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Weird Norfolk: Norwich and the east of England are officially some of the most unusual places to visit in the UK

PUBLISHED: 15:55 31 July 2020 | UPDATED: 16:55 31 July 2020

Weird Norfolk feature looking at the underground street beneath the KindaKafe in Norwich.
Picture: Nick Butcher

Weird Norfolk feature looking at the underground street beneath the KindaKafe in Norwich. Picture: Nick Butcher

Archant © 2018

UFOs, cannibals, saucy signet rings, vintage football stands…these are just some of the reasons Norfolk scores highly in a list of the UK’s quirkiest holiday spots

Norwich UFO sighting in March 1954. Picture: EDP LibraryNorwich UFO sighting in March 1954. Picture: EDP Library

Norwich has found its way on to a list of most alternative places to visit in the UK with the East of England scores highly as a top destination for supernatural sightings.

In a survey by Leonoardo Hotels, Norwich creeps into the top 20 Alternative Tourism Destinations in Great Britain, just above Harrogate and below cities such as London, Edinburgh, York and Brighton.

The survey was undertaken in light of the UK’s changing holiday plans as coronavirus puts paid to many foreign holidays and traditional package deals in 2020.

With some people cautious about travelling abroad, searches for staycations are at an all-time high and many homegrown tourists are looking for something a little bit different for their holiday at home.

Leonardo Holidays has analysed almost 4,000 entries from Atlas Obscura, TripAdvisor and UK UFO Sightings to find out the UK’s top alternative tourism destinations: and Norwich and the East of England make the list.

London has been revealed as the Queen of alternative tourism, with a staggering 1,165 activities from visiting award-winning food markets to breath-taking architecture, the capital truly has something for everyone.

Edinburgh takes the second spot, with 231 alternative activities, and it’s no surprise given the city’s rich history and stunning surroundings.

Visitors have lots to choose from, whether they want to explore the Royal Botanic Gardens or check out the taxidermy remains of Dolly the Sheep.

Norwich castle basking in sunshine. Picture: Ella WilkinsonNorwich castle basking in sunshine. Picture: Ella Wilkinson

In third place is Manchester, with 139 alternative things to do: quirky highlights include a monument to the soft drink Vimto – on the very spot that it was invented - and a pub that claims to have the smallest bar counter in Europe.

In Norfolk, researchers pointed to quirky things to see such as the Wellesley Road Grandstand in Great Yarmouth, built in 1889 and designed by JW Cockrill, known by many as “Concrete Cockrill”.

The stands are the oldest football stands in the country and one of the oldest continuously-used in the world with an open construction of timber and concrete it’s a great place to watch the Bloaters.

Another quirky find from researchers was the Balthild Seal Matrix at Norwich Castle Museum, a two-sided gold seal which shows a woman’s face on one side and two naked lovers embracing beneath a cross on the other.

The Adam & Eve, the oldest pub in NorwichThe Adam & Eve, the oldest pub in Norwich

The erotic scene makes the object unique for this time period and this seal ring was found in a field in Postwick in 1999.

A further place researchers suggested fans of the unusual should seek out was Tombland and in particular Augustine Steward’s House. This higgledy-piggeldy half-timbered house is the site of one of Norwich’s most gruesome tales.

Sealed by bailiffs during the plague of 1578 and revisited six weeks later, officials realised they had acted too quickly: as they removed the bodies of one unfortunate family, they realised the mother and father had chunks of flesh missing from their legs…and that the little girl hadn’t died of plague but had rather choked on the flesh of her own parents as she struggled to stay alive. Find out more here.

Her spirit is said to move things around in the night and open and close doors. However, she doesn’t remain locked in the house as she was before she died and is also said to haunt Tombland Alley, a footpath which links Tombland and Princes Street and follows the line of an old Roman road.

Sir John Heydon's severed hand. Picture: Stacia BriggsSir John Heydon's severed hand. Picture: Stacia Briggs

It is believed that that level of the graveyard had to be raised in order to accommodate the remains of all those who died during the several visitations of the plague which killed thousands.

The grey apparition of a young girl has been seen wandering towards the church and is thought to be the poor soul from Augustine Steward House.

The Eastern Daily Press has weekly features and fortnightly podcasts from the Weird Norfolk Team which are packed with unusual oddities, folklore, ghosts, UFO sightings and all manner of strangeness.

A tour of Tombland. Augustine Steward House and Tombland Alley, where remains of one of the two Roman roads in Norwich was found. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA tour of Tombland. Augustine Steward House and Tombland Alley, where remains of one of the two Roman roads in Norwich was found. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Which UK destinations are the best for all things alternative? From novel nature and quirky culture to mind-blowing science and historic relics, Leonardo Hotels analysed almost 4,000 entries from Atlas Obscura, TripAdvisor and UK UFO sightings to find out the UK’s top alternative tourism destinations. The brackets after the city name denotes the number of alternative tourism attractions in the city.

Top 20 Alternative Tourism Destinations

A tour of Tombland. Tombland Alley where it is said an apparition appears of a young girl of a family who resided in Augustine Steward House who all died from the plague.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYA tour of Tombland. Tombland Alley where it is said an apparition appears of a young girl of a family who resided in Augustine Steward House who all died from the plague. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

1) London (1165)

2) Edinburgh (231)

3) Manchester (139)

4) Glasgow (119)

A Weird Walk around Norwich. Location 1 - Lollards Pit. Picture: Siofra ConnorA Weird Walk around Norwich. Location 1 - Lollards Pit. Picture: Siofra Connor

5) Liverpool (101)

6) York (88)

7) Birmingham (83)

8) Leeds (74)

The Wellesley recreation ground home to Great Yarmouth Town Football Club
The grandstand

Picture: James BassThe Wellesley recreation ground home to Great Yarmouth Town Football Club The grandstand Picture: James Bass

9) Nottingham (72)

10) Brighton (54)

11) Bristol (53)

12) Sheffield (53)

13) Oxford (52)

14) Cardiff (49)

15) Bath (45)

16) Coventry (43)

17) Norwich (39)

18) Harrogate (36)

19) Lincoln (35)

20) Belfast (35)

You may also want to watch:

Top Destinations for the Supernatural

Did you know, there have been more than 3,000 UFO sightings in the UK in the last 10 years? But which region takes the top spot for supernatural tourism?

South East England – 470 sightings

North West – 465 sightings

Scotland – 376 sightings

West Midlands – 336 sightings

East of England – 312 sightings

South West – 261 sightings

East Midlands – 255 sightings

Yorkshire and the Humber – 196 sightings

London – 182 sightings

North East – 164 sightings

Wales – 64 sightings

Northern Ireland – two sightings

Weird Norfolk suggest seven of their favourite Weird things to see in Norwich

1) Norwich Castle: the city’s own cabinet of curiosities which looks down on high from its huge motte, a quiet observer of Norwich life since 1100. Filled with fascinating finds and impressive paintings, just a little bit of exploring reveals unexpected weird treasure such as the preserved remains of a rare liger cub, a four-legged duckling, a tiny pair of gallows complete with hanging victim, the chains and shackles used to restrain prisoners, a mummified cat (and a mummified severed hand) death masks and an ancient curse tablet. Find out more here

2) Fye Bridge: The oldest known bridge site in the city, even older than Bishop Bridge, albeit rebuilt in 1829, there are records of this ancient bridge which date from 1153. It is here where it is thought the city’s medieval ducking stool was situated and where the Witchfinder General persecuted those accused of witchcraft during the witch hunts of 1644 to 1647. Survival was proof that someone was a witch, death proved innocence. Find out more here

3) Norfolk’s own Diagon Alley: A hidden street far below the Muggle world, a secret deep underneath a Norwich street accessed not through the Leaky Cauldron but rather through the headquarters of a charity which encourages people to be kind. Hidden two flights of stairs below the headquarters of The Missing Kind on Castle Street in Norwich, there are secrets to be found, abandoned houses to explore, a passageway to follow that leads to a locked door where unsuspecting pedestrians stroll past with no idea of what is just inches away. Find out more here and call 01603 850309 to book a tour.

4) The Adam and Eve, 17, Bishopgate: This Norwich institution’s first customers were the stonemasons building Norwich Cathedral in the 13the century. The city’s oldest pub boasts several ghosts, including a medieval French-speaking monk who has been glimpsed under the floorboards and friendly ghost Sam, said to be Lord Sheffield who was wounded in Kett’s Rebellion but is happy for his final resting place to be in a lovely, warm pub where he occasionally makes his presence known by ringing bells, pinching scarves and running his fingers through customers’ hair.

5) Lollards Pit, 69-71 Riverside Road, Norwich: The Lollards Pit pub stands where, in the 15th and 16th centuries, people were burnt to death for their religious beliefs. At least three Lollards, or heretics, died in 1428, half a dozen in the first half of the 16th century and up to 50 during the reign of Queen ‘Bloody’ Mary. Prisoners were held in what is now the cellar of the pub and the pit where the executions took place (and where the chalk to provide foundations for the nearby cathedral was excavated) is now a beer garden. It’s said that the screams and whimpers of victims can still be heard in the area…

6) Norwich Guildhall: Dating back to the 15th century, this was once the centre of the city’s government and has housed courts, a prison and a chapel. In 1851, body parts which had been distributed across Norwich were found. A dog found a human hand in a clenched fist and – once it had been persuaded to give it up – it was taken to Guildhall Police station. Next to be found was a foot, and then a part of a torso – over the following days, piece after piece of flesh was found scattered across Norwich, dropped in the solitude of night and later found and brought to the Guildhall where they were kept together in a vat of spirits. The parts all belonged to poor Martha Sheward, who had been killed by her husband using a pair of scissors and then sawn into pieces which he scattered. He got away with the crime for 17 years – but in the end his conscience was too much to bear and he confessed, handing himself in at a police station. Martha was buried in a vault on the north side of the Guildhall, her pickled remains put into a hole and covered in lime.

7) Armada House: At the corner of Princes Street and St Andrews Street, about five minutes walk from the cathedral, stands a Norwich landmark, a simple 16th century building, timber-framed, with a plastered exterior. Aside from the Elizabethan architecture, which is an excellent example of late 16th century building, what makes Armada House so popular is the story behind its construction. According to local tradition, the house was built using ship timbers washed ashore along the Norfolk coast after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The story is emphasised by the date 1589 carved on the exterior, and a plaster relief carving of a 16th century ship under sail on the Princes Street side of the building.* For more Weird Norfolk stories, podcasts and features, click here.

Don’t miss our Enjoy Summer More supplement!

There are loads of ideas on things to do this summer in our 24-page supplement in the EDP and Norwich Evening News this Saturday.

With so many fantastic attractions right on our doorstep, now’s the perfect time to re-visit some old favourites or discover some new ones. They’ve all got special covid safety measures in place, so you can enjoy a day out in complete confidence.

The summer is also a great time to enjoy our fine county’s food and drink bounty. Whether you’re planning on taking advantage of the government’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, cooking up a storm at home, or looking for some pick-your-own fun, we’ve got plenty of inspiration.

The focus on our homes and gardens will also continue through summer. We’ve got some great ideas to make the most of time spent at home, from wild gardens to hot tubs. Don’t miss it!


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