For a sense of medieval England, Norwich on a suitably misty Halloween night is your best bet in recreating the mystique of a dark and superstitious past.
The city has a Gothic steeple at every turn, along the gently sloping cobble-stoned lanes that crisscross the heart of the city. In fact, Norwich is famous for having a church for every Sunday in the year and a pub for every day of the year. Leaning half-timbered houses from Tudor times survive along Georgian brick in a cityscape that beckons the visitor to a world of ancient stories and folktale.
The potentially dark atmosphere of a town so convincingly medieval has not been lost on the local tour-guides. Thus, the creation of a themed walk under the heading Horrid Norwich, revealing, as they put it, the gruesome underbelly of life in ‘olde Norwych’, has come to life.
Beginning and ending at the conveniently located hotel, The Maid’s Head, a place brimming with its own history and stories, the tour wanders through the Cathedral Close, before turning along the Wensum River to later explore the area of Tombland. The name of the latter is, of course, most appropriate given the theme of the tour.
The Maid’s Head is one of Norwich’s most famous hotels and is housed, rather appropriately, within a jumble of medieval, Tudor and Georgian-style houses, whimsically cobbled together into one. It lays claim to a history stretching back the most part of the last 1000 years, originating as a hospice for travelling pilgrims. It also may have played the part as host to Elizabeth I on one occasion.
It is the final destination after the Halloween tour and offers an elaborate feast for the occasion. After an offering of tales of murdered monks, drowned witches and burned heretics and the ghosts that walked in their wake, the mood in the hotel restaurant is comparably cheerful.
However, there is still the occasion to drink blood. Nelson’s blood has become a local drink of brandy, on the basis of a legend about the death of the famous admiral. His body was reputedly preserved in brandy on the voyage back from Trafalgar, from which fellow sailors would have a sip to gain the strength of their hero. As Norfolk’s greatest son, this legend gave birth to a rather atrocious drink, Nelson’s blood.
Thus, the old city of Norwich, with its unexpected nooks and crannies and leaning Tudor houses, offer both glimpses of the wondrous and the ghastly. It is a must visit for anyone attracted to the mystique of Norman England and with a fascination for the horrid side of the coin of history, legend and myth.