York (credit: Encyclopaedia Britannia)
One of the very few downsides to living in Oxford (besides narrow footpaths being overtaken by slow-moving tourists and an excessive reliance on potatoes) is that it has made me immune to the beauty of other historic English towns. I guess it’s similar to the way that growing up in Canberra dulled my senses to modern art: where others might be shocked at plain white panels or Tracey Emin’s bed being labelled ‘art’, my hometown’s bronze bunyip, piles of orange sticks, giant silver goon sack and many-boobied SkyWhale mean that controversial pieces elicit little but a “meh, standard” from me.
Skywhale, White Curve by Ellsworth Kelly
I guess I’ve just been so spoiled with sandstone dreaming spires, cobblestone alleyways, quaint old tea-shops and verdant meadows over the last few months that York didn’t excite me as much as I was expecting.
However, I did appreciate:
The City Walls
3.4 km long and interspersed with 5 main gateways (misleadingly called bars), these are the longest medieval town walls in England. You can ramble along their entire length, which provides ample opportunity to admire the flower-covered banks, get a sense of the city layout, and (if you’re me) pose unflatteringly in front of historic landmarks.
I do like a good minster, and York’s is impressive: the 2nd largest gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. Our Footprints walking tour guide adamantly insisted that it is the largest in the entire Northern Hemisphere (and fed us a lot of other dubious York facts) but he still got a sizeable tip; mainly because there were only 5 of us on the tour and I was guilted into compensating for the 3 teen girls who were fishing around in their gloves for spare pennies.
The minster is built of limestone which is beautiful, but may as well be shortbread given the rate at which it absorbs water and needs to be replaced. It was 40% shrouded in scaffolding when we visited, with a permanent masonry hut set up outside to replace each individual weathered piece…with more limestone.
We Airbnb-ed for 1 night at St Denys Court which was a short walk into the city centre. Even though our host – a middle-aged woman with berry-hued hair and 3 teeth – got completely sloshed with her sister and woke me up by blaring a documentary about capybaras in the wee hours, she did put a lot of effort in. The barrel of about 60 different hotel mini shampoos and body gels in the bathroom was Boy Scout/hoarder-level impressive.
York is home to Johnny Depp’s favourite bar, Evil Eye Lounge, which he apparently tried to buy a few years back. Much like male-eyeliner and felted fedoras, the Depp stamp of approval has popularised it immensely, so much so that we couldn’t get in. We opted for the House of Trembling Madness just down the street, which had a great drinks selection and (more importantly) taxidermy display. I’d never seen a stuffed-and-mounted rat’s head before.
Taxidermy at House of Trembling Madness (credit: planetconfidential)
York was built on railways and chocolate. It’s the HQ of Nestlé York and 6 million KitKats are produced there every day. Terry’s Chocolate Factory, makers of the Chocolate Orange, also originated there which is apparently a big deal. I’ve never tasted one, but an orange made of chocolate sounds better than an orange made of orange (much like anything else I guess, with the exception of those evil Allen’s Chico Babies).
We had a lovely sit-down tea at Betty’s Tea Rooms, whose interior was created by the same designers as the luxury Queen Mary liner. I had the most amazing scone of my life: probably because it was called the Fat Rascal and was so fruit-packed that it tasted nothing like a scone.
There’s also apparently a great railway museum. If you’re into that kind of thing.