So this September marks 8 whole years since I moved back to the UK, and although I've had some fab adventures here and there, on the whole, I've not really explored much beyond the South East. I realise this is a crime against the more scenic areas on this island and I am very ashamed, ok? It's pretty poor when you've seen more of France and Spain than the country emblazoned upon your passport. So when my sister moved to York for university, it gave me a perfect excuse to navigate the Virgin Trains website looking for cheap tickets.
My first visit lasted all of 24 hours, this time last year, but I managed 3 days in March as well and let me tell you, I'm in love with the North. So picturesque (once you've passed the industrial wastelands around Doncaster, that is...), full of friendly peeps and so green, it reminds me of home! The copious amounts of coffee and cake consumed rather helped, although I can't say I was overly impressed by the weather on my visits - a mere five minutes of sunshine graced my stay the first time, while it snowed the second time! Perhaps I need to schedule my explorations more carefully... At any rate, here is my approved list of things to do if you visit York (as confirmed by my sister!).
York is such a gorgeous walled city and I found it easy to walk around; if walking isn't your jam though, the buses are pretty decent and not too expensive to hop on and hop off! In the city centre itself I'd recommend popping into the Minster, loitering around Kings Manor (it has a secret cafe, so don't be put off by the fact it's part of the university) and admiring the ruins of St Mary's Abbey in Museum Gardens. An eternal lover of academia, I insisted on taking a bus up to the uni campus and having a nose around - it's incredibly verdant and pretty, but mind the resident flocks of geese!
My sister and I also squeezed in a quick afternoon trip to Harrogate (only 20 minutes by train) - although we didn't have time to visit the famous spa, we did enjoy exploring and had a rather delish lunch (more on that later). We also resolved to visit the nearby town of Knaresborough as it looked utterly delightful from the train!
As a student city, York certainly has no shortage of wonderful shops! There are some fabulous charity shops (the Sue Ryder branch has a whole floor devoted to vintage wonders, definitely worth checking out) and there is inevitably a bookshop on every corner (pictured is the lovely Fossgate Books). My favourites, however, were the Yorkshire Soap Company and the Imaginarium, side by side a short walk away from Betty's in the centre - one full of deliciously scented goodies (I am the proud owner of the Whitby Bay candle!) and the other a veritable treasure trove of knick knacks and intricate gifts. Unfortunately they don't allow photos but take my word for it, these are wonderful stores! Finally, I fell in love with a standing copper lamp in Barnitts, which is a bit like Lakeland, if Lakeland was cheaper, sprawling, and full of every possible item you might need in your home.
eating & drinking
Oh, my favourite pastime - food and drink! Now York & Harrogate may be famous for the stalwart of afternoon tea that is Betty's, but we eschewed the queues outside for smaller places, tucked away. I'm actually almost reluctant to share my favourite place because I love it so much, but to hide it would do it a disservice, so I'll let you in on a secret - hidden within an ancient stone tower, up a winding staircase, is Gatehouse Coffee, and it is a brilliant establishment. Purveyors of the best chai I've had, as well as every hot drink under the sun plus a selection of delicious paninis, they are the ones to visit if you've ever dreamed of curling up in your own version of Gryffindor common room.
Another fabulous eatery is the York Cocoa House, with a thousand types of hot chocolate, and every dish contains chocolate in some format - I sampled goat's cheese scones with chocolate and surprisingly it worked - they also do chocolate afternoon teas which I'm determined to try on my next visit! For more cake and coffee, try Brew + Brownie for instagrammable latte art and delicious pancakes! If you're in need of something a little more savoury, may I direct you to Major Tom's Social in Harrogate for amazing pizza, or Winner Winner down by the River Ouse for tasty Deep South fare (including, of course, a Winner Winner Chicken Dinner - absolutely delectable!). If you're a little thirsty after all that food, head to Gibson's for cheap-as-chips cocktails - slide down one of the big benches and pretend you're just another student (as I did - ha!).
Martha's blog, and if any of you have recommendations for my next visit, please share them here!