Summer in the city: Norwich offers secret gardens, mercantile history and a wealth of architecture

With its riverside setting, unexpected nooks and mediaeval crannies, Norwich is a perfect destination for a summer visit.

Starting from the station, a stroll to the oldest crossing over the Wensum River at Fye Bridge will take no more than half an hour. The leafy Riverside Walk offers rewarding views of the 14th-century defensive Cow Tower, the three-arched medieval Bishop Bridge and a ferry house and watergate, Pull's Ferry.

The soaring cathedral spire is best seen from here, the very place where the honey-coloured stone used in the construction of the cathedral arrived from Normandy on river barges in the early 12th century. It is said that men building the great cathedral refreshed themselves at the Adam and Eve pub (Bishopsgate; 01603 667423;

With a garden right on the river at Bishop Bridge, the nearby Red Lion (01603 620154) is more friendly.

Discovering the city's rickety byways, flint houses with sagging lintels and Gothic overhangs can best be started at film-set perfect Elm Hill, not far from Fye Bridge. If in need of refreshments, climb the narrow stairway at the back of the Briton's Arms Coffee House (9 Elm Hill; 01603 623367) to discover a charming overgrown garden where you can sit in a jasmine-scented bower to consume carrot cake and cappuccino.

In fact you could spend a happy day tracking down some of the city's other secret gardens. Crossing Fye Bridge you come to picturesque Colegate, lined with houses once occupied by merchants and weavers.

On the north side, the non-conformist Octagon Unitarian Chapel, built in 1756, has a delightfully deserted garden. Relax among the lavender and hollyhocks and examine the footpath composed of memorial tablets to long-lived dissenting worthies.

Secret even from Norwich residents until 1980 was a three-acre Victorian garden not far beyond the ancient city walls west of the city centre. Patient volunteers have been restoring the Plantation Garden (01603 621868; with its water-lily-filled Gothic fountain, mature copper beeches, serpentine paths and Italianate terrace built up the side of a mediaeval chalk pit turned secluded dell. Located behind the Beeches Hotel at 4 Earlham Road, the garden opens 9am-6pm daily. Admission is £2, to be deposited in a Victorian postbox that serves as an honesty box. Teas are served on summer Sunday afternoons or you can bring a picnic – possibly one you have ordered a day in advance from the Cherrytree Coffee House less than a 10-minute walk away at 50 St Giles Street (01603 699955). The café owner will prepare cream teas (£10 for two) or picnic lunches (£15 for two) to be enjoyed in a local park.

Another recent rediscovery is a unique timber-framed merchant's hall built on the riverside around 1430. Dragon Hall went unrecognised until the late 1970s, because the building had been sub- divided into shops, tenement housing and the Old Barge pub. Now restored to its original glory is the 88ft timber roof resembling an upside-down ship's hull with the eponymous dragon carved in a roof spandrel. The hall vividly demonstrates how rich and important the wool trade made Norwich in the Middle Ages. Dragon Hall is open daily except Saturdays, with a superb guided tour on Tuesdays at 2pm (115-123 King Street, 01603 663922;; admission is £5.50.

More dragons can be spotted among the vigorous roof bosses of Norwich Cathedral. George slays a red-eyed fire-breathing dragon among more than 1,000 images carved at points where vaults intersect, most easily viewed in the cloisters.

Among the saints and Bible stories, pagan green men peek out from carved foliage, a fitting image to end a day of exploring the verdant corners of Norwich, river and city.

Three great days out

The Norfolk Broads

For a taste of the rare and precious wetland habitat of the Norfolk Broads, take a riverbus from Norwich station or hire a day cruiser from downstream to pilot yourself along the River Yare into a world of kingfishers, dragonflies and boat-potterers.

With luck, the river cruiser commentary will point out Charlie the resident cormorant, small vessels that helped evacuate Dunkirk and tell tales of river characters.

City Boats operate within Norwich and from its main base in Thorpe St Andrew three miles east of the centre (01603 701701; Out-of-town cruises last up to half a day (£12); eight-person picnic boats can be hired for between £40-£90 for two to eight hours.

Gressenhall farm and workhouse

The harsh conditions endured by the rural poor are hauntingly evoked at the Gressenhall Museum of Norfolk Life, 20 miles west of Norwich. The main building is an authentic 18th-century workhouse, and the extensive grounds contain a reconstructed blacksmith's workshop, school, laundry, and chapel. But it is the stories of particular residents told through press-button recordings, videos and displays that bring the whole place to life.

Riverside walks, a working farm with rare breeds, an adventure playground and a good courtyard café make it a great destination for families.

Gressenhall Farm & Workhouse, Gressenhall, Dereham NR20 4DT (01362 860563; museums.norfolk. Open daily 10am-5pm. Admission £8.40 adults, £6 children.


Ten miles north-east of Norwich is a whimsical 50-acre family attraction aimed at children, though family members of all ages will enjoy this un-Disneyfied fantasyland of natural features.

Access is via BeWILDerboat (actually pensioned off Broadland ferries). Aerial walkways, rope tunnels and bridges connect painted treehouses, and pairs of zip-wires cry out for impromptu races.

The middle of the Mudlde Maze is endlessly elusive but there is no doubt which way to go on the near vertical-drop 70ft slide. Care for the environment is obvious at the food outlets which serve locally produced organic food.

BeWILDerwood, Horning Road, Hoveton, NR12 8JR (01603 783900; Open daily 10am-5.30pm. Admission £11.50; £7 for 3-4 year olds.

Suggested Topics
people Ex-wife of John Lennon has died at her home in Spain
Nick Clegg on the campaign trail in Glasgow on Wednesday; he says education is his top priority
peopleNick Clegg remains optimistic despite dismal Lib Dem poll ratings
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?