York is a truly magnificent city situated where the two Rivers, Ouse and Foss meet. It can trace its origins to the early Roman period and is a colossus of history, art and culture.
We stayed at The Grand Hotel and Spa which I would recommend highly, not just because it is located right in the heart of the city, (so you can abandon the car for the weekend) and is 5 minutes walk away from all the sights, but also because it is the epitome of luxury. (We loved the sunken Spa!)
York Minster itself dominates the city skyline, but it’s not until you get inside the Cathedral that you discover how truly breathtaking it is. It’s one of the largest cathedrals in Europe and, built in the Gothic style, is an architectural marvel. Since it’s humble beginnings as a small wooden structure in AD627, the cathedral has been built, rebuilt, and extended over 1500 years and has survived much, including at least three major fires, the last of which in 1984.
The stained glass windows are difficult to describe in words, even the sheer size of the area they cover defies belief. The photograph doesn’t really do it justice.
The Great East Window is the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the UK and was originally completed in 1408. According to the literature, there are 2million separate pieces of stained glass in the cathedral. I particularly liked the Rose Window, which was designed around 1515 and depicts the joining of the White Rose of York with the Red Rose of Lancaster following the Wars of the Roses in the 15th century.
A few minutes walk from the Minster are the narrow cobbled streets of quirky independent shops known as “The Shambles.” These shops are very individual (very few high street shops) and the fact that the whole area is pedestrianised makes it a pleasure to amble around.
Gorgeous antique shops crammed fit to bursting with jewellery and collectibles are situated next to old fashioned sweet stores, and, if you are interested in Harry Potter, there are three magic ‘imaginariums’. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but I loved The Cat Gallery and The Evil Eye Gin shop.
At lunchtime I tried the “Yorky Pud Wrap.” Oh My! It was a large flattened Yorkshire pudding with roast beef, stuffing and vegetables rolled into a wrap. Heaven!! I was offered the option of roast potatoes on the side, but I thought that might be overdoing it a bit.
There are lots of tiny little pubs and bars tucked away down the little alleys and winding streets, and we did manage to have a quick tipple in quite a few of them, but my favourite was overlooking the river and mill where we sat in the sun enjoying our beautifully presented Gin and Tonics. Andy is a fan of Craft Beers and he was spoilt for choice.
We loved the two and a half mile walk along the City Walls, which are the longest medieval town walls in England. The views are fantastic, there is lots of history in every step, AND it is a chance to burn off the Yorky Wrap! The walk encompasses four Gatehouses, and at Micklegate and Monk Bar we visited the Henry VII experience and Richard III experience respectively; They are essentially mini museums over two floors and have been endowed with the ‘Hidden Gem Award’ by Visit England.
Possibly my favourite site was York Castle Museum. York Castle’s eleventh century Clifford Tower is the largest remaining part of the Castle and offers spectacular views, if you don’t mind the climb. Where the main castle once stood, is now the Crown Court and this vast museum dating from the 1930’s.
The museum is deceptively huge and is located in what was a former prison built on the original castle site. Highlights are a very evocative and poignant Great War exhibition, The Sixties Room, and York Castle Prison itself on the site of the old debtors prison. Visitors are invited to view the “Condemned Cell” which may or may not have once housed the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin (more about him later).
Kirkgate, named after the original founder of the museum, is a Dickensian shopping street area, faithfully replicated and you can wander round the little stores as they would have looked two hundred years ago.
In contrast, the museum also currently houses a large temporary modern exhibition devoted to Vivienne Westwood shoes!
On Saturday afternoon, back at the Minster, we wandered around the ‘Stone Carving Festival’ and watched as 40 individual masons sculpted the weird and wonderful. An auction was scheduled on Sunday evening in aid of The Minster Fund. I wish we had been there – I would have snapped up the cat!
We had a drink in the Tipi in the Minster Gardens to finish off our afternoon.
We also managed to squeeze in a viewing of Dick Turpins’ grave … and the area apparently also has connections to Guy Fawkes.
Fianlly, we couldn’t leave without seeing the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey which dates from 1088, and which, before its dissolution in 1539, was one of the richest abbeys in England.
York was unforgettable and I can not recommend it highly enough. Of course, there was much that we missed, including The Yorkshire Museum, The Art Gallery, York’s Chocolate Story, (can’t believe I didn’t get to that one) and a Viking exhibition, so another visit is on the cards.
In 2018, The Sunday Times awarded the “Best Place to Live in the UK” award to York. I’m not in the least surprised.