Setting off to catch a train out of London we somehow ended up being an hour early. No matter, it gave time to collect ourselves and provisions before catching the train. Perhaps the escalator down from Kings Cross bridge being out of order was a sign, but I wasn’t impressed by the new “Azuma” trains now running up and down the East Coast. The train unit itself is fine, but the attention to detail on the interior fit-out seems lacking (for instance, the luggage rack obscured the occupancy indicator lights for the seats immediately adjacent; the coat hook spacings are just a bit uneven; also the onboard cafe seems to have been reduced to a tiny cubby).
We weren’t on the train too long to get annoyed by such things though before arriving in York, and heading as is procedure for the pub—in this case the lovely York Tap on the station concourse. Refreshed we headed for our usual hotel. Unfortunately it seems to have gone a bit downhill since last time we were there—it’s hard to point to exactly how but there being no towels in the room wasn’t a good sign (though some did magically appear later, after we’d got some from reception).
Settled in we wandered out into the city, taking the royal entrance through Micklegate and then wandering along the river. That brought us to near Clifford’s Tower. It turns out we couldn’t visit though, as it’s currently covered in scaffold undergoing some conservation work (the plans for additional platforms look exciting—looking forward to returning to see it once complete). What was open was the carousel adjacent the tower, so of course Heather had to have a ride.
We wandered some more around the walls, passing a delightful castle themed bee house, and reaching the now quite trendy Fossgate, where thankfully still lies one of our favourite York shops, Give The Dog A Bone. More disappointing was that the Last Drop seems to be in a much sorrier state, looking closed though apparently still open.
As we couldn’t go in there we found our way to the little outside area of the Old White Swan. We continued on from there, heading out Monk Bar for a walk around the outside of the walls, coming back in Bootham Bar and heading towards the cathedral. We stopped in the thankfully still alive Three Legged Mare. It’s lost the piano but still has decent beer, and the treacherous spiral staircase down to the toilets. Coming out I got all sad passing the now defunct Cafe Concerto (still linking because I can’t believe it’s gone) before taking in the Minster.
Further down is another favourite shop, The Cat Gallery where one can pick up a leaflet on the York Cat Trail, spotting statues of cats dotted all over York, which would give us something to do for the rest of the break. We went cat hunting for a bit and then decided to find some food, ending up in the labyrinth which is the Starre Inn (seriously, we were sat in what seems to be one of several courtyards and still kept getting almost lost on the way to/from the nearby toilet. There were a couple we decided must be wandering monsters, randomly moving from table to table to catch out unwary adventurers).
There were a few more cats to be found on the way back to the hotel, including down by the river, until we ended up the night in The Windmill just down the road. And then off to bed and rest for in the morning we had an appointment to keep.
We did have an appointment to keep, but first breakfast. There was only one place we were heading for that—off to see the nuns! The Bar Convent is as lovely a place to start the day as we remembered, particularly in the quiet, tranquil, relaxing garden where the city and life could be a million miles away. Even I had a sausage sandwich (Heather went all hipster with avocado on toast). Our appointment was to meet Gemma at York station, as she popped down from Durham, and then the three of us headed on to the temple that is the National Railway Museum.
We were slightly early for our timed tickets but got straight in anyway and were soon among the trains. There are exciting plans to expand and reinvigorate the museum, which will be nice because the station hall continues to be dim and poorly lit, to the detriment of the exhibits (it doesn’t help that the roof is filthy, and appears to be leaking). For some reason Rocket, arguably one of the most important items in the collection, is sitting in a little room on its own off the main space of the shed, easily walked by, which is a bit confusing and saddening (particularly when there are a seemingly endless supply of replicas much more prominently displayed—at least it has some lighting).
The Great Hall is still the better half of the museum, where the gathering around the turntable is always impressive and the fast, sleek, modern trains welcome visitors. And there, of course, is Mallard looking, alongside a streamlined Duchess, as sleek and modern as any of them (and pretty much as fast as the British stuff too!)
We had a snack and then wandered through the wonder that is the random collection of stuff at the back, tea sets rubbing shoulders with chairs, and old signal box workings. It’s possible other museums would hide such away but I love that NRM has it out, just ready for something strange and wonderful to be discovered (it also makes it clear how difficult such institutions find it to say no).
Done with the trains the three of us wandered over to the walls, walking them so that Gemma could look back and get the classic view of the Minster towering over the city centre (despite her nervousness at the lack of railings in places). We went past Micklegate and back round to the tower, then up to the wonderfully named Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, before finding our way to the Black Swan.
It turned out that may have been a mistake. The pub is lovely as ever but when I asked if they had a menu I was handed one along with an insanely long list of what wasn’t available! Seems they were having a few staffing issues and it took us at least three goes before everyone had ordered something they could actually have.
Finally filled we took Gemma for a bit of a wander around York, as she enjoyed the quirky street names we kept finding. We called in the Cat Gallery, again, stared at the Minster, and investigated Shared Earth, as well as heading down the famous Shambles.
We were running out of time before Gemma had to leave by then, so headed back up to the station, saying goodbye (though not for long) to her in the York Tap. Once Gem was safely on a train Heather and I continued with our cat hunting, a good excuse to meander around enjoying the city. We found them over pubs, and shops, cafes, and houses. Eventually we wended our way to a long ago haunt of mine, The Royal Oak. We stayed for a drink in the front bar, I still can’t bring myself to sit in the conservatory part which in my head is the external gents toilets!
We wandered some more, thoughts turning to food. We were thinking of investigating Spark but the queue to get in was stupidly long and didn’t seem worth it, so we sat in the Red Lion next door and considered our options while watching the Japanese tourists order bizarre drinks.
We settled on wandering up Fossgate and found The Hop, which reminded us a bit of the lamented Herb Garden in Newcastle and did decent enough beer and pizza. It was getting a bit dark for cat hunting after that so we headed back to the hotel, ready to pack and get going in the morning.
We weren’t quite ready to leave York yet, and indeed weren’t about to miss out on breakfast with the nuns again. After that we wanted to visit a few more of the shops, though we ended up in town so early they weren’t quite open yet. In particular we seemed to end up doing laps of the town centre waiting for the York Glass shop to open. It was worth it though for the pretty vase and glass sausage dog we found there. Then it really was time to grab the bags and head to the station, for we were off further north to Newcastle.