Cambridgeshire and Norfolk

Cambridgeshire and Norfolk

Travel to the alluring and seductive delights of East Anglia, to the low lying lands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, steeped in history and beauty, with a walk around the ancient University of Cambridge, beautiful and fascinating seaside ports, grand stately homes and a world famous centre of pilgrimage. See how man has reclaimed vast tracts of land from the ocean and how marsh has been drained and turned into rich agricultual pasture, visit abbey ruins, prehistoric hill forts, old windmills and charming villages.

Leaving London, or alternatively the M25 orbital motorway at Junction 27, you will head north east on the M11 into Cambridgeshire. When you reach junction 11 exit on the A1309 towards Cambridge. Before arriving in this ancient University town it is worth taking a side trip to the pretty village of Grantchester on your way in. As you approach Trumpington take a left turn on Maris Lane and follow Grantchester Road to the village itself. The small collection of thatched cottages and the church are quite photogenic, plus the famous poem 'The Old Vicarage, Grantchester' by Rupert Brooke, written in 1912, has attracted literature fans over the years, but does the church clock still stand at ten to three?

Continue onto the A1134 heading northwards with a beautiful view of "the Backs". Here you will see on your right hand side several of the colleges of Cambridge University with their manicured lawns and chapels decorating the banks of the River Cam with students and tourists alike taking a punt on the water. If you take this route bear left after "the Backs" onto the A1303 to the Madingley Road Park and Ride for a frequent bus service into the centre. However an interesting side trip is to head further up the A1303 to the American Cemetery. There are just under 4,000 burials here plus memorials to Joseph Kennedy, JFK's elder brother, and the entertainer Glenn Miller, both lost at sea. Returning to the Park and Ride bus service then take the bus to the Bridge Street bus stop to start your tour of the University and city area on foot.

Cambridge University was founded in 1209 and currently has 31 colleges. Each college provides students with accommodation, meals and weekly supervision where students will discuss with tutors what they have been studying at the university. The university provides the lectures and exams and, as colleges don't specialise in any particular discipline, will find a variety of different students doing different subjects at each college.

A short walk around some of the older parts of the University and city can start on Bridge Street, just past Magdalene College which you will see on your left as you approach the bus stop, then head right into St John's Street past St John's College and Trinity College. Turn right down Trinity Lane towards Trinity Hall and Clare College then back up Senate House Passage to Gonville and Caius College. You are now at the top end of King's Parade with Great St Mary's Church on one side, the Senate House on the other and standing majestically right next door, the huge chapel of King's College which took a hundred years to build, completed in the mid-16th century. This is certainly the most popular college and chapel to visit. The ticket office stands just on the other side of King's Parade opposite the college entrance. It will be a worthwhile and rewarding visit to see the impressive Kings College chapel with its breathtaking fan vaulted ceiling and Rubens' painting of the 'Adoration of the Magi' which dates from 1634.

After leaving King's College you can head over the road to St Bene't Street and call in at The Eagle public house, a 17th century hostelry, made famous on the 28th February, 1953 when Francis Crick and James Watson announced their discovery of how DNA carries genetic information. Take a walk further down Trumpington Street passing Corpus Christi college on your left and St Catherine's College on your right and then turn right into Silver Street to the river and to the Anchor pub with its delightful riverside setting. Here you can hire punts or be punted yourself by a guide along the River Cam.

You can follow the Cam on foot down towards the Fen Causeway, a scenic walk where one can pay a visit to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Trumpington Street by returning into town back along the road, the museum opened in 1818 and has over 600,000 exibits of art and antiquities. It is free of charge to enter.  Head back into the centre and browse around the market square before wandering up King Street with its many pubs, and scene of the regular student pub crawl, to Midsummer Common and the final pub on the 'crawl' the old riverside tavern, the 'Fort St George'. At this point you can follow the river back to Bridge Street and the Park and Ride bus back to Madingley.

Leave Cambridge on the A10 to Ely. You will be travelling through lowland countryside, a lot of which has been drained and reclaimed from marshes and lakes. The area is known as the Fens from an old English word of Germanic origin, simply meaning mud. What will soon be seen rising from this flat lying area is The Ship of The Fens, the name given to Ely Cathedral which is your next stop.

Ely is a small city on a sand hill just 85 ft above sea level. This ground, the highest in the area, was ideal for building a castle (only the earthworks remain) and a place of worship. The old 6th century Abbey founded by St Etheldreda has long since gone and the buildings you see today were begun in the 11th century. The famous lantern tower made of 200 tons of oak and 200 tons of lead was added to the top of the Octagon Tower in the 14th century. The cathedral to some people resembles a ship sailing over the marshes, hence its alternative name.

If you park in St Mary's car park in the centre of the city you will be in close proximity to the cathedral and Oliver Cromwell's house, the man who became  leader of the new Commonwealth after the death of Charles I in 1649. The self-styled Lord Protector and leader of Parliament had his family home here in Ely and parts of the house go back to the 13th century. 

Leave Ely by continuing north on the A10, you will now be leaving Cambridgeshire and entering Norfolk, after a journey of about 10 minutes take a left on Ely Road, signposted for Denver Sluice and Denver Windmill, the huge sluice can hold back tidal water and stop the flooding of the Fens, disasterous floods were frequent dangers to this area, the old tide marks on some of the nearby cottages can bear testament to this. The nearby Denver Windmill was built in 1835 and is now open to the public. Both sluice and mill are worthwhile side trips. Head back to the A10 and take a left towards King's Lynn, an ancient port and a wealthy trading town thanks to its links to the German Hanseatic League. This group or guild of traders brought a lot of business to the town and some Hanseatic warehouses still survive. The port has links from the ocean via The Wash to England's central belt via the Great Ouse River. If you enter the town on the A10 then head to the centre via the A419 and the A418 London Road, turning left onto Millfleet Road to get to the South Quay where you can park by the River estuary and a collection of delightful old wharf houses and warehouses from centuries past. The tourist information centre can be found in the nearby 17th century Custom House.

It is a short drive from King's Lynn to the next point of interest, Castle Rising. Leave on the A418 heading north to South Wootton and at the crossroads continue straight on along Castle Rising Road and Lynn Road to the village of Castle Rising itself. Here you will find the impressive fortress which gives the village its name.

The castle had its beginnings in 1138 when construction began under William D'Albini, a Norman knight, but its strategic use was far eclipsed by its purpose as a royal hunting lodge and by the 16th century this became its main function. By now it was in the hands of Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk who was uncle to two of Henry VIII's wives, the ill-fated Queens, Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard. A lot of alterations to the castle were undertaken at this time. The huge keep along with three outer baileys and grounds are open to the public. 

From here head east on Lynn Road until you arrive at the A149, turn left and head up towards Hunstanton. After a few miles bear right on the B1439 signposted for West Newton. Take this woodland drive all the way to the village of West Newton then take a left into Sandringham village. At the edge of the village you will find Sandringham House. Continue a little further and turn left to the Sandringham Country Park parking area. You can simply enjoy the open parkland where there are plenty woodland walks or visit the Royal home itself.

There has been a house on this site for over 400 years but it was purchased by the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) in 1862 along with 8,000 acres and almost completely rebuilt. It is the Queen's private home, she will often spend Christmas here. Her father George VI and her Grandfather George V both died here and fans of the TV series "The Crown" will be very familiar with the drama of life here at Sandringham for the Royal family, even if filming was actually done in a look-alike house elsewhere.

From here take The Avenue northwards out of Sandringham towards Dersingham and turn left onto the A149, follow this road to Hunstanton. This east coast holiday resort was created in 1846 by a speculator, property developer and businessman, Henry Le Strange who wanted to bring the railway up from King's Lynn to attract visitors.  The once huge railway yards have long since gone and after the track was cleared and the station demolished, the area was turned into a car park. Only the coal office remains, and that is now the tourist information centre. You can park here if you wish to wander around the penny arcades and fast food shops but this part of the town does lack charm, however, you can take a short walk further north to the famous cliffs. You can drive up there as well and that will give you a shorter walk down to the beach. It is from this beach that you can look back at the different coloured rocks forming the cliff and dating from 100 million years ago. Incidentaly, because of its position on the coast of Norfolk, it is the only east coast resort where the sun sets over the ocean as the coastline bends westwards at this point.

Follow the A149 along the coast road via the scenic village of Brancaster to 'The Burnhams'. There were originally seven villages in this part of Norfolk that began with the name of Burnham, which means stream (burn) by the homestead (ham), all of them located on the River Burn. Burnham Ulph, Burnham Sutton and Burnham Westgate have merged into what is now known as Burnham Market, the largest of the current "Burnhams". Drive through this delightful village of flintstone cottages and take a right on Joan Short's Lane to Burnham Thorpe to see the birthplace of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, commander of the British Navy and hero of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805..

When you arrive at Burnham Thorpe begin by heading through the village to a flintsone barn converted to a rather delightful looking hotel. Here, on your right, is a plaque telling you that Nelson was born on a house on this site in 29th September 1758. The house was demolished not long after Nelson's birth, however the church where his father, Edmund Nelson was rector still stands, All Saints. So retrace your route back through the village to the church, however the road up to the church is quite narrow and bumpy, alternatively, continue along Mill Lane and onto the B1155 towards Holkham Hall.  Rejoin the A149 heading eastwards, you will see the long stone wall that encloses the estate on your right as you approach Holkham village which you will need to drive through by turning right into the village itself.  A lot of the village is made up of estate owned houses and a hotel built by the owners of Holkham Hall in the 18th and 19th centuries, therefore it has a sense of architectural uniformity not always present in other villages in the area. 

The architect William Kent designed the magnificent Holkham Hall in the Palladian style, a symetrical classical style developed by Andrea Palladio in 16th century Italy. The house is a very early example of this style in England. It was built for the Coke family who became Earls of Leicester in 1737. The house was built for the 1st Earl and completed in 1764, five years after his death. The lavish interior contains paintings by Van Dyck, Rubens, Poussin and Gainsborough. There is a beautiful walled garden, woodlands and bicycle hire.

Depart from here and head onto the A149 which will take you to the attractive old fishing port of Wells-next-the-Sea. The shoreline is now a mile from the village and its heyday as a busy, bustling port is over, but the old buildings remain. Look out for the old maltings, there used to be 12 of them huddled around the harbour as Wells was a centre for the import of grains. The most noticable building is The Granary built in 1904 with its distinctive loading gantry towering over the harbour, this was recently converted into luxury apartments. Parking is available right by the quayside with a fish and chips available amongst the quayside cafes. Wells also boasts one of the East Coast's best beaches. A short drive up Beach Road will take you to the tranquil sands and pine forests with views out to sea. A beautiful spot to relax for a while.

Head back into the village and take the Warham Road for a few miles turning into Warham itself by taking a left turn into The Street then a right just after the village to drive south down a narrow lane to Warham Camp, an Iron Age hill fort that dates to about 200 BC, probably built by the Iceni tribe. Just the earthworks remain now with ditches and ramparts, but anyone with an interest in prehistory will find this stop worthwhile. There is no parking here so just pull up at the side of the road, try and get the vehicle up onto the grass verge and follow the path through the gate. Once you have left here continue on the same road to Wighton and onwards to Great Walsingham. This is actullay the smaller of the two Walsinghams, continue a short distance to the larger village of Little Walsingham.

Little Walsingham attracts up to 250,000 pilgrims a year from all over the world thanks to a vision of the Virgin Mary by a woman named Richeldis de Faverches in 1061. During this vision she was instructed to create a replica of the Holy House of Nazereth to honour the Annunciation. A shrine and abbey was founded here and the site visited by many English Kings, however one King, Henry VIII had this place of pilgrimage and house of worship destroyed in 1538 when he split with Rome. Thanks to a 20th century revival, Walsingham is firmly on the pilgrim's map and the ruins of the Augustinian Abbey are now set among 18 acres of beautiful gardens. There are more recently built places of worship along with the shrines, churches and religious bookshops all radiating from the little village square.

Leave Little Walshingham back to Great Walsingham then on the Hindringham Road which will become Blakeney Road towards Binham and exit on the Langham Road to Langham then onto the B1156 to the charming coastal village of Blakeney.  The old village cottages funnel down to the harbour along a number of long narrow lanes, seal trips are available from the harbour landing stage over to Blakeney Point. This quiet and delightful little harbour village oozes charm and not surprisingly this status is kept up by the National Trust who now own and adminster the area. Next door, just along the A149 is the equally pretty village of Cley-next-the-Sea, again, like Blakeney and Wells the sea has receded and the marshlands around here are now nature reserves and bird sanctuaries. A popular attraction at Cley is the windmill, built in the early 19th century and now a Bed and Breakfast.

Now take the Holt Road inland, joining the Cley Road into Holt, a beautiful market town with a delightful square surrounded by 18th century buildings and the rather grand church of St Andrew's. From here join the A148 Holt Road towards the seaside town of Cromer. At this location the ocean laps right up to the shoreline's esplanade and the 1901 built pier and Pavilion Theatre extend right out to the sea. Cromer Crab is the local speciality, full of flavour and dressed before adding a sprinkle of lemon and pepper and eaten from the shell. The crab is available from crab stalls and cafes around the seafront. You will now leave the coast and head southwards on the A140 towards Norwich.

The city of Norwich with its stunning cathedral, ancient castle and famous market is the county town of Norfolk, it used to boast a church for every Sunday of the year and a pub for every working day of the year. Maybe not so much the case these days! For convenience you will arrive at the outskirts of the city on the A140 via Norwich International Airport where there is a convenient Park and Ride to the centre. Take the 501 bus to the Castle Meadow bus stop. 

You will now find yourself right below Castle Mound and the Norman Keep. Just walk a little further along and you can turn left up to the Castle itself. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery gives you the chance to tour the interior of the castle plus a visit to the art gallery with its collection of watercolours and the museum which has a display of silverware, cloth and embroidery as well as the history of the local industry. The castle itself is surrounded by the Castle Quarter which includes the pretty castle gardens plus a shopping area and food court.

If you return to Castle Meadows head down Arcade Street to the Royal Arcade, a beautiful Art Nouveau style shopping precinct designed at the end of the 19th century by local architect George Skipper. This delightful passageway with its boutique shops and cafes will take you to Norwich's great market square, the largest open air market in the country with over 200 stalls selling a variety of produce as well as small independent cafes and bars.

From here head towards London Street,  past Jarrolds department store which has been in business 250 years, head left on Swan Lane down to Bridewell Alley, named after the old prison here, which itself was named after the infamous jail in London. It leads to the 13th century St Andrew's Church and also the Museum of Norwich, also known as the Bridewell Museum, a museum of local history. As you pass the side of the church you will arrive at a main road, St Andrew's Street, head briefly to the right, cross the road at the public crossing and head onwards to Princes Street. Before continuing along this street you will see what resembles another church before you. This is St Andrews and Blackfriars Hall. Built initially as a church in the 13th century this vast building of flint and stone was turned into a "common hall" after Henry VIII split with Rome. Today it holds up to 1,200 and is used for wedding receptions and other events. For about 300 years it was also used as a place of worship for Dutch settlers and was known as the Dutch Church. A former priest here had his portrait painted by Rembrant, the only English permanent resident to do so.

After walking along Princes Street turn left onto Elm Hill, the most famous and most beautiful street here in Norwich. After the Great Fire of Norwich in 1507 at least one building in this street survived and it will be the first one you will see, on your right as you start to walk down the hill, the Britons Arms which was an alehouse up until 1941 and part of the structure dates from the late 13th century. The rest of the street is made up of 16th and 17th century merchants houses, goldsmiths, dyers and weavers. Stroll past these beautiful houses, many of which are now antique shops. 

At the end of the street turn right on Tombland and after a short distance turn right and have a look at the old 16th century buildings in Tombland Alley.  The name has nothing to do with tombs or burials but it comes from a Nordic word for open space.

Cross the road to the cathedral entrance. As you pass under the arch you will see the West front of the cathedral and just to the right hand side the visitor entrance. This 11th century cathedral has the second largest cloisters in the country and a fine collection of misericords in the choir dating from the 15th to 19th centuries. Entrance is free, however donations are welcomed. If you wish to walk around the grounds then head out of the visitor gift shop and turn left and follow signs for the river and railway station. Turn left again and walk through The Close and down Ferry Lane to the River Wensum, here you will find Pulls Ferry and a 15th century brick and flint water gate, once used as part of the cathedral and city defences.

Prince of Wales Road will take you straight back up to Castle Meadows. Although not the most enchanting of streets in the city, and boasting a collection of fast food outlets it is the most direct and quickest way back to the bus stop for your journey back to the airport. From here you can take the A11 road back to Junction 9 of the M11 to head back to London or head out east to the Norfolk Broads.