YORK: Time travel to ye olde England-Part-I

For those who moan that York sleeps at 7 pm, they have another think coming.

Those international travellers, especially Indians, who have never ventured beyond London (or the town where their relatives live in UK), York is nothing short of an eye-opener. Lately many are discovering the immense offerings in the UK’s own backyard. However, Yorkshire is anything but as blasé as a backyard of the country. Backbone could probably describe it better.

York, the main city in Yorkshire, is enough to ignite the most seasoned traveller’s interest in the exciting history of England and more. So intense is the journey into time in these parts that one would want to stand back and take in deep breaths to let the sense of history to sink in the few moments before one encounters yet another similar aspect. The astounding history and quaint present of this city is deceptively quiet.

Arriving by rail

The York rail station has an interesting steel and glass curved roof which lets in a lot of light. The first York railway station was a temporary wooden building that opened in 1839 and it must have been quite a contrast to the modern structure which still retains its old-world charm in its details. We stayed not very far from the station.

The Monk is a pleasant hotel from the Best Western stable. It is here that we planned to shack up. There’s a wedding party in the evening at the hotel lawns. A polite notice in the lift cautions guests with something like – ‘young love might get a little loud but we will promise to keep it in reins’. The same quiet sense of humour is an undercurrent wherever we go in the city.

York has history spilling over into the streets, starting with the vestiges of its fortified walls. The Walls are a constant reminder of the town’s distant past. It’s a brick and mortar reminder of times when fortified on all sides by ramparts and probably a moat as well. York was protected by raiders who, as we learn, have always had it in their crosshairs. Today, the Walls are an integral part of the city and a tourist attraction in itself.

The best way to get around York is the “Yorkshire Pass’. It is a convenient plastic card that opens doors to over 75 attractions in Yorkshire, most at a discount. Whether you prefer museums, castles or galleries the pass includes something for everyone. Certain categories of the pass also give access to convenient sightseeing transport, restaurants and other facilities as well.

It’s 6 pm and the streets are already getting quiet. However, the eateries are getting just that little bit more boisterous. York is a small city bursting with life. Do not let the tales of it going to bed at 7 pm distract or deter you. There is an awful lot packed within its city walls, including 365 pubs – one for every day of the year!

For a real overview of Yorkshire, nothing less than 5 days will suffice but tourists with a tight itinerary can work around a sound program even in 3 days. Widely regarded as one of the city’s ‘must-sees’ is the Jorvik Viking Centre, a re-creation of the Viking City of Jorvik. It was built on the very site where archaeologists uncovered the original City’s Viking remains. This attraction is popular all year-round.

York is also full of some fascinating museums. One of its best known is York Castle Museum. Here you can experience life as a Victorian, walk down old cobbled streets and peer through the windows of shops long gone. Beside this famous museum, Clifford’s Tower has views over the city to rival those from atop Minster Tower.

York can be covered on foot if walking is not an issue and it is not raining. Thankfully both these parameters are favourable. But don’t trust the weather in this part of the world.

Ghosts and ghouls

A novel way of spending the evening that doesn’t involve one of York’s numerous bars is on one of its numerous Ghost Walks. The Ghost Hunt of York and another walk that leaves from a pub called King’s Arms is an interesting way to spend the evening. The guide explains, with theatrics and ample histrionics, the ghoulish incidents and the ghosts’ exploits in York.

There are innumerable ghost stories and are usually good for laughs. But the information, given to us with a gleam in the eye of the guide, can be unsettling. He tells us that our hotel was built on the site of an old asylum. He informs, with undisguised glee, that it’s said the residents still revisit at night at times. The nugget is interesting but scary when the wind taps on the window at night!

Royal theatre

In the evening, the Yorkshire Pass comes handy indeed. An interesting play at York Royal theatre is a great way to spend the evening and we make full use of it. There are two major opera houses in York – the Theatre Royal and Grand Opera House. A heavily loaded cultural calendar draws theatre buffs to savour its regular offerings.

The Theatre Royal is supposed to be haunted by a ghostly nun. She was an actor who died in a dramatized duel onstage all by accident. Almost every spot in York has some ghost who has been witnessed several times. One wonders whether there are more ghosts than residents in York going by the numbers of stories!

The city reflects a very ‘English’ ambience. That is evident, even within the city limits. A short drive away from the city, the English countryside seems so idyllic. Some of our friends went to Bridlington and loved its small-town coastal ambience.

The short drives from York would be another story.

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