Another long weekend, another chance to escape the city and explore a new part of this beautiful country called England. And when I saw new, I mean new to me only, because that’s where the word new stops being appropriate here in York, where every corner turned reveals yet another beautiful remnant from a bygone era.
This town in straight up picturesque. From the moment I stepped out of the train station, gorgeous old buildings lined the streets, and a skyline featuring one seriously impressive church and an abundance of brick chimneys greeted me as I crossed the River Ouse to the city centre.
Enjoying the best of what York has to offer should be achieved simply by walking around and letting the streets work their magic, transporting you to England as I imagine it once was; a world full of tea houses, arts and craft stores, cosy pubs, crumbling fragments of city wall, medieval halls, churches, and market streets. But – because you know I can’t resist – I’m going to talk about some of my favourite things to do and see in this stunner of a town.
VISIT THE FAMOUS SHAMBLES
The Shambles is one of England’s most famous old market streets. Dating back to the 1300s, The Shambles is chocker block full over wonky, overhanging wooden buildings, and served as the inspiration behind the magical Diagon Alley of J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world. The shambolic appearance of the street is due to the buildings jutting out the higher they get – a technique adopted by past landowners to maximise space without incurring extra cost; one was only charged for the ground space a property occupied, not the air space... nifty. The buildings in the middle of the street are so close together that occupants can shake hands over the heads of street dwellers below. The Shambles, which even had a side street called Little Shambles, truly needs to be seen to be believed, as sadly no picture is capable of doing it justice. FUN FACT: The word shambles to mean “in a state of total disorder” derives from the name of this very street.
WALK THE CITY WALLS
Most cities this old have stretch of ancient walls, and York is no exception. While most of the remains of the Roman wall that once surrounded the city have long since diminished, (you can head to the Croque Monsieur Coffee Shop though to sit above some of the old Roman wall foundations – pretty cool) there are large sections of the Medieval Wall still intact and well maintained, providing beautiful views over the city of York, and at no charge either! You also get sneaky glimpses into some of the lushest mansions I have ever seen, that cannot be seen from the street. Anyone up for a good house perve?
STAND IN THE SHELL OF A ONCE MIGHTY CHURCH
I’ve always seen pictures of massive ruins of old cathedrals and dreamed of the day I could visit one, and that day came when I visited the site of St Mary’s Abbey in York. If you've ever wondered why England has so many of these church ruins, we need look no further than England’s most famous King, Henry VIII. The Tudor King famously took the very bold move to separate from the Roman Catholic Church, so that he could establish his own denomination of which he was the head (to this day the English monarch is the head of the Church of England), leaving him free to divorce his poor first wife, and marry Anne Boleyn. I mean, it was pretty drastic really, just to get a girl... only to behead her a few years later. Back to the point though, given this break from Rome was such a bold and controversial move, Henry had Catholic monasteries such as this one knocked down across the country, just in case anyone thought he was messing around. And to get take their considerable wealth while he was at it. As destructive as his actions may have been, they certainly resulted in a spectacular sight, and St Mary’s Abbey is definitely worth a visit if you’re in town. Just look at that archway!
DRINK YORKSHIRE TEA
One thing York does very well is its tea houses. Now don’t get me wrong, I'm very rarely unfaithful to my beloved coffee in favour of tea, but if there’s one place that makes an exception to this rule, it’s here. Yorkshire tea is famous worldwide, and the tea drinking culture here is cute as a button. Central streets are lined with tea houses, or better yet antique shops with tea houses nestled in the second floor, often marked by a kettle on the building. The famous Betty’s tea house has one of its biggest stores in York, but my personal favourite, while not an official tea room, is Crumbs Cupcakery, which can be found along College Street, right behind York Minster. Cupcakes never tasted (or looked) so good.
EXPLORE IMPRESSIVE MEDIEVAL ESTABLISHMENTS
York is a very old city, and with that comes very old buildings. The Hall of Merchant Adventurers was built in 1357, and hasn't changed much since its heyday. Still used by the 650+ year old company today as a meeting place, this building has an incredibly rich history and for £6, it’s yours to look around. Walking across the seriously sloping heavy wood floor in the main hall, or through the ancient stone hospital on the ground floor, an audio guide provides interesting snippets of history about the rooms you are in – definitely recommended if you’re anywhere near as much of a history geek as I am.
Another medieval building well worth a visit is a pub in the middle of town called Trembling Madness. An impressive beer store downstairs (I had to tear Jesse away...), and a thriving pub upstairs, the oldest part of this building dates back to 1180. Trust me when I say, if you have to queue as we did for 10-15 minutes, it is 100% worth the wait. Being accustomed as I am to London, I quite literally jumped when a couple next to me leant over and started chatting away as I sat alone at the table waiting for Jesse; we ended up swapping travels with them for the next hour! This is the epitome of an old, cosy British pub, and the food and beer (try the raspberry stuff on tap if your tastes are as girly as mine) is incredible. Probably the best pub experience I’ve had since moving to the U.K.
York, you’re an absolute charmer.