Sometimes I love being a cheesy tourist. Therefore, last week you would have found me marching down the main street in York singing the local nursery rhyme.
However, after he marched his men to the top of the hill and marched them down again, I knew nothing of their further exploits. Paul of course was no help, so I later had to Google it. Turns out they eventually ended up being neither up nor down, to confuse Paul even more.
You can hardly get a more typical English city than York. In fact, I’m split between York and Oxford as to the most English of all the cities I’ve visited. Here you’ll find countless cosy pubs, Tudor-style buildings, neat green parks and history that spans the ages. York’s one of those places you can spend a couple of hours in, or a good few days. Last time I spent the former, so this time we chose the latter.
York isn’t particularly big – we’re talking about 140,000 people – but its history is legendary. Unlike most spots you’ll come across in the UK, York was founded by the Romans almost two thousand years ago, and there’s reminders of it every way you look. The best example is the awesome city walls, which almost completely encircle the old city. You can walk around them in a leisurely hour or so. They’re not completely Roman, rather they’ve been built up for different purposes over the years. The last renovation was about a hundred and fifty years ago, when the locals decided that they might be a sort of tourist attraction one day. Pretty smart, as most cities were ripping up their walls soon after to make way for roads.
Paul and I spent the first day skipping around the walls, shopping in the atmospheric little lanes and eventually finding ourselves inside the York Minster. I go through phases of appreciating churches, and this time I was keen to see inside the Minster. Only problems is that it costs a whopping nine pounds, and I am proud of my record of never paying to step inside a church (except the wacky Bone Church in Kutna Hora).
Nevertheless, when there’s a will, there’s a way. The Alaskan host of our bed and breakfast told us of Evensong, a nightly service that anyone can attend and afterwards you’re free to have a wander around. So off we went, with me thinking Evensong would be a bit of a singsong and maybe some pretty candles and things. I’d never been to an Anglican service before so I certainly didn’t expect to be ushered into the front row directly facing the opposite rows and the choir – we were quite happy hiding at the back. A leather block was resting on my seat; thankfully I realised after a moment that it was meant for my knees.
The service was very sombre, almost seeming too sad for such a beautiful setting. As it turned out, we headed out straight afterwards. To be honest, it was a little unsettling and it felt a bit wrong to then be poking around the church. So we went to a pub instead.
York also boasts something close to many tourists’ hearts – free walking tours. They’re not the Sandeman’s New Europe type; no, these are the tweed coat type who don’t even take tips. Our guide was excellent, taking us through Roman ruins, the medieval street known as the ‘Shambles’ and even into an old manor belonging to Henry VIII.
A pot pie and another pint sealed the deal; York’s about as English as you can get.