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A Weekend In York

This weekend, I left the city and headed north. I have a friend studying in York, who is about to go off on a field trip for a few months, so another friend and I thought the time was right to go and visit her. I have never been to York (excluding the one time I passed through on the train, which obviously doesn’t count) but I’d heard it was lovely. I pictured a very picturesque town with lots of character and old worldly buildings. I figured it couldn’t be as quaint as I imagined however, it turns out I was wrong – it was pretty much exactly as I’d pictured it. 

My friend and I both arrived King’s Cross station at 6.45ish – 15 minutes before our train was due to leave. King’s Cross isn’t a particularly complicated station to navigate but at that time on a Friday, spotting each other took some time. When we finally managed to find each other, we made a mad dash to the little Waitrose for train snacks. I jumped in the queue, she grabbed things off shelves. We ended up with a feast of sausage rolls, a giant pork pie, crisps and biscuits. We were set. We then ran across the station and jumped on the closest carriage figuring it was about to leave. Turns out, we would definitely have had time to walk down to the carriage where we had seat reservations but instead we stumbled through walkway after walkway until we finally made it to our seats.

The journey was only 1 hour and 50 minutes (obviously it was a few minutes late) and we arrived in York with plenty of time left to enjoy our night. As we pulled into the station, I overheard a table of Americans noting that they hadn’t realised there was a place in England called York. But this wasn’t New York, this was Old York. That was actually about right.

Our friend picked us up and the three of us headed for drinks at the Charles XII pub, a little way out of town, close to the university campus. It felt quite studenty and this feeling was happily reflected in the prices. £8.40 for a round of three pints of beer. As much as I love London, I do so love not-London prices.

We started the next morning with a late breakfast at a small cafe called Croque Monsieur, which served an array of hot ciabattas, stuffed with various tasty fillings for less than £4.00. My tuna melt with spring onions was exactly what I needed.

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After we were suitably fed and watered, we walked along the river and into town for some exploring. As we reached the city centre, we found a parade of people dressed in viking costumes. It seems York is big on viking history and there was a viking festival going on that day. I was impressed by the sheer number of people who had volunteered to take part and particularly by the kid who committed so much he wasn’t even wearing shoes as he marched over the cobbled streets.

We stood for a while, unable to look a way, until the parade passed us by. Then we headed to the Shambles – a narrow street that apparently was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. As a massive Potter fan, this was something I needed to see and it certainly was reminiscent of how the street appears in the movies. The shop fronts were old and had boards, and even some old meat hooks, hanging out outside of them. Some were top heavy and lent so close to each other that apparently once upon a time you could walk from the upstairs of one to another.

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After a quick wander, we made our way over to York Minister – the town’s gothic cathedral. It was pretty impressive, with a rose window and delicately sculpted architecture, however unfortunately you have to pay to go around it. We were able to set inside and take a quick peak at the area close to the door but, since we didn’t really want to part with any money, we turned and went back out again. It seemed a shame to charge entry into a place of worship.

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As we left, my friend asked if we wanted to see the ruins of an old abbey nearby. As my regular readers will know, I love a good ruin, so I jumped at the chance. The ruins themselves were of St Mary’s Abbey in the York Museum Gardens and date back to the 1200s. There were a few ruins scattered across the gardens but since the weather was grey and drizzly we stayed only long enough for a few pictures round the abbey before heading off to find somewhere warm.

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Since the weather didn’t really tempt us to stay outside, we decided to head to the cinema. My friend said that the City Screen Picturehouse was a particularly nice cinema with a cafe we could sit in until our film of choice (Spotlight) started. We arrived to find that the Picturehouse backed out onto the river and made the most of the views with glass walls around the back of the building. We sat for a while with some drinks, catching up and taking in the view.

When, finally, it was time for our film, we grabbed some popcorn and made our way to Screen 2. I was disappointed to find that the leg room was considerably less than the Picturehouse cinema near me in Brixton. I must admit, I was quite uncomfortable but it was worth it because the film was fantastic. Spotlight tells the story of the journalists who broke the scandal of the Catholic Church in Boston. It was very intense but was done very well and the cast were amazing. After it was finished, nobody moved for a good 30 seconds or so. It could have been less but it felt like an age. Everyone was slightly too stunned to move.

By the time we got out, it had started to get dark so we figured we should find somewhere for food and a few drinks. We first headed to the Golden Fleece, apparently the oldest pub in York. It felt like a country pub, with narrow walkways and low ceilings, but it was sadly full for the night so we left to find somewhere less busy.

Eventually, we stumbled across Stonegate Yard – a restaurant in a Georgian townhouse with a cute, heated outdoor area. There weren’t any tables when we first arrived and several people seemed to be hanging around waiting but a waitress tipped us off that there was a table for two outside, next to another table whose occupants were about to leave. We were able to nab it surprisingly quickly.

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The menu had several options, the majority of which were under a tenner. I was pretty stuffed from all the popcorn I had consumed not long before but I couldn’t pass up the lasagne. It wasn’t the best I’ve ever had but it was still good and came in a big portion, with lots of cheese, and garlic bread. I actually couldn’t finish it all. After dinner, we ordered some wine for the table and spent a couple of hours just sitting and chatting over a few drinks. The whole night cost me about £15.00. I love the north.

The next day, we had several hours to kill until our train back to London in the evening. After a lazy morning of coffee, toasts and biscuits, we figured a pub lunch was in order. York seems to know how to do a good pub. We wandered over to the Deramore Arms, which was full of dark wooden panelling and had the feel of a village pub. Although we arrived at prime Sunday lunch time, we were able to jump on a table straight away.

We spotted plates of food being delivered to the tables around us and it looked amazing. I ordered the roast pork, with roast potatoes, Yorkshire pudding and vegetables (£11) and it did not disappoint. It was the perfect way to end what had been a very chilled (and food filled) weekend.

Our train ride home was not quite as efficient as the ride up. I noticed there was a significantly cheaper train on Sunday evening and booked without looking at the details. Instead of 1 hour 50 minutes, it was more like 3 hours 40 minutes. Happily, however, I was well prepared and had downloaded an array of documentaries for my friend and I to choose from. Those hours practically flew by and before we knew it we were back in London. As much as I like getting out of the city, it’s always nice to be back.

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