Days Out in Norwich: The Castle

It has been a point of embarrassment for some time now that as someone who claims to have a particular interest in the Middle Ages, I had yet to visit Norwich Castle.

Thankfully, this wrong has finally been righted.

I had hoped to go to Cromer last weekend but sadly a storm rolled in from the North Sea, as they are want to do around our exposed bit of coastline, and we had to call the day off. However, Norwich Castle turned out to be a far larger complex than expected, and rather than just filling an hour or two, my family and I spent almost our entire day there.

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Initially as you approach the castle it seems very squat and unimpressive compared to the later medieval castles you may have seen. Built initially around 1067, the castle has overlooked Norwich’s market area, known as Tombland, for almost a millennia. However, once you have entered via the bridge which crosses what remains of the moat, you will be astounded to see just how extensive the complex is.

Besides the castle keep, which contains the exhibits about medieval life in Norwich, there are a warren of other galleries ranging in focus from the history of the Iceni tribe in East Anglia to Ancient Egypt. There is also a natural history museum area in which the taxidermy collections of eccentric Victorians are kept – they even have a stuffed polar bear.

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Getting into the castle may seem a bit expensive at first but there is so much to do that it is a whole day’s worth of entertainment, and for younger family members there are often activities and special events to keep them amused; my visit happened to coincide with a workshop run by UEA Drama students in which they dressed up and re-enacted Viking life in Norwich.

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Overall, I would thoroughly recommend checking out this piece of Norwich history during your time here – but maybe wait until your parents visit and can buy the tickets…

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The Week I Finally Went to the Sainsbury Visual Arts Centre…

Finding a free moment as we approach the end of term is difficult, but occasionally it is worth setting aside your towering pile of work in favour of UEA’s own brand of extra-curricular activities.

Last week I finally went to an exhibition held at the Sainsbury Visual Arts Centre, something I have been meaning to do since the end of Freshers’ week last year. Their current exhibition is of the works of Alphonse Mucha, a Czech artist I remember doing a school project on in year five. Luckily I still enjoy his art and at only £3 it was very friendly to an end of term student budget.

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For what is a fairly tucked away art gallery and museum, the Sainsbury Visual Arts Centre is regularly home to an impressive range of artists and their work. Earlier this year they played host to a series of sculptures by Henri Matisse (It is also famous for being the home of the Avengers in the latest Marvel films).

I enjoyed looking around the exhibition, particularly the posters Mucha created for the then famous actress Sarah Bernhardt, and I’ll be keeping an eye out to see what is being put on in the future. Whilst I’d recommend students to go and have a look anyway, it’s also the perfect sort of thing to take your parents to when they visit.

My other bit of culture last week was a talk at the cathedral given by UEA’s own Dr Rebecca Pinner. Dr. Pinner is one of the lecturers on my Medieval Literature module so Sam, one of my housemates who also happens to take the module, and myself decided to go along even though St. Edmund (the topic of the talk) predates any of the texts we are studying by quite a long way.

The event itself was held in the cathedral’s library (which now I know is open to the public I may go and explore some time) and it was amazing to see how many people turned up. The talk itself was on the topic of the imagery of St. Edmund around East Anglia – St. Edmund being a very local saint- and happened to coincide with his feast day. It’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea but I really enjoyed it and I’m sure that I’ll bore any friend or relative with it who happens to be in the cathedral with me next time I’m there.

These particular events might not be to everyone’s taste, but they’re just a tiny sample of the kind of events and opportunities that you can find in Norwich. If nothing else, it’s good to do something extracurricular which isn’t the LCR…

‘it’s the most wonderful time of the year…’

‘I really like Christmas,
It’s sentimental I know,
But I just really like it.’

And so begins my favourite secular Christmas song (written by the genius that is Tim Minchin). I don’t know about you, but it really does feel like the most wonderful time of the year to me.

This last week UEA has been getting their festive funk on; we’ve had Christmas markets, carols in the cathedral, and cartloads of festive spirit (really stretching to keep the alliteration going there).

In the Hive (part of the Student Union) we had a Christmas market full of stalls belonging to UEA students and graduates, [Mum, stop reading here or it might spoil your Christmas present] there were all sorts of stalls- from handmade steampunk jewellery, to luscious soaps, to vintage tea sets, quite literally something to everyone’s tastes.

Photo used with kind permission from Deli Soaps (I bought a couple and they smell divine)

Photo used with kind permission from Deli Soaps
(I bought a couple and they smell divine)

Photo used with kind permission of Deli Soaps

Photo used with kind permission from Deli Soaps (In fact they smell so good that, although I bought them as presents, I might be keeping one…shh)

We also had this wonderful gentlemen and his stall making the campus square smell amazing (I may have had a tip off that he will be back in the summer selling ice creams which I’m quite excited about. Life is about the small pleasures).

click for a larger image

click for a larger image

That evening there was the Christian Union’s annual ‘Carols in the Cathedral’ service, which was a fantastic opportunity to see Norwich Cathedral for free, and to tumblr_ng68mlqKom1qm67xwo7_1280indulge in a spot of rusty singing (Fun game: Play spot the ex-choir singers, we’re the ones who automatically go into the descant and subsequently look mortified when no one else does).

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I mean it’s nice, but it’s no Salisbury Cathedral…

Finally, Dragon Hall (a medieval merchant’s hall on Kings Street) played host to a delightful little market, full of all the kinds of things you don’t need but want anyway. All the ‘merchants’ were dressed in full medieval costume, albeit some looked less enthusiastic about it than others, and I learned all about medieval alternatives to modern skin care products. There has been an unfortunate inclination in recent years to view medieval Europeans as somehow stupid, unclean people who never washed in their lives – well this simply isn’t true. If you had no running taps and had to heat all your washing water over the fire, would you bother with filling a whole bath? I think not. But they had their own versions of deodorant and toothbrushes, I even tried the clay moisturiser – and you know what, I think I prefer it to the oily creams we use today.

(for more information have a read of the lady below’s website)

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The gentlemen who gave the sermon during the carol service this week described Christmas as belonging to dark places, I’m sure he was thinking more along the lines of ‘the shadow of the valley of death’, Jesus Light of the World etc, but it did get me thinking. Christmas, for those of us living in the northern hemisphere, is quite literally the darkest time of the year, for students it’s when our bank balances are running low and a deluge of deadlines await us. It’s also around the time that we start getting our first marked essays back and, whilst I’ve been lucky/done well so far, I’ve seen a fair few despondent faces. I think that it’s important to remember that Christmas is not only a light in the darkness, but a promise of better days to come. After the equinox on the 21st, the days will start getting longer and soon spring shall be sprung upon us. So my plan, and my recommendation, is to recuperate over the Christmas holiday, have a Lucozade, and prepare for a Robert Downey Jr. style comeback.

Merry Christmas, Everyone x

Jarrolds, Norwich

Jarrolds, Norwich