20 Sep 2023
by Maddy Scott

An old stone church. There is grass in front, with black metal railings adorned with pink and white Heritage Open Days bunting.
That's some pretty cool bunting on the railings of Hungate Medieval Church - who put that there? (© HODs)

Having lived in Norfolk for the last seven years, I’ve grown used to seeing those pink banners and posters popping up all over the place once September hits! We’re incredibly lucky to have such an amazing group of volunteers that are able to put on hundreds of events around the county, and this year I got the chance to get out and see what was on offer.

Hungate Medieval Art

Most of the sites I visited are ones that I came across simply by (tactically!) wandering around Norwich, keeping an eye out for that familiar flash of pink bunting. During the first weekend of the festival, I took refuge from that too-late heatwave in Hungate (St Peter's Church) on Princes Street, and its beautiful garden. This was the perfect city centre pit stop to cool off and take in the current temporary exhibition, WATER. The churchyard gardens also back on to The Britons Arms, a gorgeous 14th century thatched building that is now a restaurant and cafe - and was hosting its own guided tours during the festival!

The South Asia Collection

I also got the chance to visit The South Asia Collection on Bethel Street one day on my lunch break - such is the beauty of HODs, to have your eye caught by a flash of pink, pop in somewhere and stumble upon a little treasure trove! This is a place I’ve walked past countless times and always wondered about, but somewhere that I’ve never actually been in. Slightly tucked away between a bookshop and a sixth form college, this museum is the definition of a hidden gem and I'm so glad I checked it out. Housed in a Victorian roller-skating rink but feeling more like a traditional wunderkammer (cabinet of curiosities), the internationally significant collection is home to furniture, textiles, wood carvings and paintings amongst so many more types of fascinating objects. I’m definitely going to go back soon!
The inside of a gallery. There are two wooden columns framing a wooden carved doorway into a gallery behind, where there are archways and curtain.
A beautiful little slice of South Asia, nestled right in the centre of Norwich. (© HODs)

Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse

I was then incredibly brave and went on an expedition into the wilds of rural Norfolk, to the gorgeous Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse. This is somewhere that’s also been on my Norfolk bucket list for years, and it was definitely worth the wait! There was so much to do and see here that I didn’t have time to do everything (very disappointed to have missed the metal detectorists!) but some of my highlights included exploring the two museums (the Museum of Norfolk Life and the Workhouse Museum), the folklore cabinet in the Collections Centre, the incredibly cute old cottage and the magnificent Large Black pigs on the farm.
A close up of two Large Black pigs standing next to each other on grass facing forwards. Their big ears flop over their eyes.
I was so stunned by the beauty of the Large Black pigs that I forgot to take a photo - can you blame me? (© CC Lewis Clark)

Norwich Cathedral

I ended my explorations at one of the most iconic symbols of the city - the 900 year old Anglican cathedral. There were so many fantastic events held at the cathedral this year, from tours of the medieval cloisters and the textiles of the Broderer’s Guild to hands on activities in the library and an exhibition of historical books. The cathedral is such a beautiful space with so many areas to explore both inside and outside in the cathedral close, and every time I visit I spot something new - this time it was the roof bosses in the cloisters - or did they spot me??
A close up of a grey carving of a man's face, framed by gold foiled stone on a stone ceiling.
I was absolutely thrilled to look up and spot this little fella peering down at me in the cloisters. (© HODs)

Signing Off!

Volunteering this year has really made me appreciate the frankly silly amount of heritage and history that can be found in every corner of the country, from literally around the corner from my house all the way up to the top of the cathedral tower. I’ve had the absolutely best time with the HODs gang and have learned so much over the past few months - I’m so proud to have been a part of this year’s festival! 

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