Like the multi-layered historic city of Norwich itself, the city’s oldest hotel, The Maids Head, whisks you in a flash from 21st-century in-room iPads to the Middle Ages. At least parts of this building originally used by Norman bishops to house visitors to the cathedral have functioned as a place of hospitality since the 12th century. The Black Prince imbibed here when he was in town for a joust, and Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, stayed in 1520.
Today only the pretty courtyard, and to an extent, the bar on busy evenings, retain a sense of ancient revelry – the hotel was a bustling coaching inn during the 18th century – as today’s Maids Head is essentially a modern, well-located city centre hotel with some quirky nooks and crannies. Tombland may be a slightly off-putting street name, but it’s one of Norwich’s most historic thoroughfares, recently immortalised in the eponymous CJ Sansome novel.
Our dog-friendly standard room was comfortable but unexceptional except for the stunning, dramatically-lit mural wallpaper depicting the cathedral cloisters across an entire wall of the bath-shower enclosure in our ensuite. If we had been willing to ditch the pooch, we would have been able to experience one of the suites on which much interior decor dosh has been lavished as part of a recent multi-million-pound refurbishment. The Filby, with its multi-beamed vaulted ceiling, is for those who like a bathtub in the bedroom, the Wensum also has a handsome rolltop bath, but in its own spacious ablutions chamber, while the Paston offers grand floor to ceiling drapes and a four-poster. For those who want a touch of charm without forking out for a suite, there are Feature Rooms distinguished by accoutrements like fireplaces and – er – beams, a ubiquitous feature of Norwich’s mediaeval architecture.
Eggs cooked to order – my pair of poached had a perfect runny middle as requested – are a welcome, no-extra-charge antidote to the slightly dispiriting breakfast buffet, and the croissants were good too, as was the freshly-made coffee. Although the restaurant has two AA rosettes, no-one frowned on us bringing dinner back to our room from Britain’s most exciting chippy, the Grosvenor Fish Bar, which serves the likes of cod cheeks and soft-shell crab alongside more prosaic battered offerings. Walking from the hotel to get your fish supper is a great way to discover Elm Hill, Norwich’s most complete mediaeval street, and the quirky shops of the Norwich Lanes it leads to.
Apart from dog-owners, drivers planning a night or two in Norwich en route the Broads will welcome the fact the Maids Head also offers a car park(its waiting area, a grandly-furnished foyer, is mainly for guests hiring one of the hotel’s pair of vintage Bentleys). You’ll want to leave your vehicle safely parked while walking across the road to the famous Romanesque cathedral – although surprisingly it’s fine to walk dogs into its hallowed nave and through the lovely cloisters.
Tell me more about Maids Head Hotel, Norwich
Maids Head Hotel, Tombland Norwich NR3 1LB
Rooms (including 3 dog-friendly) from £120 including breakfast
Suites from £185
More information on Norwich and surrounding areas
See also Anthea’s piece on Anish Kapoor And Art Nouveau In Norfolk