Richard and I are spoilt for choice when it comes to travelling at the moment. Once you open the doors (or rather, browser windows) to cheap flights or train journeys, it becomes a challenge to choose where to go next. Over the course of a two week period, Richard booked us in for 8 weekends away which will take us to the week before Christmas. Our tactic: go to wherever there happens to be a deal. What that usually means is that we don’t really know a lot about our destinations apart from brief research the week before departure. This was certainly the case for our second trip which was to York. I knew this was in a northerly direction from London and that the name made me think of Yorkshire puddings. My colleagues told me it was a pretty place but that it can rain a lot. We made sure to pack our umbrellas.
We woke up early to catch the train from King’s Cross and enjoyed seats with extra leg room which made the two hour journey reasonably comfortable. Upon arrival it was a few degrees colder which took a while to get used to. It was also raining.
Our new luggage made its inaugural journey through pouring rain and puddles to get to our accommodation. At first we were slightly concerned because it looked like nothing was open but we soon discovered that around the corner and across the bridge was where all the action was. The bridge in question had small castle-like buildings on either side (that likely have proper names) which made me think I had stepped into an old English tale about knights and princesses.
These little nooks now house sandwich shops and cafes; a good way to mix old and new. Across the bridge was a network of narrow streets and tiny shops many of which sold cakes, baked goods and served tea. It quickly became apparent that afternoon tea was a big thing in York and I suppose I should have known.
The first attraction on the list was York Minster, the largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. On our way we realised the camera battery which had been taken out for recharging was back in London! A detour to the local camera store entailed, which resulted in me being side tracked by a market. One of the stalls sold badges with phrases encouraging you to speak like a local. We attempted but failed.
Returning to the task at hand, we headed over to York Minster. You can’t miss it if you’re in the area and we came back that evening when weather had improved for some better photos at the entrance.
What becomes immediately apparent is that there is a lot of stained glass windows. I soon discovered that in fact, the minster has 128 stained glass windows and the Great East Window at 23 meters tall is the largest medieval stained glass window in the world! There is amazingly intricate stained glass to appreciate wherever you look.
We went for the Tower Tour here too although this one was a lot tougher than at Bath Abbey! There was no tour guide, we just started ascending the stairs with a group of other people. The stairs were more steep and narrow than what we had previously come across. Also, all 275 stairs happened mostly consecutively which made for a more tiring ascent. We got some excellent views at the top (if a little dreary from the rain) which always makes the physical effort worth it.
After the minster we sought out lunch at a local fish and chip store called Mr Chippy’s. It looked rather promising but unfortunately my fish was not very good. It was quite an oily meal with not a lot of flavour, so disappointing.
One of the famous streets in York is called The Shambles. It’s a rickety looking collection of shop fronts which might make you think you walked into the Muppets Treasure Island PC game (I don’t know if anyone else played that on good old Windows 98). The area was once mainly full of butchers’ stores so many shops still have hooks outside where meat would have been hung.
We explored the streets and made our way in the round about fashion to the newly renovated Army Museum. There were less than a handful of people in the whole place! But it was actually pretty cool. The exhibits were well set up and we quite enjoyed our visit. It was also kind of fun to have the museum to ourselves.
Our next stop was York Museum but on the way we stumbled upon a Birds of Prey tent. This was TOTALLY AWESOME! There were several owls which you could hold on your arm for only £3! (Or two for £5) I got to spend time with the Hedwig-like owl named Bella.
Her feathers were incredibly soft and she kept moving her head in circular motions which is apparently how they establish where sounds are coming from. Richard took on the biggest bird there who weighed four pounds. His name was Ollie.
We were left with 1 hour to explore the York Museum which turned out to be surprisingly small and boring. It seemed designed more for children based on the colourful “fun fact” stickers on the walls at little people height. The part we did enjoy though was the dinosaur section. I don’t believe you’re ever too old for dinosaurs! Our favourites from the prehistoric section were a huge sea based dinosaur and the comical dodo bird.
Earlier in the day we had walked past a baked goods store which we liked the look of but failed to note the location of. After the York Museum we tried to find it again but were unable to do so. In the end we bought treats from Millie’s Cookies. They do giant double cookie cakes (with chocolate ganache sandwiched inside) and sell them by the slice. It was a dessert before dinner night!
As luck would have it, after we ate the cookie we found the original store we were looking for! We promised ourselves to return the following day. Dinner was meal from the Yorkshire Roast Co. Unfortunately this too was rather disappointing. The Yorkshire puddings were actually quite nice but the roasted meat wasn’t good and the vegetables looked past their prime.
We spent some time in the evening taking photos of the river in more favourable sunset lighting and resting up at our accommodation. It turns out York has a pumping night life! We were both surprised by the amount of noise that disrupted us continuously throughout the night. Later I was told it is a university town which would explain the loud crowds of drunken people, and the sounds of glass bottles and cans rattling down the street until the early hours. It would also explain why not many young people were around early on Sunday morning!
Day two started more positively in terms of food. We had a nice breakfast at The Starr Inn the City which was healthier than our previous meals in York.
After breakfast we took a leisurely walk along the city wall. Portions of the wall are no longer standing but a significant length of it still exists, offering a perfect location for a Sunday morning stroll.
We then made our way to the York Castle Museum. Based on our experience at the York Museum, we weren’t expecting too much but actually spent a lot longer there than we thought we would! It had a lot of interesting exhibits about Victorian life including a replica “street” with many interesting nooks and crannies to explore.
There was a section on the effect WWI and WWII had on the local residents of York as well as a fantastic exhibition on the roaring 70’s.
Next it was up more stairs to Clifford Tower. This was previously a fortress tower surrounded by a water moat. Most of the inside is gone and it is basically a stone cylinder now rather than a tower which previously had two levels.
Our tired legs were ready for a rest so we headed to the shop we found the previous evening for afternoon tea. I can now reveal it is called Betty’s and it’s great. We enjoyed a filling afternoon tea in a very slanted old house.
It’s weird being in places where it’s totally fine for the floor to be so uneven that your tea is visibly on a lean.
We enjoyed the tea room blend so much that we went downstairs and bought a canister to take home. I also got a packet of Swiss hazelnut cookies and we took home one of their autumn-themed marzipan apples with Genovese sponge inside.
Before we ran out of time we quickly found the National Railway Museum. It was free to enter but we did give a donation and we have no regrets about that at all. Both of us had such an unexpectedly fun time there! This is apparently the world’s largest railway museum. It has a series of trains from throughout the history of rail travel and most are still in working order.
Richard’s favourite was the Duchess of Hamilton (Ah the Tron…) which has a distinctive design inspired by the streamlined design movement of the 1930’s when it was built.
My favourite was not as special but looked good to me.
We of course took pictures with everyone’s favourite train as well!
We had time to pick up some snacks for the journey home, collect our luggage and head the train station for a cramped and crowded journey home.
York surprised us with its charming appearance, love of sweet things and some stand out museums. We both really enjoyed ourselves and were grateful to experience both the rainy and sunny weather the area has to offer. Our local trips have been fantastic so far and we’re now looking forward to our first trip outside of the UK to Geneva!