York, UK - 22nd - 25th February 2024

Soon after Christmas, itchy feet set in and we hatched a plot to see some parts of the UK we'd been planning to visit for a long time. Our first stop was to be the ancient city of York. It shouldn't be too difficult for two former Atlantic navigators to get to a famous Yorkshire city by car, with the aid of two road atlases and Google Maps.

After ploughing through a heavy rain storm, when the driver's attention was fully on the road conditions rather than our location, we found ourselves confused on taking our selected exit from the Motorway to find none of the road numbers matched up with our map. Had the highway authorities changed every single major road number in the area just to confuse Welsh tourists? We pulled up at the first roundabout still bewildered and picked a random exit, not seeing the road we needed to take. This took us on a mini tour of what we expected to be Doncaster....Several more roundabouts added to the chaos inside the car. Why is everything in Doncaster named after Barnsley, we wondered? At this point we had an inkling, even with our scant knowledge of Yorkshire geography, that we could possibly be making an unscheduled visit to Barnsley. Finally finding a place to stop and regroup, we worked out that even if you take the correct exit number, that will only put you in the correct town if you are actually on the right motorway. Fortunately we weren't too far out of our way and fumbled our way through school pick up time in the town to put ourselves back on track.

We arrived a little later than planned at our Airbnb in York. It didn't matter, we were on holiday, and we'd already taken a mystery tour of Barnsley. The apartment we would share with our lovely host Katie for the weekend was located right opposite the ancient walls which surround the old city of York. We couldn't have picked a better spot. After a reviving cuppa we headed out to explore and find ourselves something to eat.

Bellies filled and nerves calmed with a spot of Japanese beer, we took a full moon walk around the city to get our bearings, hoping we would be more successful in finding our temporary home than we had been locating the city itself.

Every direction we turned we were surrounded by beautiful, ancient buildings. On the recommendation of our host we headed to the Art Gallery, where we were amazed by a terrific free projected light art show, so good we watched it twice and even returned on another night. The artist used the architecture of the building, its arches, and pillars to create a beautiful festival of light.

It was an excellent time of day to take a walk down the historic street called The Shambles, which centuries ago used to be the meat market of the city. The extra wide window sills where unrefrigerated meat used to lie still existed on many of the shops. By day the street and its touristy shops would be teeming.

York Minster by the light of the full moon

York Art Gallery decorated by light art.

The Shambles almost deserted by night

A cutey just down from our Airbnb

We had a full itinerary planned to make the most of our time in York. We were up early (for us) the next morning to take a guided tour of the historic city walls. We walked a short stretch of the walls rather than the full two hours it would take to walk the entire thing and learned much about the area's history including the fact the city boasts the longest remaining continuous stretch of city wall in the country.

By the end of the hour-long walk we were ready for a sit down and opted for a traditional British bacon butty for lunch. Our timing was perfect as during our meal every new customer entered the café trailing a puddle of rain water. By the time we finished our meal, the weather was dry again and it was time to head to York's famous 'Jorvik' Viking Centre.

We'd booked our tickets ahead and were told to arrive only five minutes before our allotted time. The queue still stretched down the street. The entrance to the "authentic" Viking village had us walking on glass protecting the original Viking building which was excavated on the spot.

I see Vikings!

Well timed bacon butty!

Another queue led us to the main attraction, which turned out to be more of a funfair ride than a serious education. We rode a gondola through a reconstructed village with House-of-Horrors worthy creepy waxwork Northmen and women We were somewhat underwhelmed by the experience, although it has to be said the smells of the village had been carefully reproduced.

Our explorations had taken us seven miles on foot around the city. It was time to head 'home' for a rest.

A second early start found us back at the Art Gallery in search of someone with a yellow umbrella, who would lead us on the 'Heart of York' walking tour. Our guide Maria, despite her Eastern European origins, was incredibly knowledgeable about the city and took us to many spots not covered on other tours. We searched for York's hidden cat sculptures, learned the histories of many landmarks and were even treated to a traditional Terry's Chocolate Orange to keep our energy levels up. We were sure to kiss at the spot on the Minster's front steps where doing so will allegedly ensure a long and happy relationship. Maria pointed out a small demon statue above what used to be a printer's workshop - the demon was apparently held responsible for any typos! From a back street, she showed us the city's best view of the front of the Minster and gave us the history of the beautiful Rose Window, constructed to commemorate the end of the War of the Roses, which had been beautifully restored after the 1984 fire.

York Minster

The Minster's Rose Window

Typo Demon.

In contrast to our evening visit, at midday The Shambles was packed with tourists, hen parties and stag parties and we almost had to elbow our way through the crowds enjoying the lovely but chilly weather. It was definitely worth beginning our visit to York before the weekend!

After a chilly picnic lunch followed by a scone and tea to thaw us out in the café at M&S, which had quite possibly the most stunning view of the Minster from its window, we headed to Barley Hall, located in a peaceful courtyard behind the buildings of one of the main shopping streets. Until the 1980s, the building was hidden behind a modern facade. Luckily its medieval structure was discovered before it was destroyed and it was beautifully restored.

I wouldn't like to have to replace that window!

Barley Hall ready for a dinner party.

Floor Detail.

Medieval Kindle.

Interesting Roofwork.

From Barley Hall we walked to the National Railway Museum for a quick look around. Our visit coincided with a gathering of 'Steampunk' enthusiasts who were in town to see the Flying Scotsman arrive at York Station that morning (if only we'd known).

Christine was excited to Board the Japanese Bullet Train again, even if it wasn't moving. Curiously, despite its new home it had the same evocative scent inside we remembered from our ride aboard one in Japan last year.

Our couple of days in York were action packed yet we left feeling we had only just scratched the surface of what the city could offer.

Steampunk Style

Back on the Shinkansen (Bullet Train)

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