Why I love Norfolk: Rowan Mantell

Sunset bodyboarding at Cromer

Sunset bodyboarding at Cromer - Credit: Howard Jones

Memory 

I met my husband here and all three of our children (plus both grandchildren) were born in Norfolk so it’s the place of all my happiest memories. Unwilling to choose between children I’ll go for a composite memory, high in the now-demolished old Norfolk and Norwich maternity block. The traumas of the labour and births are not erased, but quickly fade to near-forgotten against the miracle of a new baby. I could gaze forever at the expressions flitting across each newborn face and it is hard to believe that we are going to be entrusted with something so precious and beautiful. With the third there was even a rainbow arching across the sky as I tore my gaze from the marvel of new life. 


Thing to love about Norfolk - the joy of a cycle ride to a medieval church (Beeston St Lawrence, near Wroxham)

Thing to love about Norfolk - the joy of a cycle ride to a medieval church (Beeston St Lawrence, near Wroxham) - Credit: Submitted

Landmark 

Again, it’s a collection of landmarks – the blessing of medieval churches. They are one of the wonders of the world and I particularly love the tiny village churches where people have prayed and worshipped, century after century, sometimes for more than a thousand years. Whether they are at the heart of a settlement or half hidden down a lonely lane, each is a wonder of faith, hope, architecture and history. Opening the oak door and stepping inside a cool stone interior to find gloriously painted screens, stone saints sculpted around fonts and wooden-winged angels soaring from the roof beams is a joy every time. 

Beach 

The beauty of my absolute favourite beach is how quiet it is – and that’s how I want to keep it.  Second favourite, or if the tides and waves and weather are right, the real winner - Cromer! Cromer perfection is a low to rising tide on a summer evening with waves rolling in strongly enough for bodyboarding. Sliding down wave after breaking wave and racing towards wet sand aflame with sunset colours is the perfect summer outing.  

Town/city/village 

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Norwich has been my home for more than 30 years. Although I loved growing up in a village and sometimes daydream about living somewhere with a perfect balance of rural idyll and community facilities, perhaps Reepham or Loddon or Blakeney, it would be hard to leave Norwich. One of its greatest assets is the number of people who really care about it – and create everything from community gardens and independent businesses to arts and sports events. I can walk into the city centre or out to the country, and am a big fan of efforts to cut car traffic and encourage cycling.  

Place to eat 

I’m still not over the loss of Norwich’s Pizza One, Pancakes Too but with that Tombland institution long gone, the Norwich places I’ve loved eating recently are Gem, Benoli and the Assembly House. 

Pub 

The Unthank, Newmarket Street, Norwich. It’s a proper friendly pub where you can pop in for a quick drink, settle in for the evening, eat excellent food inside or out, or even party upstairs.  

Attraction or day out 

Cycling on Norfolk’s quiet lanes. Off-road Marriot’s Way is a treat, but so are the miles of lovely lanes punctuated by pretty villages right across the county.  

Something that happens every year 

Okay, so it’s only happened once so far, but Love Light Norwich was mesmerising and I am so looking forward to next year's festival from February 17-19. Some of the city’s most beautiful buildings will once again shine even brighter as they are illuminated with swirling colours, patterns and pictures, and open spaces across the city will shimmer with light-themed installations and performances. In February 2020 I sat in Norwich Cathedral as projections made the architecture seem to dissolve into a starry sky, fragmenting and reforming over and over again.  

Shop  

Norwich is blessed with shops you can’t find elsewhere and the king of them all is Thorns because it manages to be packed with an extraordinary number of things I need immediately and would be hard put to find elsewhere. I love Norwich Market too with the cheese stall and loose leaf tea stall particular favourites.  

Export 

The University of East Anglia brought me to Norfolk, so it’s an importer of people, but I am in awe of those who have gone on to great things, perhaps none greater right now than Oxford vaccine professor Dame Sarah Gilbert. 

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