The overriding and strongest impression that remains with me, is the warmth and hospitality of friends John and Stella, who not only hosted me, but also introduced me to the richly fascinating county of Norfolk during the early days of September 2017. I will have to return: the mind pictures, somewhat supported by some actual ones, are so overwhelming that I struggle to organize and file them successfully…
My nerves had been rather shattered by the time I met up with them at King’s Lynn station on an early Friday evening, after a harrowing passport invalidity experience back in South Africa that had had to be turned into a positive outcome within 24 hours, and the loss of my personal, wooden walking stick (for the Camino) that never emerged at Gatwick. (The good news is that the walking stick, leather thong hand sling and all, eventually found its way back home on its own while I was completing the Portuguese Camino without it! Thanks to the dedicated customer service of Emirates Airlines, I assume…)
King’s Lynn station is the one the Queen and her entourage arrive at from King’s Cross when they travel to Sandringham Estate by train for Christmas, I was told.
It was interesting to learn that Norfolk, a county in East Anglia in England, has as its northern and eastern boundaries the North Sea and, to the north-west, The Wash. The county town, Norwich, is a beautiful city with a variety of architectural styles spanning centuries.
I will among other things remember it for some very long minutes of anxiety when I accidentally found myself in the extremely dimly lit bowels of one of the glamorous shopping malls after stumbling into the labyrinth-like passages in search of the public toilets. When steel doors closed silently and automatically behind me and I was enveloped by sterility and solitude, I could not help fearing that I had been swallowed up for good! After hurrying around randomly, trying to find my way out, I finally heard voices, found those using them and was kindly released with great relief into the bustling and well-lit spaces of the mall!
Churches and Cathedrals
I was not a bit surprised to learn that Norfolk has the largest concentration of medieval churches in the world. It literally made me gasp, to try and wrap my head around the significance for posterity, of having so many amazingly well preserved churches and cathedrals almost everywhere. Three of them stand out: Norwich Cathedral, the St Mary Magdalene Church at Sandringham, where the royal family traditionally attend Christmas services, and the picturesque St Mary’s church, Houghton-on-the-Hill.
The latter has a thousand year history, with a period during which it had not only become forlorn and forgotten, but also abused and desecrated by satanists before being rediscovered, re-consecrated and lovingly restored during the 1990’s. The most touching aspect of my visit there, was when I ran back to look for my sunglasses and encountered Sid. He was clearly emotional and was visiting his wife’s last resting place in a tranquil corner of the church garden, with a bucket and a bunch of flowers in his hands. She had passed away just recently and he missed her painfully… How beautiful, I thought, that he had felt the urge to lay her to rest here in the silent remoteness on the hill, where many, many stories lingered.
Fascinating, too, was Norwich Cathedral through the eyes of a lady living right next door to it within the ancient walls of the cathedral premises, who invited us into her home and took us through to her ‘secret garden’ from where she has this glorious view of the cathedral. Even more special is the fact that she is a relative or descendant of an organist of the cathedral from a much earlier era!
It was a rainy afternoon when we visited the St Mary Magdalene Church on the Sandringham estate. But I was delighted to find the atmosphere inside warm, welcoming, reassuring and friendly, albeit overwhelmingly ornate and decorated. We lingered there for a while and I felt a sense of homeliness associated with royal family entities over five centuries.
In memory of Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and King George, the father of the current Queen, two small but stately cameo reliefs of their profiles, with their dates of birth and death below them, adorn a prominent wall as you enter the church. George VI had actually been found dead in bed on the morning of 6 February, 1952 at Sandringham House in Norfolk. He had died from a coronary thrombosis in his sleep at the age of 56.
His daughter flew back to Britain from Kenya as Queen Elizabeth II….