Search

Travel: Dive into history in God’s own county

11:42 04 March 2015

Strolling along the city walls is a must do if the weather

Strolling along the city walls is a must do if the weather's nice

Archant

York is a city steeped in history like few others, and it makes no bones about it.

Travel info:

Trains:

Virgin Trains East Coast London to York start from £26.

Accommodation:

The Mount Royale Hotel

York, YO24 1GU

T: 01904 628856

The York Pass gives you free entry to lots of things.

Book via Visit York to get a 20 per cent discount

From being an important Roman outpost almost 2,000 years ago to becoming a Viking settlement in 867 and then the epic capital of the north in the 16th century, no matter who’s in charge of the British Isles York always finds favour, and everywhere you look the place harks back to that illustrious history.

The layout in particular recollects medieval times – the city is ringed by well-preserved walls (the longest in the country), inside which the rivers Ouse and Foss intersect and winding snickelways and alleys hide higgledy-piggledy shops and cosy backstreet boozers.

Strolling along the battlements is a great way to start a trip to York (weather permitting) – not only is it a lovely three mile stretch of the legs but helps you get to grips with the city’s geography.

Various gates punctuate the barrier – including Micklegate Bar, Monk Bar and so on (York is a city where the streets are gates and the gates are bars), which are imperious looking mini-castles, often with period rooms above.

The Shambles offers some well-preserved 14th century architectureThe Shambles offers some well-preserved 14th century architecture

Even the bus stops are dripping with archaism – a mock Tudor shelter greets you coming out of the grand 19th century train station and lets you know you’ve come to a place with serious heritage.

But the city seems keen not to wallow in nostalgia – it enjoys a cracking eating out scene (it was recently named best food destination in the UK, and fifth best in Europe, by a popular travel website) and a thriving creative community, having just been chosen as an Unesco city of media arts.

For our visit, we stayed in the Mount Royale, an ivy clad, three star, William IV listed building just a ten minute jaunt from the old city walls towards the race famous course.

East Coast Trains run a remarkably fast service from London, but despite a journey of around two hours, heading up after work on a Friday night engenders a quiet night in.

Merry-making at the Viking wedding banquetMerry-making at the Viking wedding banquet

Luckily in Oxo’s, the hotel has one of the best restaurants in the city – head chef Russell Johnson has created a very English, very good quality menu of winter satisfaction.

Thus refreshed, the following morning we set off in search of adventure.

York has lots of ‘must see’ attractions – far too many for one weekend. All you can do is your best.

By happy chance, we visited during the city’s annual Viking festival, which meant men in helmets (un-horned, thank you, check your Norse history) running around the streets, engaging in mock battles, driving livestock, shouting and other Viking pursuits.

York Minster: Large cathedral, good kissing spotYork Minster: Large cathedral, good kissing spot

Thoroughly inspired, our first stop was a pilgrimage to Jorvik – which many readers will remember from their youth.

It’s undergone a couple of technological advancements since I last went on a school trip – you are now carried round in a time capsule – but the famous smell remains and it continues to be a fascinating insight into our Scandinavian ancestors’ lives, which involved much less rape and pillage than I was led to believe.

Attractions

Some of the attractions can get rather busy (in fact, the York Dungeons had a two hour queue) so don’t try to fit too much in. Instead, enjoy strolling round the famous snickets, with endearing names like Mad Alice Lane, which offer some lovely examples of Gothic architecture. A lot of the shops are a bit twee and touristy, but it’s nonetheless a great place for a constitutional.

The Minster – biggest of its kind in northern Europe – is predictably incredible, featuring an amazing array of stained glass and the famous Heart of Yorkshire window, where legend has it newly weds should kiss to seal their relationship for ever.

By which point an elegant snack at Yorkshire institution Betty’s – complete with a glass of champagne and a luxurious selection of tea, cakes and sandwiches – left us ready for a nap.

In another nod to the Viking festival, we spent the evening at the post-Ragnarok (Norse Armageddon) wedding of Lif and Lifthrasir. Taking place in the beautiful Merchant Taylors’ Hall in front of a roaring fire, it was an unusual event, but lots of fun – much carousing and wassailing took place along side feasting on meat and mutton.

Just time, then, for a look round some of the ancient and very attractive watering holes; the Blue Bell looked lovely, as did the Judges’ Lodgings, but in the end we settled into the Golden Fleece – the city’s most haunted pub, home to some decidedly wonky walls and floors and, on our visit, excellent folk cover bands. Many a pint was supped.

It’s a cliché, but a trip to York really gives you the chance to dive into our country’s rich historic tapestry – and reading Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall on the way up made me feel I was getting a slightly firmer grip on the past. If you need a break from the glass behemoths of central London, pop up to God’s own county and enjoy one of the jewels of the north.

Latest Islington Stories

5 minutes ago
New Zealand's Brendon McCullum hits out against England in 2015

James Franklin has warned that Middlesex cannot expect his former New Zealand team-mate Brendon McCullum to single-handedly transform their fortunes in one-day cricket.

Yesterday, 17:00
The Joke

Ever feel that life is like one interminable joke being played just on you?

Yesterday, 17:10
Timid: Rabbit experts warn the animals are easily stressed (Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA)

Animal lovers do not see the bunny side of plans for a pop-up “rabbit cafe” in Islington.

Yesterday, 15:38
Rev Simon Harvey found this intruder in his house on Wednesday afternoon

Grieving vicar Simon Harvey today told how he photographed a suspected burglar in his Upper Street home, moments before discovering his dead wife’s jewellery had been stolen.

Yesterday, 12:00
Rugby league player Aston Stephenson

There aren’t too many boys who grow up in north London and go to university in rugby union’s heartland – and then become rugby league internationals.

Yesterday, 12:00
Ciaran Lavery. Picture: Kathrin Baumbach

Ciaran Lavery is an up-and-coming Irish singer-songwriter whose music has an Americana and hip-hop twist. He speaks to Imogen Blake about his second album, Let Bad In, ahead of a show in King’s Cross on May 27.

Yesterday, 11:42
Murat Mehmet runs Electrical Embassy Supplies with his father, who imports olive oil from Cyprus to his shop on Compton Street

For Murat Mehmet and his business partner father, selling olive oil from an electrical shop is as natural as the family’s organic production farm in Cyprus. Georgie Conway reports.

Yesterday, 10:00
Middlesex batsman Nick Gubbins

While it may be a cliché, to get a first-class hundred for the first time at Lord’s – the home of cricket – was an absolute dream come true.

Newsletter Sign Up

Most read

HOT JOBS

Show Job Lists

Competitions

Win a BMW 1 series

There are fewer cars currently on the market more stylish and exciting than the BMW. Known all over the world as one of the best car manufacturers, the BMW is renowned for sleek designs and fantastic high quality workmanship.

Kindle 7 inch tablet

Are you looking for a brand new gadget to help you stay connected on the go and make that long journey home a bit more entertaining? Look no further. MyOffers is giving you the chance to win 1 of 50 Kindle Fire 7” Display Tablets! That’s 50 times more chances to win, so hurry up and enter our competition today and you could be one of our lucky winners!

Digital Edition

cover

Enjoy the
Islington Gazette
e-edition today

Subscribe