York has been on my list ever since I started planning my trip to the UK. It was first mentioned to me by my favorite author in Thailand – Kalthida as a place that inspired her fantasy novel series Calendar Castle. I suspected the actual castle that inspire the novel might have been Castle Howard, but, unfortunately, I didn’t visit the so-called “castle” (it’s a manor!). Regardless, I pretty much enjoyed my stay there and frankly was quite inspired to come back for more travel here!
I arrived in York on Sunday afternoon, which is not really a great time to visit any attraction. I was also a bit too exhausted carrying my luggage and checking in to actually do many activities on the first day of arrival despite my activities-packed to-do list of the day.
Hob Moor: My favorite morning run spot
Hob Moor is nature reserve and is an ancient common. Early morning, you will see people walking dogs, walk to work, jog, or bike around. One of the mornings, I also saw herds of cows glazing around as well. The meadow is only 1.5 – 2.0 km away from my hostel making it a perfect distance for my morning jog then a bit of handstand practice in the morning.
The only challenge is that York is much colder than London or Bath making my handstand practice outdoor much more difficult. Also, the ground is not very equal, making the hand placement a bit trickier than usual. With that said, I still managed to get a bit of my handstand in!
Sometimes, you get to see a herd of cows early in the morning
Jorvik Viking Center: Fake and real Vikings
I was initially quite skeptical about the center. First of all, it was described as a ride through a made-up Viking houses and lifestyle. Now that I think about it, it is even less exciting than my journey to the past ride in Vienna a few years ago. Secondly, Viking history, excluding Norse mythology, was never interesting for me. The ride itself, in reality, was also very stuffy and smelly as many people said in the review section. However, I have found the ride very informative. The “Vikings” here were actually dolls alright, but the human staffs were very helpful and informative. The audio guide on the pod (for the ride) were also very interesting. I found it quite intriguing that the “made-up” village and people here were built based on archeological evidence, and there were actual artefacts shown one the screen as well.
After the ride, I was led into the museum section. I spent only a short time here because the I was not very interested in the Viking history. Still, I have found a few things very interesting. The beliefs and associations with the Nordic mythology are still present even as they moved to York. Examples of these are shown in the use of amber as reference to the goddess Freya and the tomb stone with Jormundgandr carving for soldiers.
My new start in a new city wouldn’t be complete without a stupid and clumsy mistake. I accidentally put a wrong date for my entrance when I booked a ticket for Jorvik. The worse part was that I queued up and got in without even noticing that I made a mistake. The lady at reception just before entering was the one who noticed this, but she kindly moved all my bookings for me to the intended date. I shuddered to think what would happen in a less accommodating culture…
Barley Hall: Magic and mystery
Barley Hall is part of the Jorvik Group of tourist attraction. This is a medieval hall that has been repurposed for many repurposed into many things throughout the history from a noble household, school, and now, a tourist attraction.
Don't have a specific photo of Barley Hall, so I'm putting overall York citi-scape instead!
The process of renovating the hall is very interesting. They use the original / historically accurate method to rebuild and re-decorate the place. Original woods were paced where they belong and connected with new pieces, where missing, using the approached that it was built hundreds years ago. The fabric decors were dyed using the color dye that made from plants / minerals found in the past as well. I love how the Western part of the world tries to renovate the historical attractions to the original state rather than keeping it a ruin, like in Thailand…
After watching an introductory video, I was quite interested to explore this hall – mainly because it is going to be quite refreshing to see how commoners’ lives are like back then vs the same of the nobles or the royal families shown in majority of tourist attractions. However, the normal people’s household, even though quite wealthy, turned out to still be quite dry and boring – just servant quarter (corner), dining room, and bedroom – all with limited interesting decors.
Not sure if this is supposed to be potion or herbology class
The saving grace of this hall was the current special exhibition – Magic and Mystery. This is an exhibition about various types of magic – similar to what were mentioned in Harry Potter actually. However, this was made more interesting by marrying history and “mystery” or believes together. I love the especially the part where a short biography of actual alchemists was shown. I didn’t know that kings and emperors actually believe and care about alchemy for real! I thought this exists only in fantasy novels! I also almost laughed out loud at the divination section on dream interpretation. Apparently, when you dream of snake attack, it is a bad omen. However, in Thailand, being constricting by a snake in a dream means you are going to find a partner. Putting these together, you should dream of being constricted but not bitten… a bit hard isn’t it!?
Gemstone and wand - seems like a mix of Harry Potter and FATE: Stay Night (remember Rin?)
Merchant Adventurers’ Hall: Now tourist adventurers’ coffee shop
This historic building still stands as a possibly one of the biggest medieval buildings in York; however, after knowing that I would be seeing a lot of historical Viking’s building and artefacts on the day, I decided to just have a sip of coffee (and piece of lemon cake) and enjoy the view of this building instead. The coffeeshop has an outdoor seating in the garden where you can enjoy garden view, admire the hall, or even look at passerby on the busy street of York.
York Minster: Beautiful glass windows and nice view of York from the Tower Challenge
Unlike Bath Abbey, York Minster is pretty much similar in size to other cathedrals / churches in major cities (though I don’t think York would be considered “that major” of a city by UK standard). The amazing part of this minster is that it was built on top of a Roman fortress and have survived multiple disasters over the course of centuries – including the collapse from civil engineering miscalculation making the columns too small for the load…
The minster is separated into many sections, each with unique characters. I love the main hall, which has larger glass windows – making the hall looks more spacious and brighter than other part of the minster.
Speaking of the glass windows, I have to comment on the glass mosaic a bit. On contrary to the works in other churches, each scene in the glass windows in this minster is much smaller (or it may be because the window is so big that each scene become relatively smaller to the eyes). Anyhow, I felt that the scenes are so small that they become incomprehensible. It’s beautiful by color scheme, but I’m not sure if it is worth the effort…
There is also a “Tower Challenge” in this minster, and luckily, I managed to get a spot at the very last minute! The tower here is a bit taller than that of Bath Abbey, and, according to the signboard at the top of the tower, it is taller than the leaning tower of Pisa.
The view from half-way up the tower is very beautiful as you can see parts of the beautiful architecture – making it a perfect spot of photo. The view from the top is also quite nice as York is a beautiful city on its own (though it was also quite a windy day, so I couldn’t stay that long at the top haha). The only downside of this trip is that this is not guided, so we missed the story and factoids that were actually quite fun in my Bath Abbey’s Tower Challenge experience.
Walking up the tower made me think back to my own country. This sort of tower challenge would never happen in temples in Thailand. To start with, temples in Thailand were not constructed to be amongst the tallest in the first place – may be the stupa but not the main temple itself. More importantly, Thai culture places a lot of emphasis on the importance of head and not being walked over the head… Feel like this is a missed business opportunity though…
The underground museum is also accessible free of additional charge, and it tells a very interesting archeological story about the history of the minster and the ground it stands on. There are also cultural artefacts that was shown here because York was once the main city of the House of York. A few interesting artefacts are the 1,000-years-old book of Godspell (aka “Gospel”) and the King’s Book of Heroes which listed down profiles of soldiers that sacrificed their lives in wars.
Ended my day with a dinner with a view at Star Inn the City. I also got a bit artsy and did a quick sketch while waiting for my food (also because I couldn’t use phone as my phone was nearly out of battery).
Day trip to North York Moore
While York is a beautiful city to walk around, there is not much to in York for avid travelers. I decided to take a trip out of York to see something more interesting outside the city, and it was the right decision indeed.
My first surprised of the day was that there seems to be a “Swiss Train” policy even after my graduation form INSEAD. My tour guide showed up right on time at 8.50 am sharp to board everyone on to the minivan. I was surprised to see 2 fellow solo travelers joining the trip as well.
Mark, our tour guide and driver, is a very funny, accommodating, and knowledgeable guide. As a world-traveler himself, he seems to be interested in and to have studied many cultures and local stories, thus making the explanation and throughout the trip very interesting. I also appreciated a few reference to pop cultures and some food recommendations as well.
Hutton Le Hole: Small town immersed in nature
Our first stop of the day was at a small town of Hutton Le Hole. We stopped here for a quick breakfast and coffee. I fell in love with this small town the moment I laid eyes on it, though couldn’t really imagine living here for real. Still, this would be a great town for yoga or meditation retreat though.
There are quite a few things to admire about this town. The scenery really reminded me of the Hobbit’s village from LOTR. The house is built in a traditional style with local limestone, which would make the house also quite cool in summertime. There is a stream of water running through the town with a small “waterfall” in the middle of the stream. A little small bridge is also a nice addition to this “Hobbiton” town.
Scenic drive through the national park
The North York Moore National Park is filled with beautiful scenery. There are hills and valleys with different colors of soils, rocks, and farms. Parts of the hills were too acidic to be suitable for farming, so they are filled up with heather that are tended by park rangers. The others are used for farming of rapeseed, barley, and wheat as well as grass field to for cows and sheep. The contrast in colorings are truly an amazing sight to see.
We also had a quick photo stop atop to have a photo with this amazing valley.
Whitby: a seaside town with many things to do with too little time
The road to Whitby from within the national park was so quiet that it came as a surprise to me to see so many people once we get into the town center. This is probably more crowded than York itself! The amount of crowd probably reflects the number of attractions in this small seaside town. To name few, some attractions recommended to us by Mark are: Whitby Abbey, Captain Cook Museum, life-size replica of Endeavor ship, light houses at the bay, and a boat trip out to see the shoreline from the other end.
With only two hours at our disposal for attraction and lunch, we can only do one if we want to eat also. I decided to walk up to the Whitby Abbey – mostly because of the physical challenge of walk that is much needed after a long ride from the trip so far. The walk up to the abbey was not too exhausting – only short steps up. There is a small chapel middle of the way up with a large graveyard and a beautiful view of the city and the bay. This reminded me of a scene from Shaman King honestly.
The Abbey itself is huge, and despite being left in ruin, I can still see a how it could be beautiful in the past. I ran into my trip-mates and we spent a lot of time taking photo at the top of the hill. I ended up not having enough time to look through the museum. However, even if I were to spend time at the museum, I don’t think I would be able to understand why this is a Dracula’s abbey…
Lunch was at Magpie Cafe, a famous fish & chip shop with over 5,000 raving reviews! The food quality was indeed quite good. The fish was fresh, as you would expect from a seaside city. More importantly, because the food turnover was quite high, almost all the fish and chips that were served turned out to be just right out of the fryer! The place is of course very full, so I had to get a takeaway. Funny story while eating. As the area is right by the beach, there are quite a lot of seagulls, which is known to be vicious when it comes to stealing food. I had to do a staring battle with the bird to make sure I get to finish my meal before this vicious little white animal swoop my food out of my grasp. I’m proud to report that I won!
If you come from Thailand, one thing you know about public city’s toilet is that it is shit (no pun intended). There is one public toilet here as well – at the cost of 40 pence. I was quite skeptical about paying for the access, having had such a horrendous experience with the same in Thailand. It turned out to be quite clean despite the shady look from the outside.
North York Moore Rail: Hogwarts Express Experience
The next highlight of this trip, especially as a Harry Potter fan, we got to board on a steam-engine train of North York Moore Rail (NYMR) on the original coach. Though this is not the very same railway that we see on the website, but there aren’t that many steam-engine rails left in the country!
Because of the energy crisis brought on by the Ukraine-Russia war, the rail has to be run half-way by a diesel engine, but we still got to see the steam when the train took a turn and as the train left the Goathland Station.
The ride itself is very scenic as it cut through the forest and on the side of mountain. I especially love the part where the train cross over a river. You can just look down the see the water running underneath the railway.
On the way, I also had an interesting conversation with a couple that were in the same trip. The couple is really into a fashion called “Steampunk”, which is almost like cosplay but with specific focus on retro – and this could go back to Victorian age. I’m very impress by the quality of the costume that they wore to these events – I mean I have seen relatively lower-cost cosplay by some of my friends, but here we get to say professional that were invited to these galas and balls!
This is steam punk fashion
We got off at Goathland Station, which was Hogsmeade Station in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone film! It was also in another British drama series Heartbeat, which still is the main point of promotion for this town (I guess this is in the point of view of the residents). From the sound of it, this seems like a fun TV show though – maybe I should check this out.
We took a quick stop for afternoon tea in Goathland as well. There is a nice café that serves tea and bakery. It was a fun chat among us tourists about a few inauthenticity in our food that were made wrong in other parts of the world. For example, our Italian friend talked about how pineapple and parmesan on pizzas is basically a crime for the Italians. We also chat about how focus of history classes are very different in different countries. For me, we only touched a tiny bit of actual world history in my school, but mostly on Asian history (e.g., Chinese and Japanese), whereas European schools taught more of the broader world history. I guess this is also because of the global web of influence during the colonization period that make studying about Asian and American countries inevitable when you talk European histories.
Hole of Holcrum: valley made by a giant
We made a quick photo stop at the Hole of Holcrum, which, according to urban legend, is made by a giant when he was angry at his wife and decided to scoop up a dirt and threw at her face. My question for who ever told this story is “where is the dirt that fell off from her face?”. Anyhow, it was scientifically proven that this is just a valley from natural causes.
I love the view from the top of the hill looking down though. You can clearly see the difference in soil quality, hence different patches of greens across the entire valley.
Howardian Hill of Castle Howard
We didn’t stop at Castle Howard, but we drove pass the Howardian Hill, where Castle Howard is situated. The castle, which is actually just a nobly estate, has a very interesting history of being built over a period of centuries – from Earl of Carlisle the 3rd to the 7th!
This is the mausoleum for the familiar - still looks very huge from afar!
You can also spot the extravagance of the rich by looking at the giant obelisk dedicated to the 3rd Earl for starting the castle construction, and an even bigger one for the 7th for his completion… I guess this is what you do when you have too much money and don’t know where to spend…
A quick dinner before my next stop at Ye Olde Starre Inne - the oldest pub in York
Bloody Tour of York with Mad Alice
Bloody Tour of York with Mad Alice is an award-wining tour though I can’t remember by who and on what basis. One thing I can tell, however, is that Mad Alice is MAD. She is madly funny, and it is amazing how she could remember, or at least recognize, everyone’s name and last name by heart!
The tour was very interesting. Instead of focusing only on just the facts and archeological story about key attractions of York, we went on to learn the haunting or terror story of York. To kick-start our tour, she told us a story about the main reason why the York Minster took over hundreds of years to finish. It was due to the plaque – aka Black Death in our time. She also went on to discuss a few symptoms of the disease, and teased a few of the tour members, including me, in the process.
Another key highlight is the Treasurer House, which is known to be the most haunted house in York. The parade of ghosts is led by one particular ghost, the treasurer, who seems to have attachment issue. He would appear in the house whenever someone move stuffs from original places in the house. There is also a ghost of a woman in black who appeared as a reflection on the mirror of many visitors… and she moved closers every time a person looks in the mirror…
We also finally got to know that people in York called a gate as a “bar”, and the punishment for high treason back then was beheading the public shaming by placing the head at the “bar”. One particular head that was placed at the Micklegate Bar was the head of the Leader of House of Yorkshire. According to Mad Alice, “you can still feel the ghostly blood dripping as you walk under Micklegate Bar”…. Perfect… I walked under the bar on my way back to my BnB everyday…
There was also a sad story at Clifford Tower. Over 100 lives of Jewish people were lost as they were chased by the townspeople, and they locked themselves up at the tower while waiting for help. However, no one came. As the chasers approached, they decided to have 10 men of their groups killing women and children rather than placing their fate on the townspeople…
One funny story to close our tour was a story of a serial murderer who changed his identity and escaped to York. He was caught however by a crime of horse thievery. While waiting for his final punishment to be delivered, he sent out a mail to his relative, thereby blowing his cover… oops!
Overall, I love Mad Alice a lot! She is a very engaging storyteller, and she engaged the audience in her act as well.
I left York with a feeling that I will have to return to this city again for sure – not because there is much more to explore in the city, but Yorkshire has so much to offer! I would love to visit Castle Howard and really see how extravagant the place is. I want to visit Scarborough to actually see where the song Scarborough Fair was inspired from. Also, given how much I enjoyed the day trip to Whitby, I also want to try the Yorkshire Dale tour as well.
Farewell for now York!
Also will have to come back to visit the real Diagon Alley!