As readers will be aware, I am recently returned from Norfolk: one time home of the Iceni (though I don’t think there is any issue with Italian visitors these days). Prior to my visit, I knew little about the county – and most of that was the line “Very flat, Norfolk” spoken by Amanda to Elyot in Private Lives, but written by Noël Coward.
I took my bike to Norfolk – though, as it transpired, it never left a rather stylish cycle rack at Wymondham station (but it seemed to enjoy its holiday). However, even without using my velocipede, my keen cyclist’s eye was able to detect that Norfolk is far from flat: compared to South Cambs, the scenery is positively Alpine! If you can’t trust an interwar comedy of manners for geographical information, where can you turn? What next? Will I discover that insane canines and those from the south-eastern portion of the UK prefer to remain indoors at noon on sunny days?
Despite its relative abundance of contour lines, Norfolk is much flatter or more rural (or both) than my usual choice of holiday destination (which would either have mountains or be a city). Nonetheless, it is not without appeal: it is home to some rather fine country houses and many very attractive towns and villages (most with churches of quite excessive size) and some rather fine scenery, often in close proximity to water.
Many places are the proud possessors of quite splendid, if somewhat overblown (and rather unexpectedly pronounced) names: as just a single example, I regularly passed through Swanton Morley which must surely be Sheridan’s younger brother. However, Watton provided the best place name I saw on my travels – it is twinned with the Rhineland town of Weeze, though sadly the Germans would lose a lot of the fun with their soi-disant “correct” pronunciation of the word.
As I was on holiday, I undertook my self-imposed mission to sample the local cakemakers’ arts: it’s tough work, but someone has to make the sacrifice. Many decent offerings, but my top venue recommendation would be the Tea House in Norwich (just off the very picturesque Elm Hill). Not only fine cakes, but an attractive location and lovely staff. In fact, I rather liked the city of Norwich – though as with so many of our cities, you wouldn’t want to drive there – and could imagine living there quite happily. The only downside is the fact that it’s a little remote, in fact Norfolk as a whole isn’t really on the way to anywhere: well, not since the North Sea formed some 8000 years back. Talking of which, Norfolk does seem to be shrinking as a county through the erosive power of the waves: I’m not saying anyone needs to hurry unduly to see Norwich while they still can but you might want to get your skates on if you have an interest in Happisburgh.