When I was a student in Norwich in the late 1990s, it used to be said that the city had a pub for every day of the year. In fact there are almost twice as many as that, as I was reliably informed at the press trip for the Norwich City of Ale Festival (23rd-25th May). I wasn’t able to personally verify the claim, but the trip took us to a good number of beautiful and historic hostelries.
After meeting on the steps of Norwich City Hall with the Lord Mayor and other dignitaries, we were taken by retro red bus to the official launch party amid the ornate 15th century wall-paintings of St Gregory’s Church. Of course a fine selection of local craft ales was available, including many by Lacons, a respected Great Yarmouth brewery. The favourites seemed to be dry, amber-hued Encore and hoppy-citrusy Legacy.
Day 2 began with a Blue Badge Walking Tour of Norwich’s most intriguing pubs. The Adam & Eve is an intimate hangout of cosy snugs and pretty Dutch gables. The oldest pub in Norwich, it’s rumoured to be haunted by the ghost of Lord Sheffield who was killed in the Kett’s Rebellion of 1549. Located in the grand shadow of Norwich Cathedral, the glowing white façade of the Wig & Pen is some four hundred years old. Looking out across the tranquil Wensum River, the Ribs of Beef boasts walls that date back to well before the great Norwich Fire of 1507.
We reassembled in the evening at the Murderers, a busy city centre pub full of character – and characters. There were talks by local brewers and employees of Crisp Maltings whose daring allegation that Norfolk barley is “the best” was put to the test later when Roger Protz, editor of the Good Beer Guide, led an entertaining and educational ale-tasting session.
In my experience it isn’t often that the accommodation for a press trip is so remarkable that it deserves a story all to itself. However, this was precisely true of the Maids Head Hotel, which is widely believed to be the oldest functioning hotel in Britain. Over the last eight centuries it has been the scene of high-profile trials, peasants’ revolts, large Masonic meetings and royal visits. Well-rested in the suite that Queen Elizabeth I used to stay in, I took the Greater Anglia train out of Norwich on Saturday morning with happy – if also slightly – disjointed memories.
Originally published in the June issue of Globetrotter, the magazine of the British Guild of Travel Writers