Where’s the best Norwich bench for a lockdown sandwich with a friend?

Nick Richards enjoying a sandwich overlooking Norwich at St James Hill. Picture: Lorraine Richards

Nick Richards enjoying a sandwich overlooking Norwich at St James Hill. Picture: Lorraine Richards - Credit: Archant

Meeting a pal on a bench is one way to survive lockdown and something you’re allowed to do. Nick Richards checks out Norwich’s best benches

An idyllic view of Norwich - the bench near Pull's Ferry. Picture: Nick Richards

An idyllic view of Norwich - the bench near Pull's Ferry. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

Unlike March’s lockdown where you had to keep on the move outdoors, you’re allowed to sit this one out - and that’s official.

Seven months ago we were told to only go out and exercise for half an hour a day and people who decided to sit in the sun were told to shuffle off home.

Now though, you can go for a run or walk as often as you like and as the prime minister himself said this week, you’re free to meet a friend outdoors and sit on a bench.

With this in mind I had a look at Norwich’s best benches and tried to find the best one which ticks the three boxes that a good bench offers - peace, comfort and a great view.

An unusual bench in The Grapes Hill Community Garden. Picture: Nick Richards

An unusual bench in The Grapes Hill Community Garden. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant


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Here’s what I found.

Down by the river:

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Norwich is blessed by plenty of lovely places with a river view and unsurprisingly there are benches galore where you can relax and watch the world go by. None has a better backdrop than the one that sits at the bottom of Cow Tower - and the good thing is that this one is on its own and you’ll be guaranteed a bit of peace in front of the late 14th century artillery tower. If that bench is taken and you are on your own, why not cross the footpath and recline on the lovely carved seat dedicated to Thomas Richardson - it’s more of seat than a bench - I’ve certainly never seen a seat as beautiful.

Eaton park around the lily pond. Picture: Sonya Duncan

Eaton park around the lily pond. Picture: Sonya Duncan - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Seats are dotted all along the river, right down to Carrow Bridge and they’re perfect for watching mallards land, for feeding swans or for marvelling at how much the landscape along the river has changed in the last 30 years. Pick of the bunch has to be the one that sits in front of Pull’s Ferry. It scores bonus points for being on its own under trees close to the river - I’ve seen the water level lap up to this bench before but it remains a lovely spot. You may end up chatting to passing boat drivers or kayakers as I did when I wandered past this week.

Hidden gems:

Norwich has plenty of quirky places to meet up and if you’re based in the city centre why not take a flask of coffee and have a natter with a friend? If you’re in the Dereham Road or Unthank Road area, don’t forget about Grapes Hill Community Garden. It’s open from 9am until dusk and there are four lovely benches hand cut from tree trunks that just beg to be sat on. You can help yourself to produce here too, just don’t touch anything in the raised beds as they’re rented out.

The hexagonal bench on Elm Hill. Picture: Nick Richards

The hexagonal bench on Elm Hill. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

On a similar theme are the benches in Old Library Woods in Thorpe Hamlet - there are two seating areas, one in front of a small blue hut containing children’s books and one each side of a glass-fronted book case where you can swap books. Quirky and quiet this is a nice enchanted spot to get away from it all.

Nearby Kett’s Heights off Kett’s Hill has similar appeal - climb the stairs to the top and you can take in brilliant views of the city centre - and take the weight off your feet on the large wall by the herb garden.

Sit in the city:

An unusual bench in Norwich's Chapelfield Gardens. Picture: Nick Richards

An unusual bench in Norwich's Chapelfield Gardens. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

Take your pick for a spot of rest if you need to make a dash for essential goods in the city or if you just fancy a pause on an urban wander. You’ll find Norwich’s ultimate social-distancing benches on Gaol Hill - the ones that replaced the big circular benches a decade or so ago are now tiny individual seats close to the taxi rank. Stroll further up towards City Hall and there are plenty of seats in the Memorial Gardens that offer a fine view of the market and Norwich Castle.

It’s interesting that there’s only one bench that gives you a good view of The Forum - it’s outside St Peter Mancroft Church and was donated by the fire service, although many people just tend to sit on the The Forum steps.

Further up Bethel Street there’s a nice bench that offers a lovely view of St Giles On The Hill church, although you’re sitting on a busy corner of traffic.

For a bit of city centre peace and quiet, the gardens at Norwich Castle offer a good choice - at the top there are good views towards the east of the city while lower down are the large number of seats that resemble American-style bleachers.

Benches in Old Library Woods in Thorpe Hamlet. Picture: Nick Richards

Benches in Old Library Woods in Thorpe Hamlet. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

Parks and recreation:

There are the classic places you know and love that are obvious destinations for wander and a rest spread right across Norwich. From Thorpe Green in the east with splendid views of sunrises, boats and ducks to the other side of the city and the UEA lake. Nearby Eaton Park has plenty of benches - they’re dotted around the rose garden and along the avenues, though for the best views, the ones around the lily pond take some beating. Don’t forget too the fabulous seating around the bandstand where children have, over many years, enjoyed nothing more than the joyful exuberance of running around and in between them in a large circle.

Back in the city and what’s better than a leaf-kicking walk though Chapelfield Gardens with benches dotted around the edge and close to the bandstand, there are also a couple of unusual ones near the small playground.

Seating options galore in Norwich's Castle Gardens. Picture: Nick Richards

Seating options galore in Norwich's Castle Gardens. Picture: Nick Richards - Credit: Archant

Picture postcard:

If you want to pretend you’re on the cover of a chocolate box, why not pull up a pew on Elm Hill - there’s a lovely dark wooden bench opposite The Bear Shop that’s hexagonal and designed to go round a tree. Here you can take in the famous city street in all its cobbled charm. Nearby at Norwich Cathedral there are plenty of seats in the grounds, although you may be surprised to learn that not one offers a clear view of the cathedral - they’re all facing away from it.

If you’re after the best views of the city, there can only be one place for it - the seats on St James Hill off Britannia Road. There are two benches and two picnic tables in front of the prison and on the top of the hill overlooking the city is a lovely bench that offers a spectacular view of Norwich.

Offering peace, comfort and a stunning view, it doesn’t get any better than this - it’s so good that after two hours of wandering the city’s streets admiring benches, it was where I finally sat down and had a sandwich.

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