I love knowing stuff, learning stuff, just generally putting more stuff in my brain. It seems to sort itself out in there and I can usually pull it out at will. Usually. So York is the perfect place if you like knowing stuff. And full of experts of all kinds.
First expert: The park and ride bus driver. I’ve never used the park and ride in to York centre before, so when the driver said, “Where to?” I answered, “I don’t know.” He sighed and just said to get off when everyone else gets off. Not a rule I generally stick to in life, but figured it would work quite well here. “1 adult, and are they half fares?” I asked, pointing at the three 12 year olds under my jurisdiction. They had already been primed, as usual, with an urgent whisper, “Whatever age I say you are, that’s what you are, Ok?”. They had duly put on their I’m-younger-than-I-look faces. “Under 16s are free.” “Oh!” said I, regretting not bringing more. I mean, if they’re free… As we got off, I asked the driver where we would catch the bus back. He raised a burly finger and pointed at this bus stop, with a look that said he knew I was clearly bottom set Navigational Skills.
Hungry from our 5 minute bus ride, we went to The York Roast Co. for one of their world famous Yorkypuds.A stonking sized Yorkshire pudding filled with Sunday roast essentials, then furled up to make it manageable to eat. Like a Cornish pasty or Mexican wrap. But not. Better. Way better.
The owners are friendly and smiley. If you’re smiley at work then in you’re in the right job. We were offered an array of choices that seemed to require a gazillion and 17 buttons on the till. Beef, ham, turkey, pork – and goodly chunks of your choice. Gravy (vigorous nods from the girls); horseradish (look of horror); roast potatoes (Incredulity! Does anyone ever say no??); cranberry sauce, veg…..on and on it went. I added red cabbage slaw. Yes it does go with gravy. I am unclear why you would question it…
The owners said they used to be a sandwich shop but after quietly offering Yorkypuds from a teeny counter, the LADbible on Facebook changed everything. Yorkypuds went viral, queues snaked around the shop, they make 300 on a quiet day (our day) and 1000 on a Saturday. Not surprised. Yorkypud experts indeed. Here are our before and after pictures showing our satisfaction.
Fortified, but really ready for a post Sunday dinner snooze, we made our way to our rendez-vous to meet our next expert. At York art gallery is Richard (of York), no less – our walking tour guide. Now, I am a huge fan of a walking tour. And when there’s no human available I always grab the audio guides and when the children were little ensured they had one clasped to their ear. I love how you can see something innocuous, or even not notice something at all, but with facts and anecdotes streaming in your ear it comes alive. Makes you go ‘huh’ and want to ‘discuss further’ with the person next to you. Take this photo of one of the gates to the city walls. See the little door?
Hold on, I’ll give you a teeny clue.
Well, it’s a door where the town crier would come through to make his announcements. See how tiny it is? Only those of limited girth were employed. And that is what a good tour guide will do. Provide lots of mental blue arrows for you to recall whenever you want or need.
I chose the Association of Voluntary Guides To The City of York (avgyork) partly because they’re free (!) but partly because volunteers are keen and know their stuff. (If you go to Captain Cook’s museum in Whitby you’ll find a volunteer sitting quietly on a wooden chair in one of the rooms. Talk to them, volunteers love to impart their knowledge.)
Unusually for a Tuesday early in the year, two guides turned up, so me and the girls got to have our own personal city guide. For free! Walking tour heaven. I won’t recount the whole tour for you but here are a few snippets.
York has been invaded by pretty much everyone whose hobby it was to invade – Danes, Vikings, Saxons, Romans….The reason York has remained intact, compared to other places, is that it kept surrendering. Saying, take us but don’t ruin our city. Kind of like having a scrap but saying ‘Mind the face, not the face!’. So, for instance, it still has much of the castle wall.
The Victorians put in the walkway. In Roman times it would have been a single plank on stilts to shoot arrows from. The daffodils on the left were planted by school children in the 50s and 60s; a different scene from how the moat would originally have looked with sewage, food waste and the dead, purposely acting as a disincentive to invaders.
The tour also provided alternative views of beautiful York Minster.
Richard (of York) adapted his tour to link in with the history that the girls are doing in school: The Battle of Hastings. So he talked about the Battle of Stamford Bridge nearby, for instance. I know! It’s as if I had a mild moment of parenting and actually planned a walking tour to support their education…. He also peppered his talk with ghost stories. Through The Shambles, York’s most popular street (7 million tourists a year can’t be wrong) which used to be a street of butchers, where the offal and blood would be tossed out into the street. The windowsills are deep so meat could be put out for display and some of the hooks for hanging meat are still evident.
We ended up at Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate. 3/4 of all the streets in York centre end in gate as it means street, and this is the smallest street in York.
Richard (of York) horrified the girls with the meaning behind the name, but I’ll leave you to go on the tour to find out. They needed a good browse round the Harry Potter shops in The Shambles to recover. I bought fudge. I’ve been to York before. I’m not an expert but I know what works best.
I leave you with my favourite viewpoint of York. This is the way I would walk back to the car park as a teenager; this glimpse of York Minster showed me I was almost there. It reminds me now of the nice feeling of having had a good day’s shopping in York.