I hadn’t noticed that I was missing the rural landscape until I was two hours up the road. Having departed London in a frenzy after a combination of trains, busses and all-out sprinting, I hardly recognized the nature of my thoughts at all. So as the coach(*) cruised along the M1 passing the suburban sprawls and eased into open fields I felt the calm set-in.
I was able to see the green hills and small villages, with their stone structures and rustic charm, scattered along the ridges amongst frequent industrial sites. The “countryside” is cute, don’t get me wrong, but the major motorways look like they would anywhere else. The presence of modern and unsightly factories or processing plants is more often than one may think. There were still sheep in the pastures though and that made me smile.
Eventually my travel day ended when we arrived in York close to six hours later. The sun was bright in contrast to the dense retreating cloud mass that seemed to be moving to the Eastern horizon line. From the station I walked another mile and a half to find my hostel for the night. I saw the great wall snaking around the buildings and crossed the river on an impressive old bridge. Just beyond this the cathedral towered above the historic center. My feet and shoulders were protesting but the route through town offered easy distraction.
I spent a total of three nights there and used my two full days to get some exploring in. The whole town is really beautiful and offers a fair amount of opportunity for things to do. A perfect balance exists between modern shopping district and educational places of interest.
So the first day I walked along the river and visited the National Railway Museum. The museum hosts a massive collection of antique or recently retired rail cars and engines as well as accessories from various parts of British commuting history. There was one passenger car that was preserved from the early 1900s and had the red velvet seats faded to a dusty mauve color. Hardly anything had been messed with or refurbished and I felt some crazy energy was still resting in the dark of the cabin. I had an urge to run the other direction, so I did. Luckily, for me, most of the other attractions were like a colorful scene from Thomas the Tank Engine. A director even led a demonstration of the turntable with groups of ecstatic children onlooking, and I was happily among them. So the visit was educational, and if you find yourself in York with a desire to take in some mechanical wonders then this is your place.
I walked through The Shambles portion of town center which is so iconic I couldn’t help but feel transported in time a bit. There are also outdoor markets with produce, a butcher, antique stalls, knockoff goods and stunning floral arrangements. The fantastic cobblestones under your feet give you something to focus on while you walk, and if you don’t you’ll have a sprained ankle in no time at all. Even with the novelty village shops you can still find an M&S for food and any other big store experience you desire. You could have tea in a sweet little cozy shop and then eat at The Pizza Hut all in one short walk.
Hoping for a more authentic experience I wandered until I found a little hole-in-the-wall pub with good food and a decent cider. For a few hours I worked on some writing and then listened to this guy play covers of every big name English rock group you can think of. A random night but memorable.
Most of my time on the second day was spent walking the ancient walls that separate the old city from the modern expansion. The original wall, built during Roman occupation starting in 71AD, is only partially visible mostly to the fact that it was later covered in earth and provided base for the 12-14th century version of the perimeter that stands today. The long and significant history of York is outstanding. There is a detailed site here- Friends of York Walls – that you can read about the various occupations and additions over time. These walls were incredible to explore. It’s pretty wild to see the car dealerships and large home improvement stores just beyond the bars (we would call these gates).
York Minster opens it’s doors free of charge if you are in attendance for a service, so I settled in for Evensong that day and was glad I did. The interior is life changing. The details and time put into such an enormous place of worship is amazing. It really is massive. There are many sections to see but I had to quickly walk through to the small group gathered for the evening service, so my viewing was limited and I didn’t snap any photos. Basically whatever you’re imagining is probably accurate. The way the sound of the choir fills the space is enchanting. Here’s another site for a sneak peak. York Minster
The hostel I stayed at here is part of the YHA brand. I’ve now stayed in three different branches of this hostel group and this one is impressive. There is a lot of common space, a restaurant, clean dorms, a laundry room and a large self-catering kitchen space. Spending any downtime there was easy and comfortable. I highly recommend it. When I checked out on my final morning I hiked back to town and explored a few last minute points of interest.
The museum gardens were bright and refreshing in the crisp morning. My favorite moment was smiling at this sweet elderly man in the park who was acting as a perch for a group of pigeons. He saw me and waved me over, turned my palm upwards and sprinkled some trail mix in my hand, then stepped back as the birds flocked to me. Completely wordless, he and I were both perfectly amused. Then he pointed to one cream colored one and told me her name was Snowy, and that she was his favorite. We talked a bit about traveling and then I moved on feeling content and uplifted.
So that was it. I caught a bus out of town and left beautiful York for the next place. Remarkably, the sunny skies I had seen everyday then welcomed a shift to wind and dense cloud cover. I couldn’t have created that if I wanted to…it happened just like that and it was perfect.
* coach here is a large bus meant for longer distances