural locations. But a short drive south, towards the equally alluring Norfolk Broads, is a city where house prices have remained among the country's most affordable. Now many of the industrial buildings in the city's riverside areas are being developed into high-design apartments, with price tags as low as £160,000.

Although the picturesque city of Norwich is only 115 miles from London, it's still relatively off the beaten track. This is because there are no motorways linking it to the rest of the country. While this can make it a bit of a bind getting to other parts of the UK, the upside is that the city is unspoilt compared to its more accessible counterparts. And for the house- or flat-hunter there are still bargains to be had. The average price of a property in a similarly quaint city in the West Country, for example, is around £273,000; whereas in Norwich the average price is around £178,000.

For many, Norwich is too far from London to be classed as a commuter city. But get on the early train to London Liverpool Street on any weekday morning and you'll find it packed with people heading for work in the big smoke.

Working in Norwich is generally not an option – the average wage is £24,000 a year.

"Norwich is a lovely city," says Johnny Gregory, a skilled IT consultant living on the outskirts of the city. "But when you live here, it's a case of commute or die if you want a decent income."

In terms of quaintness, what with the Cathedral grounds and cobbled streets around Tudor Elm Hill, it compares with Bath.

Norwich is well-served for good quality restaurants. One of the most popular with students and trendy thirty-somethings is the Mad Moose in the city's "Golden Triangle" area (nowadays known as the Notting Hill of Norwich). The city has a great atmosphere, too. The many historic streets, ancient market and varied architecture make Norwich a joy to walk around. And if you tire of Norwich, it's only a 20-minute drive to the coast or to the rolling meadows and delightful country parks of North Norfolk.

Your kind of people?

Norwich has a diverse mix of professionals, arty types and eccentrics. They go to places such as the Norwich Arts Centre and the more intimate Norwich Playhouse to the historic, but mainstream, Theatre Royal. But like any city or town, Norwich has its rough edges. On Friday and Saturday nights, for example, Prince of Wales Road is a no-go area due to drunken youths out clubbing and looking for trouble.

Can you shop till you drop?

Norwich city centre boasts two shopping malls – the new Chapelfield centre and the Castle Mall. Both have plenty of high street stores and designer names. For cutting-edge fashion, check out Soho Hip, on Pottergate. The best place for a coffee and homemade snack is The Tea House, near the picturesque Elm Hill.

Green and pleasant?

Snaking through Norwich's heart is the River Wensum, which winds past the magnificent thousand-year-old Cathedral. On the south-eastern outskirts is Whitlingham Country Park, which has a beach, woodland and a large lake. It's a great place for walking, cycling and boating.

Do the schools make the grade?

Norwich boasts lots of good schools, but there are some not-so-good ones too, such as Heartsease and Earlham high schools. The best state school is probably CNS High School on Eaton Road (Labour MP Charles Clarke sent his children here), closely followed by Thorpe St Andrew High School. Private schools of note include Norwich High School for Girls on Newmarket Road, and Norwich School in the idyllic Cathedral Close. Expect to pay £7,000-£10,000 per child, per year.

What's nearby?

Taking the train from Norwich station to Liverpool Street takes just under two hours. A season ticket, with zone one tube travel, costs around £600 a month. Taking the train to Cambridge takes just over an hour. Access to other parts of the country is poor due to the lack of motorways.

What you can buy

Paper Mill Yard, King Street

Price: £149,950

New ground-floor one-bed apartment in state-of-the-art riverside development in Norwich's answer to London's Docklands, minutes from the city centre. Surrounded by landscaped gardens.

Gilson Bailey:; 01603 764 444

Newmarket Road

Price: £275,000

Three-bedroom Victorian character property within easy walking distance of Norwich city centre and the railway station. Utility room, cloakroom and period features. Lawned front garden and a secluded courtyard garden.

Hadley Taylor:; 01603 250 248

'Anna Sewell House', Old Catton

Price: £625,000

A five-bedroom, grade-II listed property. Lots of ornate touches, as well as large gardens and four garages. Anna Sewell is believed to have written Black Beauty here, while it was the family home.

Tops Prestige:; 01603 701 111