Stranger on a Walk

by Ekaterina Petrova

This is part of the Walking Norwich series.

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Daydreaming and Snacking Around Norwich with Interruptions*

I find myself unable to write about any one particular walk in Norwich, because all my explorations of the city on foot—although they invariably started and ended at the lovely cottage on St Ann’s Lane on the northeast corner of Dragon Hall, where I was so very lucky to be staying during my residency—never turned out as planned, but were full of interruption, detours, digressions, unpredicted turns, surprising overlaps, unforeseen discoveries, and unanticipated connections.

A quick run to the Book Hive to pick up a copy of W. G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, for example, would unexpectedly transform into a five-hour aimless, circuitous stroll around the city center, complete with at least four stomps up and down the beautifully tiled Art Nouveau floors of the Royal Arcade; a planned long walk around the city, after being abruptly cut short by the pouring rain, would turn into a rather extended exploration of the Jarrolds department store (including the emergency purchase of a woolen hat); a visit to the Bridewell Museum to browse through the shoes, clothes, and trinkets of Norwich’s historical inhabitants would inspire a visit to Looses Emporium and Aladdin’s Cave on Magdalen Street to browse through the shoes, clothes, and trinkets of the city’s more recent inhabitants.

During these explorations, I began noticing traces of things that had once been but no longer were, so my walks became as much about the real as about the imagined, as much about the visible as about the invisible, about the long-lost as about the still-remembered. And yet, it seemed to me as though some sort of thread ran through and brought together all my haphazard outings and aimless wanderings. Kind of like that line of blue-and-green tiles made of crushed glass that meanders along the pavement at Westlegate and which, even though it made me think of the scaly skin of a dragon, turned out to demarcate the path where the Great Cockey, one of Norwich’s lost rivers, once flowed.

In retrospect, it now also feels as through, for almost everything I did get to do and see in Norwich, there was at least one other (somehow corresponding) thing that I missed. Or maybe, and more accurately, it was the other way round. So, I sat in on a translation class at the UEA’s Julian Study Centre but, to my embarrassment, did not make time to visit St Julian’s Church, even though it was just a minute’s walk from the cottage; I walked by and peeked into Strangers Court one evening but missed the chance to visit Strangers’ Hall on the two days that it was open; I did not dare rent a bike and ride it on the left side of the road, but did have a drink and a snack at the rather confusingly (but, as it turns out, aptly) named Bicycle Shop—a pub located over “three floors filled with art, plants and mismatched furniture,” in a building on St Benedicts Street that had previously (over 82 years!) housed a bicycle sale and repair shop.

As someone who doesn’t cook but loves to eat, I’ve noticed that culinary experiences often become a sort of milestones around which my memories get constructed. And so it was with my stay in Norwich, too: the consumption of snacks and beverages—rather fittingly, because of their very ephemerality and unrepeatability—became another thread that ran through and framed the time I spent in (and beyond) the city: from the sandwiches and white wine on the late-night train from London, through the cappuccino at the Smokey Barn, the Croque Monsieur and truffle fries at William and Florence on Unthank Road, the lunch at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts and the Coronation Chicken sandwich from Sainsbury’s, the salmon dinner and homemade wine at the Old Rectory, the scrumptious burger at the Last Pub Standing, the curry lunch at the cottage (kindly cooked and generously shared by fellow resident Bregje Hofstede), the warm saccharine donuts and Earl Grey tea at the Sunrise at Zaks cafe on the beachside promenade in Lowestoft, to the farewell cake and tea with NCW staff at Dragon Hall. But, although the food was mostly delicious, what made these experiences memorable was actually the company of hospitable humans with whom it was shared.

One part of Norwich’s past that fascinated me the most was the city’s centuries-long history of receiving incomers from other places who became known as “strangers.” It occurs to me that maybe the writers and translators who now come to Norwich for the National Centre for Writing’s residency programs are also, in some small way, part of the latest wave of “strangers” who settle, albeit temporarily and entirely by choice, in the city. And maybe, in some small way, these texts about walking in Norwich will become little threads that weave through and become part of the city’s fabric.

* As some readers may notice, the title of this text is a nod to Jenny Diski’s autobiographical book Stranger on a Train: Daydreaming and Smoking Around America with Interruptions. I now discover that during her difficult childhood, she was taken in and rescued by Doris Lessing, who became her mentor during the 1960s. This was something I may have found out had I gone to the exhibition dedicated to Lessing’s life and legacy (on display at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts until February 2020), but became another thing that I missed.


In October 2019 we welcomed literary translator and non-fiction writer Ekaterina Petrova from Bulgaria, in partnership with the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation.

Ekaterina Petrova is a literary translator, nonfiction writer, and interpreter. She holds an MFA in Literary Translation from the University of Iowa, where she was awarded the Iowa Arts Fellowship and helped edit the Exchanges Journal of Literary Translation.

Currently based in Sofia, she has been a translator-in-residence at Open Letter Books in Rochester, New York, and at the “Pristina has no river” program in Prishtina, Kosovo. Her literary translations and non-fiction writing have appeared in various Bulgarian and English-language publications.

Listen to Ekaterina on our podcast: