This year, we holidayed in North Norfolk. The rather sad reason was that we wanted somewhere near home for Tess, our dog, who was getting old, and also somewhere without lots of big hills for her an our eldest son, who has foot problems. The sadness was that Tess died before the holiday, but we still went, and we had a wonderful time.
To those who think that Norfolk is flat, I can assure you that it isn't really. It undulates gently, but there are some more hilly parts. It is nothing like as flat as Cambridgeshire or as oppressively flat as I found Holland to be. At the same time, the lack of mountains or large geographical features means that you can, at times, see a long way in all directions. By the sea, in the evening, there is a most wonderful light because it is being reflected from various sides.
Now there are those that I have spoken to in Norfolk and Norwich who are desperate to get out. The usual reason is that it is stuck behind the times, the pace of life is snail like, and they don't want to marry their cousin. In truth, you cannot be made to marry anyone, but Matilda is a very nice young lady, and it is legal nowadays...
In truth, it is rather cut off from the rest of the country. That is, to me, a lot of its delight. As we drove around, many of the smaller roads had wildflower verges (something that is becoming less common in so many places), seemingly untouched by any need to widen the road or trim the sides overly. Norwich itself has beautiful old trees lining the ring road, which is quite wide enough, so they don't need to remove them to provide a bigger route. In contrast to so many places, especially around the South East, traffic getting places quicker did not seem to be the driving force behind changes.
Having said that, there have been improvements. I should point out that I studied in Norwich, so I do remember it from some 30 years ago (of which more later). There is a new southern bypass since then, and to the North of the city, there has been a lot of redevelopment. It has not entirely stood still. But there is still a character to the city that I find in few other places. It is an elegant, beautiful city - quite an achievement, given that most cities are ugly sprawling monstrosities. Because it lags behind the times, it doesn't jump on every new idea, and so retains its character. Just because everywhere else is redeveloping like mad, Norwich doesn't feel a need to follow. Of course, being the back of beyond, nobody really want to move there, so they are under less housing pressure.
So yes, I did study there for 3 years, and I fell in love with the place. I am not sure how much of this I realised until I had moved away, but I still feel it today. The fact that I was there as a student means I am not just praising a place I have spent a week around during a summer holiday (although, I realise, being a student is rather like a 3-year long holiday). I know what it is like in the depths of winter - bitterly cold. And this was not just a nostalgia trip, seeing the place through rose-tinted glasses (OK, I probably do, as much as anywhere) - we didn't really visit my student haunts. This is at least as much a reflection of Norwich today.
When trying to write this, I wanted to find a phrase that summed up my feelings about the city. I came up with an odd one - it was a place I felt safe. I say odd, because it is the only place I have been propositioned, and it was a place that I went through some of my most anguished and agonising times. And yet I felt safe. This is not just physical safety - it is "spiritual" safety, because it is a place that I learned to think about my faith, I learnt that it is safe to do that.
So yes, Norfolk is, to an extent, stuck in the past. As I get older, I realise that this can be a positive. In the villages we visited, I noticed the lack of chain stores, meaning the prevalence of local shops. Not entirely - in Wroxham, half the town is owned by Roys, who seem to be running some sort of monopolistic campaign. Maybe "stuck" in the past is the wrong phrase - not succumbing as much to the MacDonaldisation of the town centres (although I was living there when MacDonalds arrived). Living in the past, in the sense of revelling, enjoying, delighting in the past.
Would I move back? In a flash.