Jane Stuart – Writer

Writer on beer, football culture and Blackpool FC.

A Football Tourist’s Guide to Norwich – Part One

This was Day Six of our journey – and today we were finally going to get to Norwich.

Doubletree by Hilton, Lincoln

We decided to breakfast at the hotel – rather than seeking out our favourite caff – for convenience, as we had a drive ahead of us today.

Breakfast was in Marco Pierre White’s and was a help yourself buffet job – although we were asked if we wanted poached eggs and I replied in the affirmative.

The views are good up here (better than from our room).

This was my view and Lee looked out onto the serene Brayford Pool.

Just before we check out of the hotel, a word on the facilities.

Smelled of cabbage. There’s an aftershave that smells of cabbage too. Odd.
The pillows were so comfy I had to take a note of the make.

On our way out of the hotel we were greeted by a man and his son, who was bearing a sign written on a piece of cardboard. We then noticed a small crowd – and the Shrewsbury Town team coach parked outside our hotel.

Right – now it was time to head to Norwich.

Music-wise, I opted for this favourite from Duran Duran.

After all, we were already relegated, so there was no pressure on us to win tomorrow’s match. For that I was strangely relieved and thankful – perhaps we could enjoy a game for once?

The landscape markedly changed on this leg of the journey. We still passed signs for made up places (Whaplade) and crossed an interesting bridge.

We passed fields filled with pigs, which is something I’ve never seen before. In adjacent fields were some sort of metal igloos. Confused, I looked this up and apparently these are pigloos (they’re not called that, but should be), in which the sow rears her piglets. The rounded walls prevent her from crushing the piglets.

We were taking the scenic route to Norwich because I wanted to call in on someone in Thetford.

Captain Mainwaring Statue, Thetford

When looking for things to do in the Norwich area for the Football Tourist’s Guide, the Dad’s Army Museum in Thetford came up. Sadly, today being a Sunday, said museum was closed. Not to be deterred, we came here anyway to visit one of the stars of the show.

It was lovely and serene here…until a bee decided to nest in my hair. Now, despite my allegedly multifocal contact lenses, I struggle to see close up things, so needed Lee’s help here.

‘I’ve got a bee in my hair! Get it out! Get it out!’

Lee came to the rescue instantly – my hero!

I shakily made my way back towards the car – but was stopped in my tracks as I turned to watch a pair of geese – loudly announcing their arrival – flying in to land on the Little Ouse River. Despite the cacophony this was a beautiful moment.

Back in the car and now on a direct course to Norwich, we were soon again disturbed by an insect: a cockchafer had found its way into the car. Now it was Lee’s turn to yell:

‘Get it out! Get it out!’

Cockchafers are pretty terrifying – you may recall I was targeted by a kamikaze one at Deepdale last season in what might have been a scene from a horror movie.

Anyway we had to pull over so we could deal with this insect.

That was quite a enough animal/insect/creature drama for one day. Now onto a museum where surely no-one would get hurt?

Norfolk Tank Museum

Mike (Waze) took us down lots of single track roads (I’m not sure they qualify as roads) to get to the Norfolk Tank Museum. Quite how they got the tanks there, I’ve no idea. I’m only glad we didn’t meet any tractors coming the opposite way.

We parked up close to the entrance and were advised to go into the caff to pay. There was a lengthy queue here (mainly for bacon butties, which smelled very alluring) so I amused myself by admiring the decor.

My research had unearthed some sort of event taking place here today. I hadn’t looked into it too deeply because I sometimes like to include an element of surprise on these Tourist Guides. And I certainly got one here…

I’d been expecting tanks, of course, and we found plenty of those.

There were guns too.

And I learned stuff about the war.

What I was not expecting, however, was what we found outside, to the rear of the museum.

Basically, there were men dressed in medieval armour beating the shit out of each other with swords and maces and shields.

And it was brilliant.

Since becoming more disillusioned with football than usual this season (the worst I’ve ever witnessed – or at least on a par with the Worthington era), I’ve had half an eye out for another sport to get into. I’ve even arranged a date with Sarah (of Hull blog fame) to try rugby this summer (still not sure which one but it’s the one Wigan play and that’s where we’re going). Well, dear reader, this sport we witnessed here today – known as buhurt – was The One. Oh yes.

Why did I like it so much? Well I was watching completely oblivious to any rules or any allegiance to any of the teams, so there was no stress. It got really quite violent at times, encouraged by the trainers, coaching from the sidelines (‘kick him in the ribs, Rhys!’). There was an element of danger for the spectators (yes, yes, I hate this at football but it seemed exciting today): the fences often buckled under the weight of the competitors – and I narrowly missed losing an eye to a piece of metal flying past me from a competitor’s visor. I had a favourite competitor throughout the competition – a huge guy who appeared to target parts of the body not protected by armour (such as the back of the knee). But opponents had nice banter too, even in the throes of battle (‘this is a nice cwtch’).

Dear reader, I was transfixed – and we stood in the blazing sunshine watching for a good hour. I’d have happily stayed all afternoon had we not been stricken with thirst and also had a seven-pub crawl to commence.

On the short drive into Norwich towards our hotel (Premier Inn), I researched buhurt online. Was this a Norfolk thing? Oh no! They had leagues in Australia(!) and Europe. Who was our local team? Did this sort of thing happen Up North? The answer to that latter question was yes, but I’ve held off drilling down into finding a team to attach myself to. But, knowing me, I will. I’ll certainly be looking to include more buhurt on future adventures.

We quickly checked in to our hotel before heading out for Sunday dinner at our first pub of the day.

Golden Star

It was a race to get here before 1600 because, according to the pub’s website, their Sunday roasts were very popular and they often sold out. Karen was meeting us here for dinner, having just arrived on Bob’s bus from Blackpool. It was a hot afternoon (I’d left my coat at the hotel) and we had to walk quickly to make it in time before they ran out of food! I was glued to Google Maps to make sure we took the quickest route possible and then Karen rang (we were already running late) and I was anxious to get her off the phone so I could get back to reading the map.

‘Just checking, it is the Golden Star, isn’t it?’

Dear reader, it was a good job she rang, as I was following directions to the King’s Head, a pub we weren’t due to visit until later…

We eventually arrived, hot and flustered – and thirsty.

Half of Lupus Lupus please.

Right – now to consider the menu and get that grub ordered.

Beef and a very crunchy Yorkie.
Veg served separately. Fancy.

There was a bit of drama when something crashed down from the ceiling (apparently knocked off by the barmaid) but our time here was mainly spent eating and bringing Karen up to speed on our adventures on our travels this week so far.

Right. Now we’d got the food out of the way it was time to start ticking off pubs! We’d had a mini crawl recommended by our local correspondent Dave (not the cat) and we had been tasked with checking out pubs ahead of the rest of the troops arriving in the morning (it was matchday tomorrow). But first there were a couple of pubs en route that I wanted to check out.

The Duke of Wellington

How many names does this pub want?

I was hot hot hot by the time we got here, so I ordered a peach lager with ice in it (yeah get over it), which was just the ticket.

Not Coors.

The cask beer barrels were visible behind the bar in a separate room.

Ooh shame we’d just eaten. Hang on – peanut butter?!

We headed outside and indeed there was evidence of a barbecue BBQ. We took a seat – and Karen and Lee got into a heated discussion about the latest goings on at Blackpool FC. Great. I’d made a point of making a holiday out of this week to take my mind off the football and all that was being unwound by the minute. Bloody Blackpool. I quickly supped up and charged off ahead, leading the way to the next pub.

The Artichoke

This pub was top of my list to visit this weekend because of something fellow pub ticker blogger Si had mentioned when he visited recently. When questioned by Karen, I couldn’t remember exactly what. But we weren’t to be disappointed.

This was a good start.

Karen enquired as to the history of the odd-shaped building and we learned that it used to be a leper colony, situated, as it is, just outside of the city walls.

Ah yes – beers.

Obvs I had the Fierce but let me give a special nod to this one, which summed up Blackpool’s 22/23 campaign.

As we went to sit down, Karen enquired if I’d lost weight. This often happens in the warmer months (when I’m rarely seen, owing to the close season). All it is, is that I’m not wearing a thermal vest, tee, thin jumper, fleece, bodywarmer/gilet, scarf and big coat – hence I appear much thinner.

I was not disappointed with the loo review here.

No idea what is going on top left but yay for dinosaurs and otters.

There were loads of games to play in here but they were inaccessible – on a high shelf behind a big party of people at the opposite table.

All in all, this was a brilliant pub (as are all pubs that serve Fierce Beer, in my opinion) – and my favourite in Norwich.

Right – now to tackle Dave’s recommended trio.

Cool school fence.

The Leopard

We headed straight to the bar in this spacious pub.

I had a half of the mild, which was served in one of my favourite glasses (a craft beer tumbler with a rounded bottom), which made me smile. Karen, however, was not having any of it (‘I don’t want beer in a wine glass’) and insisted on having hers decanted into a ‘proper’ half pint glass. As her beer was decanted, it was discovered that she had initially been served a larger measure. All of a sudden this other glass was fine and she took that away with her, rather than lose this extra beer, in addition to the full half pint glass.

I was gutted that the Colmans Mustard museum had closed, as that would have been a must visit for this Tourist Guide.

The name of this pub immediately put me in mind of The Leopard in Stoke and this traditional pub wouldn’t look out of place there. Sadly, I’ve just read that its namesake – a pub I visited a few times ahead of matches at Port Vale – fell victim to fire last year.

Pubwise, I’d liked all of them so far – they were all ‘proper pubs’ where I felt at home. But there was something a little bit ‘off’ that I had yet to put my finger on. What was it?

The Plasterers Arms

As we approached the bar, there were no staff in sight, which gave me ample time to consider the pump clips.

And then, as if by magic, the innkeeper appeared – apparently from down the cellar behind the bar. I ordered a half of the Roosters because, annoyingly, I didn’t spot the BBNo Cherry & Chocolate until afterwards. That said, an 11%er on a crawl is not the best idea.

I observed a couple in the window eating a nice-looking square pizza, which drew me to the menu.

It’s not often I get excited by pizza but I fancy almost all of these! I’d probably go for the Korean BBQ or maybe the Buffalo Chicken because it scares me a bit and I like food with flavour. And those Vietnamese Fries!

Karen’s mind was blown at the idea of Lee drinking shots the previous night and she insisted on buying him a Baby Guinness.

Another nice pub, this – but we were on high chairs so I was pleased to leave. I can never settle on those things – always a bit frightened of falling off. I think there was ‘proper’ seating elsewhere in the pub.

Now on to the last of Dave’s recommendations – the pub we’d almost accidentally visited at the very start of this crawl.

Kings Head

You know the saying ‘a game of two halves’? Well this is most definitely ‘a pub of two rooms’. We would visit again tomorrow and have a completely different experience in the back room, but tonight we were in the quieter front room.

We were greeted by a friendly man, who had the following beers on offer tonight.

As I was supping my half of milk stout, it suddenly dawned on me what had been wrong all night. The beers had been flat and the temperature had been wrong (not so here). What were they doing with them? Or not doing? Did they not have sparklers down here? I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it until I finally got a beer that was right.

Not actual size!

I was tempted by a pickled egg but they’d sold out.

‘We struggle to keep up with demand. Once someone has one, everyone wants one and they sell out really quickly.’

It was quiet in this front room – although there was raucous activity audible from the back room. What were they up to? I investigated en route to the loo (no review, soz). Ah – there was a bar billiards table and that game was causing all the excitement. I’d never seen one of these in use before (the only one I knew of was the one in the Post Office Vaults in Birmingham, which seems to be more in the way than anything). I enquired with one of the players about the rules and it did sound exciting (something can happen where you lose all your points) but I can’t remember the details because this was pub six of a crawl but perhaps we’d come back and play tomorrow?

Just as Karen was complaining that no-one talked to you in pubs down here, we got chatting with a friendly local at the bar. Perhaps they simply needed a little encouragement? After all, we hadn’t instigated a conversation with any locals ourselves.

We’d rattled through these pubs and the night was still young enough to fit in another. I couldn’t come to Norwich without going to The Fat Cat – our Pub of Choice here for so many years. It was 1.2 miles away so we tried to order a taxi but there was a 30 minute wait and we could walk it there in that time – which is exactly what we did.

Puppets in a shop window that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Brid.

The Fat Cat

This had been home to Dave (not the Dave who’d recommended these pubs but the actual cat of Fat Cat fame), although he sadly passed several years ago. We did get to meet him here once upon a time, though.

I had a half of the Fat Cat Milk Stout and a half of the Tiny Rebel Chocka Block (nicer in Lincoln yesterday for Norwich weird beer reasons).
Those pitchers used to go down a treat with the BASIL lot on matchdays.

My phone was almost out of charge now, as I’d been on map duty all night. There was one visible socket close to the bar and in front of the window to the casks (carsks if you’re from Portsmouth) in the back room, so I sat here with my phone while Karen and Lee talked about football in the next room. I picked up a CAMRA magazine and flicked through it while I waited for my phone to charge.

There was plenty to look at on the walls here, too.

Definitely too late for this one.
For Martin.

I undertook a loo review before we left (in a taxi, because we’d done quite enough walking for one day, thank you very much).

Looks vile but I like the concept of ordering food in – something we’ve always enjoyed doing at Fat Cats.

So that was Day Six of the trip and Day One in Norwich. Tomorrow – our last day – would bring a few pleasant surprises – and an unpleasant aroma…

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Next Up: A Football Tourist’s Guide to Norwich – Part Two