Fine City Walks: The Cathedral Quarter and The Wensum

Distance: 2.1km / 1.3 miles

Duration: 40 minutes

This circular walk begins at the west entrance of Norwich Cathedral and takes you along the River Wensum before returning through the Cathedral Close. Some of Norwich’s best-known historical landmarks and photo opps are dotted along the way. For most of the walk, you can see the Cathedral spire (second in height only to Salisbury’s). Come prepared for a picnic at Cow Tower, stop along the way for cake, coffee or a pint, or have something more substantial from one of the many restaurants in Tombland upon your return.

From the west entrance of the cathedral, walk towards Erpingham Gate.

Named after Sir Thomas Erpingham, who fought at the battle of Agincourt, the gate is rather plain on the inside, but more than makes up for it with its extensive heraldic decoration on the outer façade.

Pass through Erpingham Gate and turn right. Carry on along Wensum Street with the Maid’s Head Hotel to your right until you reach Fye Bridge. Here you can pop over to Merchant’s House for a takeaway coffee and admire the view of the Cathedral from the centre of the bridge before walking down Quayside in front of the row of colourful houses.

When you come to Whitefriars Road take care when crossing over and follow the path down the stairs to your left near the riverbank. Continue along the river.

On the opposite bank you will see a red-brick building with a domed, semi-circular turret. In 1839, the Norwich Yarn Company built St James Mill in a failed attempt to save the once booming Norwich textile trade. It’s now used by Jarrold’s (of local department store fame) as their head office and training facility.

As you round the corner, you should see Jarrold Bridge, a modern steel construction in the shape of a “J” which seems to float over the water. Since its installation in 2011, it has won multiple awards for its design. From the opposite end you can get an attractive photo of the Cathedral with the bridge sweeping in the foreground.

If you’re feeling thirsty, a short detour from the path takes you to the Adam & Eve Pub, just visible to your right. Often said to be the oldest pub in Norwich, evidence suggests it may have been the site of a 13th century hostelry, but the building as it is now, according to the noted architectural historian, Pevsner, is mostly 17th century. Nonetheless, it is a magnificent pub filled with beams and character. If you do decide to wander over, mind your head on the way in.

Back on the path, continue downstream with the river to your left. You’ll soon see Cow Tower. Built at the end of the 14th century it is one of the first designed to allow the firing of crossbows as well as handguns. With its flint core and brick lining, it was also a tower of particular luxury.

Keep to the footpaths close to the river until you reach Pull’s Ferry. This picturesque construction is in fact two separate buildings. The original Water Gate dates from the 15th century and the ferry house was added in the 17th century. It was here that Caen and Barnack stone was transported for the building of the Cathedral.

Turn right to walk toward the cathedral via the Close. The Cathedral Close, filled principally with 17th century and Georgian houses, was described by Pevsner as a “tour of exploration”. The Cathedral is straight ahead, but if you’re keen to wander there are a couple of interesting side streets to explore.

As you approach the upper close, the inner façade of Ethelbert Gate will be facing you. The incredible decoration of intersecting patterns made by alternating flint and ashlar is the earliest example of flushwork (1316-20) in the country. The outer façade is just as spectacular, if not moreso, but is not original; extensive restoration took place in 1815.

On the other side of Ethelbert Gate is Tombland, a historic section of Norwich which is home to many local restaurants. It’s a fine place to continue your explorations or end your walk, though if you’ve not been inside the Cathedral, you should make time, at the very least, to walk the cloisters.

About the Author

Rachel Cutshall

Rachel is an American expat who moved to Norwich in 2018. When she’s not working as a nurse, she writes for her travel blog Anywayward.

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