The path emerges, blinking, into the light of the ring road at the bottom of Grapes Hill. The fury of the busy roundabout. A warehouse kitted out as a VR experience by the roadside: someone in a VR headset and the words ESCAPE ROOM. I know the concept of escape rooms but the garish Brave New World-ness of the sign makes me instinctively think: escape from what? A door is open, and the cafe at one end of the warehouse is busy. I turn away and cross the ring-road via a traffic island. Roads are the new rivers.
I pass one of the city’s more infamous graffitos on the side of a derelict public toilet, a dialogue in red carpaint: TRUE ROMANTICS DIE ALONE / GET ON TINDER, MATE.
Up the river footpath where it diverges from the main road. We’ve crossed via a traffic island into the old city centre. The ruins of the city walls up ahead, by St Benedicts Gate. But before that, I turn off and follow a path between snazzy new-build riverside-wharf quasi-affordable waterfront three-story show-home townhouses. There’s still quite an industrial feel to this area, despite the late-Noughties makeover; most of that vibe is probably down to the murky, mossy spigots along the waterline and the rush of water-on-metal at New Mills Sluice, which neatly marks the transition from meandering suburban river to historic city waterway.
If I were to swim this route I’d have to get out here, safely upstream of the Sluice, where it chops the water into a frenzy, and gingerly step dripping to the jetty on the other side. The Sluice walkway is surrounded by a bevy of warning signs; every warning sign imaginable. One about used needles, which I’ve never seen before. Mile Cross’s addicts, exiled to the boundary, thrown out of the up-and-coming quarter near the art school, get their revenge by throwing their paraphernalia into the river, where it floats downstream and gets clogged up in this heavy mechanism. An infected spanner thrown into the works, into the heart of the water-engine which has driven Norwich for a thousand years. The Sluice’s occult machinery is clogged with the tools of the city’s exiles.
On we go, up to Coslany Street (apparently one of the oldest street names in the city, from a Celtic word meaning ‘rushes’). Here, the handsome Georgian brewery building, converted to flats, presides over what’s left of the river’s working heritage. During the floods of 1912, 30mph torrents ravaged the Wensum; afterwards, a teenage boy was wading in the sludge here, at the bottom of Oak Street, when he found the body of George Brodie, a fish porter who’d been helping with rescue operations.
I spot White Rose anti-vaxx stickers everywhere. Apparently the QR codes take you down a right radical rabbit hole.
I pass the derelict building behind Duke Street which is covered in tiny TippEx writing across every brick. Then a short detour down the road to ask Stephen Jarvis about the chalk mines - he gives me a name on Facebook who may provide me with some insight into the city’s undercrofts.
St George’s bridge. In the 1920s a market trader allegedly took a spectacular swan-dive from the top of the tower (then the technical college, now an art school building), over the bridge (which was then narrower) and into the Wensum.
I had to cut through St. Andrews multi-storey car park. There was a unique and enjoyable feeling of secrecy walking through the bowels of the car park as a pedestrian. Being somewhere where I wasn’t supposed to be. Opposite the art school tower is the jetty where I once went on a first date and sat on a discarded fish hook. A conspiracy sticker on a lifebuoy post, this one handmade in sharpie: REMOVE YOUR ======= RESEARCH. This country has had enough of experts. Also, along the chainlink river fence, the imported custom of love padlocks.