Published: November 10th 2011October 22nd 2011
“Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by our sun of York”
- Shakespeare, Richard III
For a summer that was neither glorious nor particularly ridden with golden rays, it has, in many ways, been kind to us. Barring a bit of rain in Buxton, a persistently wet afternoon in the Lake District and a washout of a weekend in Edinburgh (but then it is Scotland, rain is a fact of life up there), we’ve been pretty lucky. In the intervening months since we returned from the Lakes, there has been something of a mini-heat wave which I failed to take advantage of through a lack of organisational skills. By the time I finally got around to arranging York, summer was well and truly over. Or at least it should have been. Only a month before, forecasters had been expecting snow to fall in October, and while the temperature still stood stubbornly high for the time of year, the rain had been occasional and heavy for the whole of the week before. As I opened my curtains to start the day, though, the sun was back. Maybe nature was going to favour us once more.
troops of the earlier trips had diminished, casualties of the financial war. John and Faith were in the middle of buying a house, and with the pregnancy reaching two-thirds of the way through, something had to give. That something was York. Emily and Lyndsey were still happy to join in though, and with the possibility of my cousin, Mark, joining us at some point, there was still enough to entertain. Emily arrived at mine early enough for us to grab breakfast at my mom’s house, where we were meeting Lyndsey, after which we hit the road. The inspiring song had pointed us in the direction of Hull, and as we made our way up the M1, junction after junction had a different way of getting there, but we held our resolve and cut straight up the country, not stopping until we reached a mighty fortress on the outskirts of the city, or the retail outlet as it was better known. I could see that Lyndsey was tempted by the lure of going in exactly the same shops as we have at home, but our real reason for stopping here was to jump on the park and ride, pay our bus
fare and avoid the exorbitant parking charges in the city centre.
The park and ride was impressive. Our wait for the bus was no more than a few minutes and we were dropped off right next to Clifford’s Tower, the keep of the castle, rising above and shadowing over the rest of the city centre. The remainder of the morning was spent exploring the centre, around the old markets, through The Shambles, famous for being one of very few well preserved medieval streets, so named from an old word for a butcher, according to a plaque on the wall at the end of the street. Despite being mid-October, the streets were busy, and entertainers were everywhere, some just there because they wanted to play in a band in the middle of York, others to cash in on the tourists. They ranged from the standard trombone players to knife jugglers and a man who spun a ball in his hand in such a way that it appeared to be levitating.
York Minster is impressive. It is big, bright, gothic and has a big bronze statue of Roman Emperor Constantius outside. It claimed to be the largest gothic building in
Europe, although we questioned this given that we had seen Cologne cathedral a few years before, which also seemed to have the same claim. For once, the internet fails to clear the argument up, Wikipedia telling us that York Minister is among the largest gothic structures in Europe, alongside Cologne. My guess is that Cologne is taller, York fatter. Either way, you have to be impressed by the building, until you get inside that is and see a sign asking for £9 to get in. A further charge would have applied to climbing the tower, but as most cathedrals are largely the same in the inside, we didn’t get that far. Instead we hiked along the city walls at the back, reminding ourselves that one of those quirky English laws, where it is legal to shoot a Scottish man from the walls of York, has never been repealed. There must have been a few people tempted to try it out over the years.
From the walls we walked along the river, into the city gardens and through the ruins of the abbey. By now we were well into the afternoon, and Mark was just arriving in the city, having been held up desperately searching for a parking space back at the retail park. Mark lives less than an hour away and has been to York a lot over the years, so not only was it good to see him but we also had a free tour guide who could show us to the sights. Top of the list of sights for Lyndsey was Betty’s tea shop, famous in these parts and just what Lyndsey needed at that moment, as she was both hungry and after a nice cup of tea. We could tell Betty’s was almost as important as The Shambles and The Minster by the number of people outside it, but queuing comes naturally to us Brits, and though we could hardly talk for the sound of the brass band next to us doing faithful renditions of George Michael’s ‘Faith’ and other hits, our patience was rewarded and, apart from Emily, who opted for a cup of tea and a cake, we all went for the full afternoon tea. Emily probably took the best option, for the piles of sandwiches, scones and cakes were good enough to not let a crumb go to waste, but left me stuffed for hours afterwards. Those that know of my travelling as being full of big ideas and small budgets will be surprised at this civilised way of living, but I like to embrace culture.