I returned to work this week with a little spring in my step. After two weeks off, much rest and mental and physical un-clenching, I actually felt like I’d had a comprehensive holiday. A colleague asked generally what everyone’s top three holiday moments were, and I had to think about my answer. I spent much of my time catching up with friends and getting stuck into cooking and crafting projects, but I also had a host of highlights from taking a trip out of London to discover a new town: York.
I joined the mass exodus out of the city that happens every Christmas Eve. Throngs of travellers filled Kings Cross station and I was entertained by the site of the bird of prey used as a means of pigeon control as it flew between the departure boards and its handler. I don’t know why I failed to reserve a seat on my journey, so it came as no surprise that I found myself testing the endurance of my coccyx on the carriage floor by one of the doors for the two hour journey.
I was delighted to arrive in York, but felt equally lost when I emerged from the station and navigated toward my hotel. I felt a sense of serenity wash over me as I unpacked a few belongings, enjoyed a cup of tea with my feet up and absorb that I was officially on holiday; the first of many highlights.
Tourist top notes from my trip included a visit to the fascinating Jorvik Viking Centre, a guided walking tour through the city, the Castle Museum and a Ghost Bus Tour. My favourite moments though mostly came from Christmas day itself.
I’d woken early to take full advantage of the hotel breakfast and have time for a couple of phone calls to family and friends on opposite ends of the world. The idea for the day was exploration; I downloaded a map of the city to accompany a list of noteworthy sites, loaded a backpack of water and snacks and headed out towards the city.
Strolling in the direction of the river Ouse I thought I could hear the bells from the Minster; as I turned a corner to see the spires in the distance, the sounds from the bell towers filled the quiet street and it felt especially magical. The absence of another person made it feel like they were tolling just for me.
I paused to enjoy the moment before crossing the bridge and while I felt drawn to the Minster I took a left to investigate a riverside walk that had popped up on my map named after Dame Judi Dench. The weather couldn’t have been more perfect. A crisp winter day with only a mild breeze and clear blue skies; visibility was excellent and the views up and down the river were atmospheric.
The contrast of old and new is stark in York. Around every bend are ancient constructions in various states of weathering; the paved roads and vehicles driving through it seem out of place. I snaked back towards town up Marygate, along sections of ancient wall forming the backdrop to a modern phone booth on a street corner which seemed awkwardly situated in comparison.
Walking through Bootham Bar the street narrowed and the doorways shrunk making me feel like I was walking through a film set. Heading down High Petergate I was doing my best to avoid a large group of tourists whose guide was speaking through a microphone. It was when I looked up I realised I’d landed directly at the entrance of the incredible York Minster.
There was a buzz of sightseers in the courtyard so my sense of awe was short-lived, and soon I found myself feeling surrounded by the same group of tourists I had tried to stay ahead of. I gave up attempting to capture the impressive building facade into one photo frame and turned left into the Dean’s Park.
Walking down the side of the building I thought I could hear the sounds of the Eucharist inside. Pausing to concentrate I recognised the singing of the carol “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”; a favourite festive hymn of mine attached to fond childhood memories of my sister and I attempting to mimic the high notes of the harmonisation in the verse about choirs of angels. As the congregation reached this verse, listening to the choir harmonising caused a wave of nostalgia making me feel unexpectedly emotional. It was the sort of ‘right place, right time’ moment that gives one shivers. I decided then I would return for the Evensong mass that afternoon.
Completing a full loop of the Dean’s Park I crossed the Minster courtyard, stopped for a breath at a Boer War Memorial and continued my route down High Petergate. I was surprised to discover Guy Fawkes birthplace as I ambled down toward The Shambles. Named for the shelves used by the butchers who occupied the shops down this street generations ago, I found this ancient slice of town a delight. It was marvellous to discover it in the quiet, there were only a few people wandering around, and to be able to take my time in regarding the aged buildings and historic fixtures without dodging human traffic.
I then made my way down Coppergate, found the Viking Centre, and continued on to discover Clifford’s Tower. This largest remaining part of York Castle is perched up on a mound like a sentinel looming over the city. I climbed the 55 steps to the entrance and clutched the handrail as I took in the view. The tower itself was closed but there are a further 60 stairs within to reach the top which, I imagine, would be a spectacular vantage point.
Seeing how close I was to the river I descended and made my way through Tower Gardens back to the Ouse. Walking under the Skeldergate Bridge I saw the path continued along the shore so I followed it. This walk proved a popular choice; I saw many groups of people, exchanging Christmas greetings as we passed each other. I felt a wonderfully sense of peace walking along the river.
I continued over the Blue Bridge, where the river Foss merges with the Ouse, took in a view at the Pikeing Well and carried on until I reached the Millennium Bridge. Opened in 2017, its structure was inspired by the spokes of a bicycle wheel and while it’s striking I also found a modern construction sharply contrasted the ancient nature of its surroundings.
Walking back towards town on the other side of the river I passed Rowntree Park and read a little history about the integral role the chocolate industry had played in the town’s economy. Returning to Skeldergate Bridge and crossing it back into town I began navigating my way back to my hotel. I was feeling a little ‘site saturated’ by then but I had also managed to find my bearings somewhat; by the time I’d walked by the Stone Roses Bar I navigated most of the way back without the aid of a map.
A rest and a shower later I was ready to head out again for the Evensong mass. It was a goose bump inducing way to punctuate what felt like an incredibly special day. Sitting in the quire and listening to the choir was perfectly calming. It made me realise just how tightly wound I had become and I was finally releasing the stresses and pressures of 2019. Walking back after the service, congratulating myself on a successful first alcohol free Christmas, I realised that this was just the beginning and I still had lots of exciting activities lined up; but first I would try eat my weight in Lindt.