This year the CAMRA AGM is being held in Norwich. For those of you who have never been to this 'fine city' you really need to make a point of going. I was lucky to be living in Norwich when the CAMRA AGM was last there in 1990. The venue is the magnificent St Andrews Hall, a venue that also houses the annual Norwich Beer Festival in late October. I lived in Norwich between 1989 and 1992 and I have returned there quite a few times since.
The first thing I learned about Norwich was it had a lot of pubs and a lot of churches. They say it once had a pub for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday of the year. A large number of pubs had obviously closed down when I arrived as the number was down to about 240 and it is probably reduced further by now. The churches largely remained intact but they had been put to many imaginative uses such as a magnificent puppet theatre.
One of my initial roles at work was to organise the Friday night pub crawl. Each week myself and a number of my colleagues would visit 5 or 6 pubs. We had our favourites during the week such as the Ribs of Beef, The Reindeer, St Andrews Tavern, The Jubilee and Micawbers to name a few. On Friday we would always try somewhere new.
When looking back at those days it is surprising to see so many of these pubs still mentioned as pubs to visit. I try and compartmentalise the city. Near the railway station there was The Jubilee, The Rosary Tavern, the Coach and Horses and Ketts Tavern. Heading towards the cathedral from the Ketts you could head towards the Adam and Eve. In Tombland, the other side side of the cathedral, you had Edith Cavell which was not far from St Andrews Hall with the St Andrews Tavern opposite. The Ribs of Beef was a magnificent pub down from Elm Hill and across the river towards Anglia Square you came across the Plasterers Arms. To the east of the city was the brewpub The Reindeer which wasn't far from the Micawbers or the Tap & Spile pub, The White Lion. Back in the city centre there was the pub with two names, The Murderers / The Gardeners Arms. Out towards the football ground were a couple of fine Adnams pubs, the Horse and Dray and the Rose. Round the corner from the Rose there was the Freemasons and the Kings Arms. Down the hill to the river there was the Ferry Boat. Over near the hospital was the superb Unthank Arms. I've missed off lots of pubs here but you probably get the picture of a city brimming with great places to drink.
When I returned to work in Norwich in 1998 many of these pubs were still there along with a few new ones. Wetherspoons had invaded with The Bell Hotel and out of town, past The Reindeer, was the magnificent Fat Cat. This is my first port of call when I go back to Norwich now. A small street corner pub with a beer list longer than any pub I have ever been in. It was usually standing room only but everything about this pub I absolutely loved.
Sadly, I cannot make it to the CAMRA AGM this year, so I have booked to visit Norwich towards the end of May when the City of Ale festival takes place. This is a 10-day celebration of local pubs and breweries. Many of these breweries were not around when I last visited Norwich so, as well as visiting some old favourites, I will be looking to sample many new beers and pubs. Three new breweries and pubs I am particularly looking forward to visiting are Bear Brewing (Ketts Tavern), Grain Brewery (The Plough) and Fat Cat (Fat Cat Brewery Tap). If anyone reading this can recommend any places I have not mentioned then please do so. I will try and fit it into what will be a busy couple of days.