Tuesday, 23 April 2013

CAMRA Members' Weekend 2013 - A Brief Overview

Well I’ve just returned after four and a half very enjoyable days in Norwich, attending CAMRA’s National AGM and Member’s Weekend. It was my first proper trip to Norwich, although I have made several fleeting visits to the city in the past. It was good then to get to know the place properly, and to explore and enjoy the delights of its many pubs.

It was also good to meet up with old friends from CAMRA and, of course, with a couple of fellow beer bloggers. I shall be writing more about Norwich’s pubs later, but to begin with a few first thoughts about the city itself.

Central Norwich is over-looked by an imposing Norman keep, which is all that remains of a once much more extensive castle. The streets radiate down from the castle mound, and to a lesser extent around it. The River Wensum loops around the city to the north and the east, and situated in what once must have been water-meadows, stands the 13th Century cathedral, topped with its impressive stone spire. Because of the layout of the ancient streets it is easy to get disoriented, or even lost, as I did on a number of occasions on my first couple of days there.

What I particularly liked about the place was the large numbers of old buildings still standing, some dating back to medieval times. The city was perhaps fortunate in being left alone by both the Luftwaffe and over-zealous town planners. Even today Norwich’s two main shopping centres The Mall and Chapelfield are not intrusive, especially the former which is built into, and extends below the castle mound. There are a numerous old, flint and stone-built churches plus, of more appeal to the beer lover, an impressive number of old pubs.

The CAMRA AGM itself took place in the historic St Andrew’s Hall, whilst the members’ bar and Beer-Ex was held in the smaller, adjoining Blackfriars’ Hall. Both buildings are medieval in origin, but have been added to over the years. It was a fitting place to hold the meeting, and over the course of Friday and Saturday evenings, plus Saturday and Sunday lunchtimes, the Beer-ex, which was well-stocked with a wide range of locally-brewed beers, was drunk dry by the 1,500 or so members who attended. I heard that this was a record attendance for an AGM, but so far have not seen confirmation of this.

It was good to meet up with other CAMRA members from around the country including, as mentioned, fellow beer bloggers  Peter Alexander and Neville Grundy aka. Tandleman and Red Nev respectively. I also spent quite a bit of time in the company of friends from Maidstone & Mid-Kent Branch, who had a large contingent of 15 members attending the event. As well as exploring many of the city’s fine pubs, we had a day out by train, visiting both Great Yarmouth and Reedham.

The highlight of the weekend was Saturday night's coach trip to Woodforde’s Brewery, situated a few miles outside of Norwich in the picturesque Broadland setting of Woodbastwick.  After touring the brewery, which included a generous sampling of the company’s products, we were ushered into the adjacent brewery tap – the Fur & Feather. Here we were treated to a hog roast supper, washed down with further glasses of Woodforde’s ales, served direct from casks kept in a temperature-controlled room behind the bar.

So that concludes my introductory pre-amble to the 2013 Members’ weekend. There’ll be more to come later.


Curmudgeon said...

Norwich was actually targeted by the Luftwaffe in the "Baedeker Raids" in 1942. While it does retain a huge amount of historic buildings, more has actually been lost than you might credit - see Britain's Lost Cities by Gavin Stamp.

Paul Bailey said...

Ah yes, the "Baedeker Raids", carried out, I believe, in retaliation for the raid on the historic city of Lubeck.

Canterbury suffered in those too, although walking around the city today you wouldn't really know it.

Curmudgeon said...

Canterbury IIRC has some rather nasty redevelopment in the south-eastern quadrant of the city.

Paul Bailey said...

Ironically, the 1960's redevelopment of the historic Buttermarket area, (a part of the city that did suffer heavily in the raids), was itself demolished just a few years ago. This was despite the buildings being viewed as classic exanples of 60's architecture. They were replaced by buildings designed to appear old, even though they clearly are not!

Rob Nicholson said...

I enjoyed Norwich as well (did we chat in the bar about beer yeast infection?) - a vibrant scene for all ages with lots of excellent pubs. Why some of the younger contingent were in self-destruct mode on Prince of Wales Road is beyond me and I'm sure I was young once ;-)

Paul Bailey said...

Rob, apart from perhaps on Friday night, we didn't walk back along Prince of Wales Road quite as late as you. What we saw was the clubs starting to fill up, and people having a good time without being silly. From your comment on Tandleman's blog, it appears things took a turn for the worse later on.

I don't think I've seen such a concentration of nightclubs before. Definitely an eye-opener!