Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Norwich 2: Cathedral, river, almshouses, castle

The Erpingham Gate to the Cathedral Close

Having had an excellent walk yesterday around the city centre, today's initial goal is to have a good look at the Cathedral.

The Cathedral was begun in 1096 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga, who had bought (!) the bishopric of East Anglia from the king in 1091. The see was moved to Norwich from Thetford in 1094 following an order by Archbishop Llanfranc that sees should be in the economic centres of their dioceses.

We enter the large Cathedral Close by the imposing Erpingham Gate (1416-25). I can't quite put my finger on why, but I found this first look at the Cathedral rather underwhelming. And it was interesting to read in the latest edition of Pevsner that "the West Front of the Cathedral is is often regarded as its most disappointing aspect". He goes on: "this is the fault of post medieval repairs and alterations ..".

Entry to the Cathedral is via a visitor centre (or "Hostry") over to the right, although you can look through the west doors to see the magnificent and very long nave. The romanesque arches and columns combine with the gothic rib vaults to remarkable effect.

As you look up you gradually realise that all of the bosses where the ribs meet have remarkable carvings.

Outside, the beautiful cloister is "second only to Salisbury in size" (Pevsner) and was rebuilt 1297-1430.

This is the Crossing Tower (completed about 1140) and part of the South Transept seen through the cloister tracery. The roundels on the tower are especially striking. The spire is obviously much later (late 15th century) and it too is second only to Salisbury, this time in height.

We emerged again into the Close and passed St Ethelbert's gate, still a busy route for both pedestrians  and vehicles. It datwes from 1316-20.

Carrying on round to the left we reached the Water Gate and Pull's ferry. The path we walked along was once a canal (filled in about 1780) which was used to bring the stone from Caen in France which was used to build the Cathedral.

We followed the bank of the River Wensum, with views towards the Cathedral tower across the playing fields of Norwich School to reach Bishops Bridge, built in 1340 making it one of the oldest active bridges in England.

We headed towards the city centre along Bishopsgate to reach the Great Hospital, an almshouse complex dating from the 13th century and still going strong today. This is the main forecourt. Unfortunately, there is no public access.

To the right, and hard to photograph from the road, is a complicated sequence of tower, infirmary hall, St Helens' church and a chancel later divided into wards.

At the end, a peak into the garden reveals a block of later almshouses of a familiar type dating from 1820. And round the back there are further modern modern blocks.

We walked back up Bishopsgate and turned left at the bridge to continue to follow the left bank of the Wensum, soon passing the Cow Tower. This was an early (1398-9) artillery tower and was part of the city's defences. The name is thought derive from the surrounding meadow, known as Cowholme.

Further along, the modern (and distinctly bouncy when you walk on it) Jarrold Bridge, offered a cheerful splurge of orange in the almost still water.

Just round the corner was St James Mill an imposing structure made more interesting by the curving end. It was built in 1836-9 and has had a variety of uses; it is now an office.

We now headed into the city centre to see the one remaining key sight: the Castle. It is bound on an artificial mound which takes advantage of a natural rise in the land and was probably preceded by a wooden castle. The present building dates from the 12th century and is about 90 ft on a side and 70 ft tall - almost the size of the White Tower in the Tower of London. I was slightly shocked to discover from Pevsner that the castle was completely refaced by the architect Anthony Salvin in 1835-8. Pevsner also observes that the most surprising thing is that the facade is decorated with these wonderful blank arcades - it was after all a purely utilitarian building.

To the right you can just glimpse other stone buildings. These are quite extensive and date from the castle's use as a gaol on the 18th and 19th centuries. It is now a museum.

From the terrace in front there is a fine view over some of the city's landmarks"  St John Manthorp on the left, City Hall in the centre and the Roman Catholic Cathedral to the right.

Conditions: wonderful sunshine.

Distance: about three miles.

Rating: five stars. Magnificent.

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