York Is A* For A4

The grand entrance to York

Outside The City

The grand entrance to York

A number of years ago I used to live in York (at times this feels like a couple of lifetimes ago; when there it could be yesterday). I went back for a visit, taking Heather along to show her the sights (she hadn’t been since she was a child). The main reason for going though was trains!

Friday Night

We took a conventional East Coast train up on the Friday evening. The journey seemed quite smooth and—probably helped by my being used to going further to Newcastle plus the fact we didn’t stop until York—seemed quite quick. Having booked into the hotel and deposited bags we went in search of late food. At Heather’s declaration of fancying Italian I remembered a restaurant just the other side to Micklegate Bar to where we were standing. After a bit of a wait for a table the food was acceptable, though the service was a bit inattentive. Filled and refreshed it was off to bed to rest for the days ahead.


The main point of going to York was to see the “Great Gathering” to celebrate Mallard‘s record breaking run 75-years earlier. Having rose relatively late we had a quick sunny breakfast in the lovely little garden of the Bar Covent just down the road for the hotel. Then we headed for trains… to find a huge queue snaking out from the NRM entrance, round the tarmac area in front and starting to head back towards York train station.

We ummed and arred for a bit but it was pretty clear that standing in a queue that long would be a bit of a waste of our time in York (given that we were only on the first day and could come back) so we—reluctantly—headed away to do other things. The route down towards the centre of York took us through Memorial Gardens where some geese where obviously impatiently waiting for someone to come along and build a pond, which might be a shorter time than that queue.

The remains of the abbey in the sunshine

Sunny St Mary

The remains of the abbey in the sunshine

Having reached York centre we headed in Museum Gardens for a look at the remains of St Mary’s Abbey (partly in a failed attempt to find the shooting location of an old photo of Heather’s), pretty as ever in the bright sunshine. We had a look round the gardens but skipped the museum itself, neither of us feeling particularly in the mood for its Yorkshire based offerings.

The rose window and friends

Rose and Friends

The rose window and friends

Wandering the centre of town brought us to a still very much intact religious building, York Minster. There was an actual real life wedding happening there, closing half of it off when we arrived. By the time we’d wandered around the bit we could do, including the wonderful chapter house complete with gurning carved heads, it was open again though. That meant we could get down to the newly opened undercroft—not really my thing; I’ve always found that “atmospheric” but sterile modern style of displaying something a little off putting. The rest of the Minster is much better, and its a shame the undercroft isn’t more like the crypt.

Dinner that evening was prearranged, so after a quick change at the hotel we were off to a table booked at one of my favourite restaurants, Cafe Concerto. It’s still as nice as ever, and I think Heather was pleased with the amount of vegetarian (well, piscetarian) options. I was slightly disappointed though to find the menu is no longer delivered on a little blackboard balanced on the table but brought on a clipboard (though the design is still blackboard styled); that feels like a tiny bit of charm lost. The sticky toffee pudding no longer carries a declaration of being Annie’s either but, like the rest of the food, is still pretty damn nice.


Gladstone and Heather

Happy With Train

Gladstone and Heather

Having seen the popularity of the Great Gathering the day before we weren’t about to make the same mistake again. We were sure to be up and about early and arrived at the NRM a little after opening to find only a short queue (still fully inside the entrance). And then we were in.

Like some schoolchild saving the the nicest, most tempting sweet until last we didn’t head straight for the great hall and assembled A4s but wandered into the station hall. Although I used to live in York and have been back to the museum at least a couple of times since wandering round this time was made extra fun by the fact that things have been largely rearranged (both to accommodate the special visitors and as a general refresh). In the station hall this has mainly involved moving the royal train collection “forward” (into the better lit area)—which has also resulted in a personally special train moving north to the branch at Shildon (I feel a visit coming on). Heather was very happy to immediately find a cousin of her favourite steam engine in the form of Class B1 Gladstone (we didn’t see the actual Terrier Boxhill though, and as the NRM‘s collection page is currently broken I can’t work out where it should be).

Marking the royal train section

Crests And Flags

Marking the royal train section

The Royal trains were very…royal (the little displays on the floor showing foot movements of those meeting the arriving royalty were pretty confusing!) They’ve also redone the cafe in the middle of the trains too, where a little later we would have some fairly over priced lunch (I didn’t see any sign of the really nice cinnamon scones I remember though). There is only so long one can keep the best sweet to one side however so we eventually made our way down beneath the road and back up to the great hall.

There she is, all shiny


There she is, all shiny

Clearly given the visitors they’ve rearranged that area a bit too but I didn’t immediately take in any changes as eyes were drawn forward to the sight in front. Two gleaming blue streaks arrowing towards the turntable in front of them, Mallard and Bittern. The cabs of the A4s had been opened up and queues were forming to get a look into them. That behind Mallard was longest but we decide this was one queue worth standing in; Mallard is the record holder! And so a bit later we found ourselves crowded into the cab of the world’s fastest steam loco, going a lot slower than she was once capable of, with a nice little talk by one of the helpful (and probably worn out) volunteer guides. Then it was back down the access steps for a quick peek at the wonderful array of A4s, all facing the turntable (complete with specially built walkway across it), before the previously mentioned lunch.

There was no way we could resist a further look at those locos so after food it was back to the great hall for more staring in awe. There was something quite magnificent about standing on the turntable with six of those great trains pointing towards us, or standing in a quiet space between two of the great machines. Something quietly beautiful about them.

All six A4s, gathered together

The Great Gathering

All six A4s, gathered together

We toured the rest of the great hall too, including the “snoopy nose” bullet train (so modern to our eyes but very outdated to the Japanese). The stores surprised us by having the Green Arrow hiding at the back though that wasn’t as random as half the items scattered along the shelves! It was sad to see the Flying Scotsman still looking pretty sorry for itself (though mainly in one piece now) in the Works.

Hiding away around the back

Green Arrow!

Hiding away around the back

I don’t think I’ve spent so long in the NRM for quite a while but eventually we did leave. In need of refreshment we made it to the Maltings which surprised me as it seems to have about doubled in size from what I remember, with a terrace bit now. The beer’s still good. We wandered around a bit more, taking York in, before a desire for food drove us to Ye Olde Starre Inne (complete with olde worlde name). Despite being quite well known (it comes complete with sign spanning Stonegate and is reputably the oldest licensed premises in York—which given the number of pubs is saying something) I’d never actually been in the establishment before. Turns out that it’s huge, to the point we sat trying to work out how they could possibly have crammed it all into the space available. The food was good too and we didn’t do too badly (second I think) in the quiz we found happening.


From the top of Michlegate Bar

The Road To London

From the top of Michlegate Bar

With most of a day remaining to explore we left our bags at the hotel and headed out early to walk some more of the walls, stopping once more for a Convent breakfast on the way. There’s a little museum inside Micklegate Bar where we joined the circuit which I had never been in; so in we went. I hadn’t realised it spreads over more than one floor, rising to near the top of the bar. That offers interesting views. Heather also learned that some helmets simply aren’t designed to accommodate glasses!

One of the most photographed views of York. So here's another go

Classic View

One of the most photographed views of York. So here’s another go

From there we followed the walls around to our main destination of the day, the last of the “big” attractions we would have time for, Clifford’s Tower. I spent some time actually joining (well, re-joining as I was a member years ago) English Heritage on the basis I might do enough of this sort of thing to make it worth while. There are some nice views of York and the surrounds from the top of the strangely shaped keep which the tower is. Having circled the top we looked round the now sparse interior, and investigated the little shop, before heading off for lunch. First though we found a carousel outside on the little patch of grass which forms the Eye of York. Apparently carousels are one of Heather’s favourite things so it made her quite happy 🙂

A traditional carousel outside Clifford's Tower


A traditional carousel outside Clifford’s Tower

As it happened my step-father was down from Gateshead visiting York for a few days from the Monday, so there had been a long standing plan to meet up at some point. So we headed to a pub I knew he’d know well, the Hole In The Wall. And before I could actually get a hold of him to say so in Ralph walked to find us waiting there and contemplating the menu. Thought he’d find us there indeed! So we had food and a chat, briefly meeting, before we had to part again for we had to do the final been to York shopping!

And I've finally been in

Duttons for Buttons!

And I’ve finally been in

There are one or two shops I just have to go into if I visit York. One is the Cat Gallery, because I’m a huge cat person. Another is Give The Dog A Bone. I didn’t actually by anything in the former, apart from a pen for Heather (to go with the glasses case she got from there). The latter resulted in a basket full between us though—far too many tempting things. Shared Earth for once didn’t yield anything, though perhaps that was for the best given they and half the street had a power cut. I did however finally get to go in the famous Duttons for Buttons!

And so we had just enough time to collect bags from the hotel and make it back to the station for a goodbye drink in the pub there before our train arrived to whisk us home again. I think, though, that we may be back…


As this post is already pretty long photos are in the own gallery!

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