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Thursday, January 27, 2005

York, UK: Three Days in the Viking Capital of England

Precursory Decisions

Not possessing a driver’s licence is not exactly a disadvantage. The idea that it gives a person considerable freedom is one that anyone could challenge. However, it does leave one at the mercy of the railways.

Given experience of travelling by train, we stayed at a guesthouse in York for two nights. This seemed more preferable than travelling back and forth. Factors considered were comfort, price, child-friendliness, and proximity to the city centre of York itself. We opted to pay £117, for two nights of bed and breakfast for two adults with a child.

Having arranged the accommodation, I booked tickets through The Trainline. At present, one might obtain a return train ticket from Manchester Piccadilly to York for as little as £16.50. Neglecting the time it takes to travel into Manchester, the journey there took over two hours. It took even longer to return. Albeit the driver professed to apologise on the part of First Transpennine, he gave no apology. Moreover, despite that, one might reserve seat, the company did not physically display reservations notes for seats. From personal experience and those of others, it appears to be a typical practice for this organisation.

First Impressions

When we arrived, there were no queues for taxis outside of the station. I was pleased to see the array of taxis and suspected that at least one driver would know the way to the guesthouse. We walked to the front of the fleet of cabs. I asked if the driver knew the particular street where we were destined. He almost looked insulted that we might expect him not to know. I continued to explain that in Manchester, it is not untypical to find drivers who do not speak English let alone know the area. In fact, on many occasions, I have been at pains to give directions street-by-street to a so-called cabbie.

As we drove, I felt at ease with the aesthetics of the city. Before I saw the guesthouse, I noticed the rubbish and graffiti opposite. However, inside is faultless. The host was helpful to provide us with a map and other information. Of course, we did not want to stay around the guesthouse for too long, as we wanted to see the sights that attracted us to York in the first instance.

First Meal

Facilities in the locality of the guesthouse were an important factor. The general store over the road contained child provisions, such as nappies. Adjacent to that shop was a bank with an ATM.

As we walked, I almost immediately noticed a choice-looking café. In fact, it appeared to be below the standard of eating establishments, to which I am accustomed. Most notably, it allowed people to smoke. Not only is smoking particularly filthy, it is considered, at least, to be unhygienic where food or children are concerned. Of course, we could have continued until we hit another café. Instead, we chose to stay, as the last of the smokers disappeared.

Saint Michael-le-Belfrey

After eating, we went into the centre. The cafe is on a main bus route. Bus tickets were 90 pence each and the vehicle was fully accessible, which means buggy friendly.

As soon as we saw the Bootham Bar, we decided to get off the bus. The Bootham Bar is quite striking. Nonetheless, several pictures of the Minster (not the cathedral) were in order.

However, we went inside the church, Saint Michael-le-Belfrey, where Guy Fawkes was baptised. It is free on entry (unlike most of the attractions in York). One of the hosts at the door had visited my home city and commented on its surrounding beauty.

In Michael-le-Belfrey, I espied a sculpture of a couple. The male in the structure resembles a chap who I used to drink with when I lectured at the University of Sunderland. Of course, there are traits of Isaac Newton in artwork of that era.

York Minster

A combined ticket for two to York Minster is presently £14. However, there is no real accessibility to the crypt area. We were misled explicitly about it. The crypt area is rather disappointing. We spent all of five minutes down there. Nevertheless, the ground level is beyond aesthetically pleasing.

Nonetheless, considering centuries of efforts to build the Minster, there is nothing spiritually enchanting about the place whatsoever. This does not stop a person from enjoying the artwork and spending £15 or so in the gift shop after one’s visit.

We ate again in Wildes Wine Bar for under £20.

I particularly wanted to eat at that point because I intended to attend the Ghost Walk that night. When I travelled back for the Ghost Walk, the weather was notably cold and wet. Therefore, I telephoned number advertised on the Ghost Walk poster. The answering machine states explicitly that the walk would happen whatever the weather. The Ghost Walk arrived in his top hat. However, he did not tour due to weather conditions and the modicum of people who had attended the event. Nevertheless, he distributed complimentary tickets for those who wished to attend the following evening. I did attempt to hide my disappointment.

Ghost Walk to York Arms

Considering the ghost man refused to tour, I went into the nearest public house, the York Arms. It is a Samuel Smith’s pub and serves Ayingerbrau D. Pils at £2.03 (5.9% alcohol).

Just before I ordered my drink, I noticed that the ghostly guide had arrived in the bar area. I invited him across and offered to buy him a drink. Immediately, he set about apologising for not running with the ghost walk.

However, he began to tell me stories over his ½ pint of cider preserve. I also gave him some information concerning themes that he had mentioned, e.g., Celtic Christians who buried people in walls, etc., as well as, locals who murdered large dogs to guard cemeteries. Moreover, I mentioned similarities in the stories who had told with those of the pubs in Altrincham and elsewhere. Nevertheless, he told me that the very public house where I was seat contained an often helpful ghost, not unlike the Cauld Lad of Hylton Castle.

He claimed that the most haunted public house in the city is the Golden Fleece. Naturally, I walked there and spoke to the staff about its ghosts. They professed that it is a body of nonsense.

More on Jorvik

Before the next day, I had found myself snipping at my hair. I thought that it would be an idea to book an appointment at West Row. I booked the appointment for midday. I spent over forty minutes in there. My tea was already cold before I felt like drinking it. However, it is the first proper haircut that I have had in the last year. The total price was £24.

The Cornish pasty shop was impressive, with its pasties priced at marginally under £2. I particularly fancied the beef and stout one, with reserving a cheese and mushroom one for later. I entertain that those pasties must be the most appetising outside of Cornwall itself.

This all led to a trip to John Bulls (I am sure that this is not the John Bull that Crowley scribbled about in Moonchild) and Culpeper on Low Petergate. We especially visited the Earl Grey Tea rooms on the Shambles. The cinnamon tea is second to none. However, it is an irritation that the tea in its loose form is not on sale to the public. I intend to track it down on Google at some point in the near future.

The Viking Jorvik Centre is excellent. Again it is far from free, £14 for two adults. I must confess that the mock Viking village is excellent. Some aspects of it are done in the most amusingly bad taste. In addition, I am sure that I saw Aleister Crowley in there:

When one leaves the village, he gets the chance to dress as a Viking. I ended-up looking like a moron. No-one bothered to tell me that there was a Viking backdrop behind me so that I might stand directly in front of it. It was fun nonetheless.

We managed to have a quick look at the grounds of York University, before we left for the guesthouse once more. I must confess that those grounds are well maintained and thankfully have toilets accessible to the public.

Ghost Walk at York Minster

When I returned to the centre, I noticed a crowd of people gathering for the Ghost Walk. The man I had spoken to the previous day was not there. Instead, I could see a female dressed as he was. Her attire resembled that of the Artful Dodger, considering the Dodger was male, this ensures that she shared similarities with the appearance of the stereotypical feminist-lesbian. I did not laugh at such a realisation. Instead, I set myself to enjoy the ninety-minute Ghost Walk. She covered stories on The Kings Manor, York Minster, The Treasurers House, Bedern, St. Saviours, and The Shambles. Afterward, I went back to the York Arms, where the barman later recommended a Chinese take away.

Last Day in York

The past two days had been spent on the North side of the river, without the slightest hint at crossing the River Ouse. In fact, most attractions on maps that we possessed seemed to be centralised to the Northwest of the city. It turned out to be an excellent idea to visit the rest of the city.

I settled bill guesthouse bill, £117 in total. We did a shortened version of the ghost tour, before eating again at the Earl Grey Tea Rooms on Shambles. As we left that part of the city, we noticed the shortest street in York, Whip-ma-whop-ma-gate. I had to laugh at the seemingly unpolitically correctness of such a street name.

We stumbled across the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. It was not free on admission. Therefore, we declined to enter the hall itself, to enjoy the gardens. As we began to stray out of the tourist areas, we start to encounter vandalised areas of the city. In addition, someone had locked St Margaret’s church. It did not look safe enough to take pictures to take pictures around Walmgate Bar.

The place we visited in Walmgate before returning was St Lawrence's church. This place appears to be more likely to be visited by drug addicts than tourists are, as one scruffy chap, we saw there, could testify.

We also ventured over the other side of the River Ouse. We noticed the boat trips, which according to information contained in pamphlets we read are not supposed to be running in January.

We cut up by a church to find ourselves at the Tanner Row Inn. I asked for directions to the railway station, where we noticed the York Model Railway. I did not enter, as my son would probably have wrecked the place. Shortly after, we ate near Micklegate Bar for under £10. We arrived back at the train station of a typically delayed train.

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