Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Perfect Break

A typical Vancouver scene in Norfolk
After our adventurous trip to Cambridge and Ely, I decided Sally and I should stay closer to home for awhile. Besides, we only had the car for the weekend, so from Monday to Friday we planned to see Norwich by foot. We walked the 2 kms into the city and breezed through some shops, had a grilled veggie panini at the Forum, and visited Norwich Castle, which I'd never seen before. It's full of art, natural history displays, and costumes from days gone by. The natural history section has stuffed tigers and foxes and lion cubs, which was all a bit off putting. Those were the days when men travelled to exotic places and killed animals so they could bring them back as specimens and put them in museums. I must say though, the exhibits were very educational and hands on. Sally even tried out a display where if you pushed a button you could smell a fox's natural odour. I opted not to. When we'd had enough of looking at stuffed animals, I thought it would be fun to take in a film at Cinema City, but the ones showing were all rather grim and we didn't feel like watching anything sad. Instead, we went into the warm and inviting wine bar and enjoyed their fabulous juicy Angus beef burger topped with caramelized onion jam and served with home cut fries - all this paired up with a delicious cabernet sauvignon from Australia. We then walked back to the flat to try and burn off some of the calories.
My cozy corner

The next day, after a good night's sleep, we hopped a train to London at 10:00 am, picking up a #11 bus at Liverpool Street Station and heading to the National Gallery with its staggering collection of art. We strolled through hall after hall, gazing up at the paintings until we felt dizzy. My favourite was Monet's Bathers at Asnieres with its hazy, veil-like quality. Sally liked Finnish painter Akseli Gallen-Kallela's Lake Keitele, a haunting scene of wind-whipped water on a calm lake. Viewing the still life paintings of food made us hungry, so we located the cafe and ate a sandwich for sustenance before braving the gallery once more. When we felt we'd had enough, we ventured out onto the busy London streets, and wandered through shops, braving the crowds on Oxford Street, until it was time to hop a bus and head back to Liverpool Street Station and the train to Norwich.

On Friday, I called my favourite car rental agency and asked for a pick up, which went smoothly. Before we knew it, we were heading out to the North Norfolk Coast, a direct route out of the Enterprise Car Rental's parking lot. This time we had a shiny blue Peugeot with just enough room to accommodate our bags. Sally had to take everything with her because after the weekend trip, she was heading straight back to Norwich Airport for her return trip to Vancouver.
Front entrance to the annexe

I can't begin to describe the spring countryside in the north, and I'm not sure why it seems to be overlooked as a destination for travellers (and not sure why friends like you, Nan, could bear to move away from it). We made our way first to Holt, a charming English town with lots to recommend itself. Nancy Patterson's friend Annie has a B&B in the town - "Orchard House" - and I had booked ahead for a room, but was offered instead her self-contained "annexe" with its bright conservatory-like main room, bathroom, shower, and bedroom. Annie made up a bed for me on the floor in the conservatory and I told Sally to take the bedroom, given she was treating me and had herself been sleeping for the past week on a mattress on the floor in Nancy's spare room. Off the bedroom was a glass door to a garden patio with a little table and chair for holding our tea/cookies or wine/crisps. Sitting out there, we could hear the constant sounds of birdsong and the incessant cooing of pigeons, calling to one another and answering. Even though it's only April, Annie's garden is already bursting with apple and pear blossoms, masses of parsley and mint in containers, and delicate spiralling stems of clematis with their buds waiting to burst open. (http://www.glavenvalley.co.uk/)
A table waiting for happy hour

After emptying the car, we made our way the short distance into the centre of town and shopped for a few things to have on hand for breakfast - bread and marmalade topping our list. We'd decided to eat lunch and dinner out instead of trying to cook, despite having all the equipment for it. After looking around town at the various menus displayed outside the restaurants, we settled on "The Feather" hotel/pub with its delicious but filling four-course special of £22, choosing dressed crab in the shell, potted shrimps with a blob of garlic aioli, and a baked gammon thigh with a mustard glaze, roast potatoes, and a variety of steamed vegetables, washed down with their decent house white and topped off with a sweet slice of Bramley apple pie. Definitely over the top.

We then waddled around town, feeling uncomfortably full, gazing into all the shop windows - antique stores, book shops, gift shops, sweet shops - all very enticing. The next day, after a breakfast of tea and toast with marmalade, we drove off in the direction of Blakeney, eschewing the main road for the winding one-way country lanes bordered by gorse hedges. Sometimes, when there was a break in the hedge, a breathtaking scene of vibrant yellow rapeseed blowing in the wind would open up. At one of those breaks, I couldn't resist stopping for a photo op.
Fields of rapeseed

When we got to Cley, I had to stop at the church where Mickey and I rubbed the brasses way back in 1975, but was disappointed to see that the brasses have been either removed or stolen. There were just recesses in the nave floor where they used to be. It would have been nice if the vicar had been around so I could ask him about it, but the church was completely empty.

A donkey still wearing his winter coat
We drove on, again keeping to the country lanes which were dotted with Norfolk flint farmhouses surrounded by fences and barns and animals. It was like driving through a storybook.

When we got to Blakeney, we drove down to the bottom of the town which sits on the edge of the salt marshes. We parked and walked along the footpath that forms a circular walk - a 1.5 hour return trip - and met people every hundred yards or so, walking their dogs. The sky on this coast is massive and luminous - many artists are inspired by it. The beauty about exploring this coastal area is the close proximity of the villages and towns to each other. It takes less than half an hour from Norwich Airport to places like Holt, Sheringham, Cromer, and Cley, and the route is spectacular. I'm having no problem at all driving on the "wrong" side of the road either.

Monday came quickly and it was time for Sally to leave. We got up early and arrived at Norwich Airport in time for her 9:50 am flight to Amsterdam and then home to Vancouver on KLM. I was sad to see her go, but feel absolutely refreshed and clear headed, and must now turn my attention to the essays. If nothing noteworthy happens in the next few days, this may be my last entry for a week or so. I'm going down to Wield in Hampshire on Saturday, having been invited to Pip and Selina's for the Easter holiday, and will report on that next week.

Boats at Blakeney waiting for high tide

St. Margaret's Church at Cley

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