Welcome to the first Pinholista city guide, and what better place to start than my home town of Norwich. Norwich is the county town of Norfolk, on the eastern side of the UK (the top of the bump), and is commonly known (at least to me) as the pride of Anglia! Norwich was once one of the most important towns in the UK, and the historical sites reflect that.
So, you’re visiting for the first time, what should you see?
The most recognisable landmark in the centre of the city is the castle, built by the Normans (on top of a huge mound) and later a Victorian gaol. The castle now houses a fine museum with many varied and interesting exhibits. You can visit the battlements and the dungeons, although exposure times down there would be a little extreme.
From the castle I’d then take a walk to the first of two cathedrals; head to Tombland and through one of the two gates and there you are. The Protestant cathedral is another Norman building and is a absolute beauty, the cloister is magnificent and you shouldn’t forget to look up to see the many bosses, including a depiction of the green man. Inside the cathedral is no less impressive and it’s worth spending some time to explore fully.
Once you’ve explored the cathedral, head down the close to the River Wensum and Pull’s Ferry yet another medieval building. If you want to see the ferry from across the river then cross at the Bishop’s bridge, there’s a rather fine gasometer nearby as well. From here I’d then walk along the river (either side) to get a view of the Cow Tower, a medieval watch tower.
Talking of watch towers, as you walk around Norwich you will see the remains of the old city walls, some of the finest preserved in the UK, bizarrely the tourist office has very little information about them, which is a crying shame. The city walls often appear in strange places, like by a 1970s car park, but the best place to view them is near Carrow Hill, sadly not on this walking route.
Back to the route (we’re at the Cow Tower remember) and continuing along the river until we hit Magdalen Street, and we’re almost back at the first cathedral. From here, go up Elm Hill, another medieval landmark, and then along St Benedict’s Street. At any point on St Benedict’s you can walk up the hill to the town centre through the Norwich Lanes, an area full of small boutiques and the like, which showcases the best of Norwich’s independent shopping. However, as we’re on St Benedict’s we’ll keep going until we meet Grapes Hill, and then walk up the hill to Upper St Giles. From here, it’s a short step over the footbridge to the Roman Catholic cathedral, behind which sits the magnificent Plantation Garden, with an ornate fountain and a really interesting story.
Once you had your fill of cathedral and garden it’s back over the footbridge to St Giles’ street and back to the centre of town. Once you hit the Guildhall, turn right to walk in front of City Hall (and it’s incredible lions) towards St Peter Mancroft and The Forum. You’ll be walking past the upper edge of the market at this point, with a great view to the castle. Once you hit The Forum, our short tour is done and you’ll be knackered.
So, here’s a little bit more about the shots I’ve shared!
The main photo is of the Cow Tower, a spot I love and return to time and time again. Other spots shown (in this order) are the riverside, Harbercue at the Ten Bells, Elm Hill, the Dandy Horse, City Hall and St Peter Mancroft (double exposure with Magdalen Street).
What’s the best part of town to stay in?
A tricky one this, Norwich seems to suffer from a lack of great hotels, although I have to admit that as a resident I may be unaware of them (so here’s a link to Trip Advisor). There is a Premier Inn on Duke Street which is close to the centre, and some great hotels on the outskirts and in the suburbs with some pretty swish facilities. There is also a hotel (Beeches) near the Plantation Garden, but it might be one to avoid unless you like “No frills”. On St Giles’ Street, there is a boutique hotel (St Giles House) in a nice building. I can’t really give any definitive recommendations unfortunately, as I’ve not stayed in any of these places.
One thing I would say though is to avoid staying near Prince of Wales road, particularly at the weekend. PoW is one of the big centres for clubbing and fighting in the east of England and probably best avoided for that reason.
Where should you eat and enjoy a refreshing beverage…are they camera friendly?
For a coffee I would go to one of three places, The Window, The Dandy Horse (both on or near Magdalen Street) or to Frank’s Bar on Bedford Street. All serve excellent coffee, some food and have a great atmosphere. For a proper drink, you are in the right place. Norwich has a wealth of pubs and a long tradition of independent brewing. For starters I’d go to the Sir Garnet in the town centre, one of the many Fat Cat pubs (all in the residential areas), or my personal favourite, the Duke of Wellington (a step away from town), which is well worth the walk.
Food wise you’re also going to be spoilt for choice. One recent opening is Casa Pato, at the top of Elm Hill, a Spanish restaurant and cafe with well priced, simple, but really tasty food. Nearby there is also Torero, another Spanish restaurant. On Tombland you will find Shiki, a fantastic and well priced Japanese spot (go at lunch and get the Bento box).
If meat is more your thing, then look no further than Harbercue. Currently based at the Ten Bells on St Benedict’s, and only open at weekends, these boys smoke there own local meat and regularly have specials…the baked beans are worth the trip alone and you’ll also get a decent drink at the bar. Finally, over the other side of the city centre there is Baby Buddha Chinese Tea House, a favourite with the local Chinese community with a diverse menu including great noodles and dim sum.
Norwich’s dining scene moves on a lot in a short space of time so it’s always worth taking a chance and having a look around. I’ve never found a spot that isn’t photo friendly, but it would always be good manners to ask first before setting up and pinholing.
Tell us about a great local camera shop or shops! Can I easily get film and processing?
By far the most interesting shop is Phillip’s Camera’s on Fye Bridge Street, which is a proper old school secondhand camera store. They always have interesting stock, which tends to be competitively priced, and they have great knowledge. You can also get a small selection of film there as well. Also in Norwich, but outside of the city centre is WEX Photographic, which sells new and used stock, mainly digital but you can buy film and some darkroom chemicals. Finally, there is a London Camera Exchange, which can have some good secondhand deals.
Sadly we’re less well blessed with processing, and I would tend to send my film away now. There are some high street chains but if you want high res scans or great quality I’d look elsewhere (which really saddens me).
What about galleries? Are there any places showing photography, or even pinhole shots?
The Castle Museum has very occasional photography exhibitions, but is more famous for its collection of Norwich school painting, which is well worth a look. Another major gallery is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, situated on the University campus with occasional photography exhibits and a fantastic ethnographic collection. The gallery at the Norwich University of the Arts can be pretty good, and I’d always take a look at the degree shows, which include a photography course. Many of the bars (such as Frank’s Bar) have occasional exhibitions as well. As with all things, you’ll probably spot things as you walk around.
Where should you head for to make an iconic pinhole image?
My favourite spot is the Cow Tower and most of the riverside really…and that’s where I would head as you can also get good views of the cathedral. Norwich is a city that bears exploration on foot so see where your feet take you and keep your eyes open!
What about day trips, if you’re heading out of town where should you go?
Norfolk is blessed with a beautiful coast so I’d get a train from Norwich and get off at either Cromer, West Runton or Sheringham and enjoy the seaside towns and the beach. If you ask at the station, you should be able to get a ticket that allows you to hop on and off. The other thing to do would be to head out into the Norfolk Broads, a National Park and a beautiful area of wetlands, small villages and good pubs. If you get a train to Wroxham you can then hop on to the Bure Valley railway, a narrow gauge enthusiast run train line, and hope off between Wroxham and Aylsham to get into the countryside and some great walks.
Is there a local group of pinhole photographers, and would I (or they) show a first time visitor around?
I’m not aware of any regular pinhole photographers in Norwich, but if you are out there please get in touch and I’ll update this to include you. If you’re visiting Norwich, then do give me a shout and I can give you some tips and potentially show you around.
Before you visit, whose work should I check out?
As noted above, I’m not aware of other Norwich pinhole photographers but there is an active Norwich group on Flickr (not just pinhole), which is worth a look.
Any final tips for having a great time when you’re in town?
As I mentioned before, there is a wealth of excellent independent shops in the Norwich Lanes so I’d spend some time wandering around the lanes and checking out the shops. It’s also worth wandering around the market, which is open 6 days a week (maybe even 7 in the case of some stalls), and checking out the food stalls. Finally, you really need to check out the buskers, some are a treat and well worth chucking a few coins down for.
I hope you enjoyed this little guide to Norwich, all of the places mentioned are marked on the map (you’ll need to select the “Norwich in detail” option to show the individual spots.