Friday, 26 August 2016

King's Lynn

The Town Hall and Guildhall

We are on our way home from an excellent few days in Norfolk and have decided to take a quick look at King's Lynn on the way. It is soon obvious that it deserves much more time than we have available. The town was was originally called Bishop's Lynn when it was founded by the Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga in 1093. It was one of England's busiest ports in medieval times. The name was changed to King's Lynn at the Reformation.

We had picked up a town trail map at our hotel in Blakeney and started our walk in the Saturday Market Place and admired the Town Hall and Guildhall complex (there is also the 18th century gaol just out of shot to the right). The Guildhall, on the right, was built for the Guild of Holy Trinity in 1422-28. The Town Hall harmonises well with it, although it dates only from 1895.

More or less opposite is the church of St Margaret, recently renamed King's Lynn Minster. It was founded in the 12th century and rebuilt in the 13th. The nave was substantially rebuilt in the 1740s after storm damage. I especially liked the great arches under the crossing.

Turning left out of the church brought us the the entrance to Nelson St. The building on the right is known as Hampton Court.

A simple gateway reveals a fascinating courtyard made up of four separate ranges developed from the 14th to the 17th centuries.

We walked along Priory Lane past cottages restored from the remains of a Benedictine monastery and right into Church St to reach the start of Nelson St, with Marriott's Warehouse on the left.

Nelson St is very picturesque and is apparently often used as a film set - it is conspicuously lacking in modern street furniture. It is a lovely street with buildings from many periods - and remarkably quiet.

At the end of the street, passing Hampton Court on the left, we turn into St Margaret's Lane, with teh Georgian St Margaret's House on the right and the half-timbered Hanseatic warehouse behind it. (King's Lynn was a member of the Hanseatic League, the commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns which was influential between about 1400-1800. We saw Baltic examples of Guild buildings in Riga and Tallinn recently.)

This brought us out on the spacious South Key, with the wide River Ouse flowing by.

We headed back into the town along College Lane to find a nice view of the facade of St Margaret's and then walked along Queen St past Thoresby College, founded in 1500.

Opposite is Burkitt Homes of 1909, its dramatic red brick Gothic slightly out of place in this street.

Queen St passes the Custom House (1683) on the quay on the left (currently under restoration) and leads into King St, where St George's Guildhall can be found on the left. The coffee shop in the undercroft was open, but unfortunately the 15th century Guildhall itself was closed.

King St leads into the wide expanse of Tuesday Market Place, seemingly the palce to find a lawyer of a financial adviser. The most striking building is the Corn Exchange of 1854, converted to a concert hall in 1996.

We crossed the square and headed towards St Nicholas's chapel. We got a shock when we reached it to be greeted by what looks like a substantial parish church. Pevsner explains that it was founded as a chapel of ease in 1146, but almost wholly rebuilt in 1419. The lead spire is by Sir George Gilbert Scott (1869).

Inside there is single large airy space. Attention is focused upwards when the roof has angels as hammerbeams. Most are playing a musical instrument like this lyre. Rather sadly, the church is now redundant but enthusiastic volunteers will tell you all about it and collect donations for its upkeep.

At this point we had to face the fact that we did not have time to complete our walk around this lovely town. Instead, we headed briskly to the main car park and headed off into the Friday afternoon traffic.

Conditions: hot and sunny.

Distance: 2-3 miles.

Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Aylsham and Blickling Hall

Blickling Hall

Our main objective today was to visit the celebrated Blickling Hall, but we thought it would be good first to have a short work in the Norfolk countryside (we walked along a stretch of the north coast yesterday). We parked near Blickling and headed along minor roads towards the small town of Aylsham. We saw these sweet goats in a field on the way.

Aylsham has a charming market place with St Michael's church in view from the corner. The church dates from the 13th and 14th centuries. The lavish two storey porch is later, 1488.

At the back of the chancel is a monument to the gardener Humpry Repton, often seen as the successor to Capability Brown. Sadly, he does not appear to have worked at Blickling.

Inside we were quite taken by the wooden roof with some nice bosses including one of a mermaid.

In the Market Place there is a rather undistinguished Town Hall, but I loved the art nouveau decoration on this Victorian shop front.

On the other side of the square, the 18th century Black Boys Inn has a lovely frieze under the eaves.

We headed out along Cawston Road and turned right to follow a disused railway line for two miles. It was a classic of its kind.

Crossing a large field and walking back along a road brought us to the car and the short trip to Blickling Hall. The National Trust leaflet says "You'll never forget your first sight of Blickling" and I do feel that the image of Blickling at the head of this post will be etched in my brain forever. It is quite stunning!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Blakeney to Wells-next-the-sea


We have just arrived in Blakeney on the second stage of our Norfolk break. We immediately set off on a walk along the coast to Wells-next-the-sea. Blakeney, like a number of towns and villages in this part of Norfolk is some way back from the actual sea, up a creek which passes through salt marshes.

It is a charming place. Here is the narrow High Street, with the White Hart hotel where we are staying.

And here is the so-called Guildhall, in fact the impressive undercroft of a medieval merchant's house.

A raised red clay path leads off to the west and I begin to understand what salt marshes look like: a vast grassy area, with small or larger channels of water. Sail boats can be seen on the sea in the distance.

Inland, the landscape is agricultural as these hay bales witness.

As we approach Morston, which also seems to be known as Blakeney Harbour, the water channels become wider, dotted with picturesque small boats.

The harbour area itself is crowded and lively as seen from a viewing platform.

Looking back the way we have come it is easy to see that this is a popular walk!

We head through the large car park and on to an altogether quieter track. There are loads of White butterflies, but not much else, although we can see and hear a few birds. After a while, we can see the sandbank of Blakeney Point beyond the immediate waterways.

We passed Stiffkey (apparently pronounced Stukey, another of those places to cause despair to foreign visitors) inland of us. Then we saw, far out into the salt marsh, this fine old boat. Noah's Ark we thought not very originally.

As we approached Wells-next-the-sea, the path became a sort of raised dyke separating arable land from salt marsh.

Our first proper view of the town revealed a restored grain warehouse on the left, a busy quay with boats and people crabbing, and a sandbank opposite.

Looking away from the quay there was a lovely channel with moored boats.

After a desultory late lunch of crisps and chocolate we caught the Coast Hopper bus back to Blakeney. Such a good idea!

Conditions: hot and sunny. A bit hazy at first and clouding over in the end.

Distance: 7 miles.

Map: Explorer 24 (Norfolk Coast Central)

Rating: four stars. Fascinating to see a coastline completely different from any I have walked along in this country.

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.