For us Southerners I think sometimes it’s easy to forget the quaint underrated towns that lie North of the capital, it’s easy to get waylaid flitting between the Cornish coast and the big smoke. I can’t believe that this was my first visit to this medieval city.
The dreaded drive wasn’t even as bad as it would appear; with great motorway links and easy directions from most places we were in the comfort of our hotel in just 5 hours. As much as we wanted to get out and begin immersing ourselves in everything York, leaving the hotel was no easy feat, staying in utter luxury of Marmadukes Town House Hotel, ideally situated a mere ten minute walk to the centre of town.
With our York Passes in hand we trundled through the blisteringly cold Northern winds into the town centre. Upon arrival it was as if everything stood still. I couldn’t hear the bustling of the crowds or feel the biting wind. Towering before us, the York Minster, in full gothic glory provided not just shelter, but awe. I could instantly see why this proud, intricate building took over 250 years to build. It’s easy to feel small and insignificant standing beneath its towers. You don’t have to be religious to feel the calming power of a grand cathedral. No matter where you come from or what you believe there is an underlying respect for the space and the dead that lay within. Its grandeur continues inside as expected with endless stained glass windows glistening in the evening light and the low hum of a practising choir filling the air. It’s also well worth a trip to go beneath the minster to delve into its history as well and see the tired foundations.
For a different view of the minster and the city you can also take a stroll along the length of the old city wall. A free and fascinating view of York, but don’t forget to check in at the Visitor Centre for the wall opening times – especially in bad weather!
Despite knowing our two-day trip was never going to be long enough we were desperate to pack in as much as possible. Everyone that knows me well will know that my ultimate weakness is Chocolate. That said there was no way I was leaving York without visiting The Chocolate Story. York was made world famous with families such as The Tukes, Terrys and The Cravens building a chocolate empire. Our reasonably priced tour took us through the age’s right back to thousands of years ago when the precious cocoa bean had just been discovered in the depths of South America. A tour perfect for children and adults alike, there is plenty of history, clever story-telling and of course LOTS of chocolate!
Walking through York was reminiscent of the magical Diagon-Alley, with its cobbled streets and winding alleyways. We then stumbled upon, quite literally, The Clifford Tower. If you saw pictures of the Clifford Tower you would think it was outside the city surrounded by luscious green countryside. Yet smack-bang in the middle of the town amongst busy roads and old architecture, up on a huge green mound of earth this 13th Century stone tower offers views like no other. It’s perfect for city photos and ideal for photographing the York Minster from a different angle. Free entry to those with the York Pass or with an annual English Heritage Membership, it sits within the York Castle Museum site.
Having delighted in some truly 60s throwback fashions and classic tunes at the ‘Sixties Exhibition’ we decided to go even further back through time. Back to where the name ‘Ragnar’ inspired fear among the masses – The York Dungeon experience. Not for the faint of heart. Firstly I must give credit to the actors that play various roles in this blood-curdling adventure; they truly are ‘in the zone’ and make it worth every penny. A great attraction with children but beware there are more than a few jumps along the way!
Having been scared witless we realised that at 4pm we should probably find some late lunch to warm us up. Heading back towards the city centre we came across The Golden Fleece, over 500 years old it certainly looks its age, with stunning wooden beams, a stone arch frontage and of course a skeleton propped up at the bar, having a pint. What we’d been looking for was some proper good Northern grub, large portions, home cooked English classics, and that is exactly what we were served. As we sat and talked about the pub and its several appearances on the popular TV Series ‘Most Haunted’ the waitress appeared with what looked like a feast for four people! A huge Yorkshire pudding filled with buttery mash potato, thick pork sausages and rich onion gravy. That was all just for me. The second dish, even bigger, consisted of a large cottage pie, salad as well as three different vegetables and chips on the side. Beware: if you don’t have the appetite of an elephant, this place may not be for you.
After our mountainous late lunch we barely made it back to the hotel before our heads hit the pillow and sleep ensued. Probably the biggest food coma I have ever been in, and that is saying something! The sleep was brief but well needed in order for us to enjoy our evening’s entertainment. One of the UK’s Top Pantomimes of 2017 was playing at the York Theatre Royal. We dolled up and headed back out into the cold. Coming from Winchester I should know by now that heels and cobbled streets just don’t mix – I obviously haven’t learnt my lesson.
We watched Cinderella from the circle and I was blown away by the talent and humour that the pantomime group brought to the stage. As usual the Dame was truly the star of the show for me, bringing so much hilarity and having the audience in the palm of his….uh….her hands!
After the extremely busy day all that was left to do was follow the advice from a Northern friend, and try a proper Northern Kebab and chip butty. ‘It’s like no other’ he claimed. I’m extremely pleased to say he was right and whether drunk or not they’re a great end to a night on the town.
Waking up the next morning we were pleased the have no kebab repercussions and couldn’t wait for our final breakfast at the outstanding Marmadukes Town House. This discreet hotel offered everything and more for a perfect stay in York. A fabulous location, hearty fresh breakfasts, decadent bedrooms ideal for a romantic getaway and the kind of service I love – always someone on hand when you need them but not fussy! We were sad to check-out but of course will certainly be back.
With a couple of hours to kill before we headed home I wanted to have a quiet wonder around York’s Art Gallery. There was so much variety, both Modern Art and historical portraits. A great way to stretch the legs before a long car journey, and if the art itself wasn’t enough the exterior of the gallery is something else, throw a penny in the elegant fountain and wish for another trip to York!
As far as first impressions go, York certainly delivered. Our mini break was intimate, informative and full of culture. It’s a great place to bring children and I can see myself heading back here very soon with my son…..Steeped in history, adventure and culture who wouldn’t love the City of York?
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