Slice of Norwich: Aha! It's a Partridge pilgrimage
After 'Alpha Papa' premiered in Anglia Square, Sarah Baxter paid a visit to Alan's hometown
Saturday 03 August 2013
Norwich, so its signs announce, is "A Fine City". It's the most complete medieval centre in England; it's home to the UK's fourth-largest city festival; and last year it was designated England's first Unesco City of Literature. Its most famous exports? Colman's Mustard and Alan Partridge.
The latter makes his movie debut on Wednesday when Alpha Papa is released in cinemas. The premiere was held first in Norwich, after an inspired local campaign to bring Alan home. Yes, another thing Norwich has: a sense of humour. So in the spirit of combining its cultural and comedic qualities, I returned to the city of my birth for a "Partrimilgrimage", to prove that Norwich deserves the last laugh.
I started sportily, where icons collide. Carrow Road is home to Delia Smith's Norwich City FC (and Delia's Restaurant: 01603 218704; canarycatering.co.uk); over the road is Riverside Leisure Centre, where Alan likes to swim. ("I do breaststroke, imagining the water as the face of my late mother.")
From here I followed the footpath north along the River Wensum. At Lady Julian Bridge, you could detour over to Dragon Hall (115-123 King St; 01603 663922; dragonhall.org; open Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday), a magnificent medieval trading den, but it happened to be closed, so I continued, the Riverside development (Alan, it has a Nando's) and railway station to my right.
Across the road and the bridge, I dropped down to the left of the Wensum, walking past the 15th-century flint watergate of Pull's Ferry and on to Bishopsgate. Bishop's Bridge (the city's oldest, built around 1340) was to the right, but I turned left towards the Great Hospital, a complex of 15 listed buildings that's been in continuous use for 750 years (01603 622022; greathospital.org.uk; tours by appointment).
Just opposite, Gooseberry Garden Walk lead to Hooks Walk and Lower Close, both lined with Georgian redbricks and wonky flint cottages. The 11th-century cathedral is to the right, so I entered the cloisters where Alan likes to do some "light jogging". These are the largest monastic cloisters in England, while the cathedral's 40m (130ft) tower is the highest Norman example.
Back on Lower Close, I passed through St Ethelbert's Gate, into Tombland, turned left up Princes St then right down the gnarly cobbles of Elm Hill, Norwich's best preserved medieval road. At the bottom, I turned left on to Wensum Street, which segues into Magdalen Street. Long considered the shabbier end of town, it's now on the up, reckons Clive Harvey, proprietor of the charming Gothic House B&B. "There are lovely fabric shops, antiques places, cafés and delis," he told me, particularly Window Coffee Shop (25 Wensum Street; 07913 672491; thewindowcoffee.com) and Loose's Emporium (23-25 Magdalen Street; 01603 665600; loosesemporium.co.uk).
Things were less salubrious under the flyover and into Anglia Square. This 1960s "new brutalist" relic is now a place of Partrimilgrimage since the #AngliaSquareNotLeicesterSquare campaign led to the world premiere of Alpha Papa being held here at the Hollywood Cinema. A graffiti-ed Alan grins from the cinema façade while, on adjacent Botolph Street, a huge Alpha Papa mural adorns derelict offices.
Backtracking through the subway, I picked up grander St George's Street. On St George's Green stands the Norwich Playhouse (01603 598598; norwichplayhouse.co.uk), housed in an old maltings. This area was the heart of Norwich's textile industry – the trade that made it Britain's second city until the 17th century.
I walked on to Cinema City (St Andrew's Street; 0871 902 5724; picturehouses.co.uk), where the more discerning should watch Alpha Papa. Formerly known as Suckling House, parts of it date back to the 14th century; its Dining Room restaurant has a vaulted ceiling and medieval courtyard while the bar resides in the old Great Hall.
From here, I made my way up St Andrew's Hill and entered The Lanes (norwichlanes.co.uk), a cluster of alleys dominated by independent shops, cafés and good pubs. I wove up and down, stopping for falafel at Moorish (17 Lower Goat Lane), cake from next door Biddy's (biddystearoom.com) and coffee at Frank's (19 Bedford Street; franksbar.co.uk).
I emerged on London Street – the first pedestrianised street in Britain, much to Alan's dismay – and delved into the covered warren ahead. Norwich Market has been here for 900 years; today it sells everything from whelks to trowels and artisan bread.
From here, I sauntered up to City Hall. In Alpha Papa this 20th-century edifice doubles as a police station; its flanking statues are, Alan reckons, "Nazi dogs". Today those canids, with their stern, Heil!-ish stance, were festooned with rainbows, for Norwich Pride. Now what would Alan make of that?
Norwich has many great coffee shops; one of the newest is Dandy Horse (27 Magdalen St; 01603 920057; thedandyhorsecoffee house.co.uk), a café-cum-bike-workshop that organises cinema nights and hosted bicycle rides.
The new exhibition at the world-class Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts (University of East Anglia; 01603 593199; scva.org.uk; free) is Masterpieces: Art and East Anglia, showcasing the region's artistic heritage (14 September 2013-24 February 2014; £8).
Until 7 September, Norwich has been invaded by 120 colourful Go Go Gorillas (gogogorillas.co.uk) – including a Partridge primate. Download a map to follow the trail.
Norwich has direct rail services from London Liverpool Street, Liverpool and across East Anglia (08457 484950; nationalrail.co.uk). Eastern Airways (0870 366 9100; easternairways.com), BMI Regional (0844 4172 600; bmiregional.com) and Flybe (0871 700 2000; flybe.com) flights connect Norwich airport to cities including Edinburgh, Manchester and Exeter.
Tucked away in a courtyard, Gothic House B&B (Kings Head Yard, Magdalen Street; 01603 631879; gothic-house-norwich.com; doubles £95) oozes character, plus owner Clive cooks a cracking breakfast.
VisitNorwich (01603 213999; www.visitnorwich.co.uk) has launched a 90-minute Partridge walking tour. Five will run 9-11 August (£6pp, including goody bag). Private tours cost £48 for groups of up to 20.
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