Whether you love history and heritage, the fun of the fair, tradition and archaeology or arts and literature – March is the perfect month to explore King’s Lynn.
STROLL AROUND King’s Lynn’s historic quay, and its ancient buildings on the edge of the atmospheric River Ouse are very much a living, breathing reminder of the town’s rich maritime past.
Yet this is a place of contrasts, where traditions are not just limited to seafaring heroism and tales of exotic trading.
At this time of year, flashing neon and screams of delight echo around the Tuesday Market Place and while it might feel centuries apart, it is as significant to its history as its most famed landmarks.
And the annual Mart – ever present in the town for some 800 years – is not the only sign that King’s Lynn’s fascinating past is very much part of its future.
By day heritage walks lead you meandering through the old streets, past grand houses, medieval churches and guildhalls, and the Lynn Museum brings to life the stories of the people, ordinary and extraordinary, who have helped to form the town’s narrative over the centuries.
By night magical lights dance across its most iconic buildings with a stunning show of animated illuminations.
As dusk falls, an extraordinary spectacle transforms King’s Lynn’s most famous landmarks with swirling lights, a rainbow of colours and eye catching, breathtaking animations.
Shimmering water fills up a historic tower, a dragon emerges from uneven ancient stonework and the faces of seafaring heroes look out across the quay. The astonishing Lynn Lumière is an art installation like no other, using clever light projections to tell the stories of the town’s past with some of its most famous buildings as its canvas.
Such is its popularity, what started as a two year scheme, is now a permanent fixture in the town. Councillor Elizabeth Nockold, cabinet member for culture, heritage and health for King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Borough Council, says the innovative project has been a huge boost for the town.
“The response to the Lumière since it opened in March 2015 has been absolutely fantastic. We have had so many compliments from people who come to see it and there is not a night that goes by when you don’t see a crowd of people standing watching the show.”
She says the project has been so successful that the council felt it was essential to keep the installation beyond the end of the project.
“One of our corporate priorities as a council is to promote King’s Lynn as a tourism area, not just an employment area. But of course, if we can attract visitors to the town, it has an enormous benefit on the whole economy and the community. If people are coming to see the Lumière they will often visit other attractions, go shopping or eat or drink here.”
The project came out of a chance discovery in a horticultural magazine, in which officials from Amiens in Northern France were looking for English garden designers to take part in a twinning exchange programme to promote art, architecture, landscape gardening, tourism and training
“It sounded really interesting so we got in touch and it seemed like a fantastic opportunity,” says Elizabeth. “We went to Amiens and were wowed by the light projections on the cathedral and we just thought it could be something that would really work in King’s Lynn. Eventually, working together we secured European Union funding for a joint arts project.”
A team of garden designers went to France to create horticultural displays on a number of small islands dotted around the lake in Amiens and in return, a number of French artists created the designs for the Lumière.
“It was an incredible collaboration. We gave the artists some historical background about the buildings and the story of the town and the results were amazing, bringing together centuries of history and fascinating tales.”
There are five Lynn Lumière sites all within a few minutes walk of each other and all with their own unique stories and history – St Nicholas’ Chapel, The Custom House, King’s Lynn Minster; Greyfriars Tower and 1-3 Tuesday Market Place, although this site is currently undergoing maintenance.
“My personal favourites are the Custom House, because you can sit down on the quay and watch the display in what is a wonderful setting by the river, and the Minster, where the movement of the dragon and the skeleton coming down the tower is magical,” says Elizabeth.