King's Lynn is a small- to medium-sized town in Norfolk, on the south-east corner of The Wash1, with a population of approximately 40,000. In September 2004 Lynn was celebrating the 800th anniversary of the signing of the King John Charter, which gave the town borough status2. Now part of the Borough of King's Lynn and West Norfolk, the town is undergoing a major regeneration programme.
About a thousand years ago, a small estuary around the mouth of the river Great Ouse was home to a salt-trading industry on the shores of what was then called the 'Lyn'. Shortly afterwards, a township going by the name of Lena was recorded in the Domesday Book. The town's location on the coast and at the mouth of a river made it ideal for traders, and regular markets began to occur. As more salt was extracted from the estuary, the banks became raised, and the town began to expand. Lynn was born.
Transport and Infrastructure
Travellers to King's Lynn have many options. Drivers can choose the appropriate main road from their destination: the A17 from Spalding, Lincolnshire and the North, the A47 from Peterborough, the A10 from Cambridge and Ely, and the A47 (in the other direction, this time) from Norwich. All of these routes converge at the infamous3 Hardwick Roundabout. Named after the adjacent industrial estate, this large roundabout has six exits, three lanes and a flyover, and has been known to instil fear into the hearts of new drivers. It is signal-controlled, though, and so the flow of traffic retains some sense of order out of the chaos.
Non-drivers can still get to Lynn by road, using the small bus station in the centre of the town. The two main bus service providers are Norfolk Green and First Eastern Counties. Norfolk Green operates regional services to/from March and Wisbech (route 46), and Spalding (505). In addition, there are two long distance routes: the fast X98 service to/from Cromer, via Sheringham and Fakenham, and the 'Coasthopper' service 36, calling at various towns along the North Norfolk coast.
Most First Eastern Counties buses operate within King's Lynn and the surrounding North Lynn, Fairstead Estate and North and South Wootton. The two longer-distance routes are to/from Hunstanton (on buses 410 - 413) and the X1 'Excel' coach service between Peterborough and Lowestoft, via Lynn, Norwich and Great Yarmouth.
Getting to Lynn by coach is possible, but difficult. There are a couple of National Express services each day (to London and Birmingham), but it would be difficult to make a day trip of it, as they are so infrequent. Day-trippers would therefore be better off reading the next paragraph.
King's Lynn station, operated by WAGN Railway, offers an hourly service (half-hourly at rush hour) to London, stopping at all stations to Ely and Cambridge and then running non-stop into London King's Cross. The average journey time is approximately one hour and 40 minutes. There are also two or three rush hour services to/from London Liverpool Street - these are operated by 'one' Railway.
Getting around Lynn
For drivers, the centre of King's Lynn is Railway Road4. Not a very welcoming street, lined mostly with takeaways and empty shops, this forms part of the one-way system. Unlike most one-way systems, Lynn's is fairly easy to understand - as you enter the town from the south (as most of the major routes do, via the Hardwick), the road loops round on itself and intersects again. Helpful signage ensures you won't get lost, as long as you know where you're going.
For those continuing on foot, the centre is actually slightly further west, based around the pedestrianised High Street. This is full of shops, well known chain-stores, cafés and the like, which also spread into some of the surrounding streets. Here can also be found Tuesday Market Place (no prizes for guessing what happens here every Tuesday), where the town's banks are located, and the Corn Exchange Theatre.
Further south on the High Street, past River Island, Thorntons and Baker's Oven, and you'll find the charity shops. Down to the end of the High Street, and it opens out into Saturday Market Place. Although not as nice for shopping, this square is home to Pizza Express, and a new rather classy-looking café/wine bar called Number 3 Saturday Market Place - rather appropriate when you consider its address.
And in the middle of all this - between the High Street and Railway Road - is the Vancouver Centre. This is Lynn's major 'new'5 shopping development. The idea is that more national chains will open shops in the Vancouver Centre's covered precincts, and existing shops which are currently further out will move in. At the time of writing, there is currently a large girder structure appearing on the construction site, and completion is planned for 2006.
Sport and Leisure
King's Lynn is home to King's Lynn FC - The Linnets - who currently play in the Dr Marten's Southern League Premier Division. The stadium is at The Walks, a large park just outside the town centre. Incidentally, the park itself was the centre of controversy in late 2004/early 2005, as plans were revealed to fell hundreds of very old trees around the park. This resulted in lots of angry letters to the local newspaper, Lynn News, as well as a protestor calling himself 'Tarzan' scaling one of the trees and refusing to come down. But now back to the sport.
Lynnsport is the town's sports centre, situated out to the east. With aerobics, squash, tennis, snooker and more available here, you can do almost anything except swimming; this is available at St James Swimming and Fitness Centre, which is closer to the town centre.
Gaywood (a suburb of Lynn) is home to Strikes, a ten-pin bowling complex, especially popular with students from the area's high schools and the nearby College of West Anglia.
King's Lynn is even lucky enough to have the Norfolk Arena, home to speedway, stock cars, quad racing and caravan racing, as well as the occasional concert. The residents are made constantly aware of this, by means of the huge posters that are stuck all over the fronts of empty shops, and on large billboards on major routes out of town.
If, however, you prefer the quiet life, you can try the Corn Exchange Theatre in Tuesday Market Place, which has a full complement of plays, concerts and shows throughout the year. In addition, the Arts Centre in adjacent King Street has a smaller theatre and a cinema screen, with films showing on selected weekends. The Arts Centre is also home to Kult Theatre, the town's youth theatre group.
There is also a larger cinema, the Lynn Majestic, in the town centre, with three screens and films showing most days.
Bits and Pieces
The Queen Elizabeth Hospital is situated in Gaywood, ten minutes from the bus station.
The town library is situated just to the south of the centre: a purpose-built building, it has a wide range of books, videos, DVDs, internet access... in fact, everything you'd expect from a library.
The old part of town is also worth exploring. Situated right on the river, there is a myriad of narrow streets, cobbled alleys, and a heritage centre on the waterfront. Although there's not really anything else here of note (except, bizarrely, the magistrates' court) it's still a nice walk.
Every year, for two weeks in February, Tuesday Market Place becomes a funfair, with various rides, stalls and mobile shops. A Lynn tradition, 'The Mart' is very heavily anticipated by the town's younger population, although a spell of bad weather traditionally accompanies its arrival. Worth a look, even if might not be within everyone's budget.
1 The Wash is that almost exactly square-shaped inlet on the east coast of England, between Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
2 A borough is an administrative district, encompassing various Town and Parish Councils, and itself encompassed by the County Council.
3 Notorious, perhaps?
4 Rather confusingly, this is not where the railway station is; nor is there a railway next to it, but if you continue out to the north of town, the road crosses the old (disused) line to the docks. Even more confusingly, Railway Road is where the bus station is.
5 Although they're really taking their time in building it.