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Tour de Norfolk

Written by Anne Howard on

Two of Norfolk's medieval churches

Norfolk has the highest concentration of medieval churches in the world, 659 of them in fact, and I have set myself the challenge of viewing at least a few of them by bicycle during my short break in the county. Already a resident, I know that autumn is a lovely time as the summer crowds have gone and the beautiful autumnal mists are just beginning, crowning the fields which still bear the marks of harvest from earlier in the summer.

I am planning to view around 4 churches per day and I have organised my itinerary to look at churches in really scenic areas so I can combine my visits with some beautiful landscapes that I don’t normally get to see. Needless to say, destinations have been chosen that also feature recommended local eateries so that good cuisine is not overlooked either, cycling is after all hungry work!

Today I have already broken my unwritten rule of only spending an hour in each destination as I have come to the church of St. Helen on Ranworth Broad and ended up spending most of the day here. St Helen’s and its surrounding area is simply the most beautiful and atmospheric place and the views from the top of the church tower are breaktaking; not for nothing is St Helen’s described as the Cathedral of the Broads.

In fact you can see four other Broads in addition to Ranworth from the top of the church tower, a not insignificant climb but well worth it when you finally get there. The church inside has a most magnificent Rood screen, certainly one of the finest in East Anglia if not the whole country. Quite by chance, I watched a very spooky tale about this church on a DVD that I found in my cottage last night entitled ‘Ghosts of East Anglia’ which came from the East Anglia Film Archive at the University of East Anglia, and the ghostly story concerned that very screen. It made me shiver a little when I saw it for myself, not forgetting the spectre of a cowled monk seen rowing across the Broad to the church, a fairly frequent visitor to St. Helens it seems.

I wandered around the Broad which is next to the Church and visited the thatched, floating Wildlife Centre; Ranworth Broad is actually a nature reserve and closed to boating traffic for this reason. The Broad is alive with different species although you don’t need to be an expert to just appreciate its beauty and tranquillity. Then it was back to the Church for tea and cake in the Old Coach House before one last look at St. Helen’s and then a slow cycle to dinner at the Maltsters pub in Ranworth. I think all that exertion calls for a pint of Woodfordes Wherry, well it would be rude not to. Norwich tomorrow, I wonder if I will manage to see my allotted quota.

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