Other people pen billet doux to their beloved partners, but this is my love letter to a city; York. Although technically a Harrogate-born girl, having spent my entire educative years under the shadow of the Minster or along Bootham, I consider myself a Yorkist very much at heart. Newcastle held my affections (and still does) while throwing myself into university but a brief dalliance with London ended on a sour note. Quite simply, nowhere else can compare. Oh York, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
Firstly, there’s the Minster. Spending more years than I’d like to number scuttling back and forth from various services either as a chorister myself, or accompanying my older brother, it is incredibly precious to me. I take one step inside and am overcome with a sense of wellbeing that has nothing to do with religion, and everything to do with the sheer majesty of the building. On a sunny day, its golden stone is glorious, and on a dreary grey one, it still manages to impress. The smell of incense will always be an invocative one, and visiting is a right of passage for anyone of any importance in my life.
Then there’s Bettys. Touristy; yes, and almost guaranteed you’ll have to queue, but their Viennese hot chocolate makes up for that, and their Welsh Rarebit isn’t half bad either; and for those days when you simply can’t be bothered to queue, a Medici – a tantalising delight of roasted hazelnuts bound together with caramel topped with dark chocolate – will more than do the trick. Om nom nom.
While I’m not all about churches, Holy Trinity Goodramgate (which can also be reached by Low Petergate) is an absolute treat, with its unevenly paved floors, traditional box pews and even an old stone coffin or two in the corners; a chilly (you can often see your breath) but true oasis of calm, and mostly away from the beaten track of tourists.
I recently spent (proving my brother right that I’m prematurely middle-aged) a fascinating few days following the excellent ‘Snickelways of York’ book. Leading me down alleys that I’m ashamed to say I didn’t even know existed, I stumbled upon the wonderfully picturesque Lady Peckett’s Yard, a photographer’s dream with atmospheric timber buildings, as well as the intriguing Mad Alice Lane; I fell in love with my adopted city once more.
A walk around the city walls, something I only did completely very recently, is a great way to pass a few hours and allows you some interesting new views whether you start your route in the Museum Gardens and take in the ruins of the Roman fortress and the medieval ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital, or choose to hop along to Monk Bar with its Richard III museum.
While it can be pricey to indulge in some of the tourist attractions, if you have a York address, you can get a York card from the library for a mere £2, which allows you free access to the Yorkshire Museum (worth it alone for its dinosaur fossils), York Castle Museum with the brilliant Kirkgate Victorian street and York Art Gallery (currently shut until 2015 for major renovations, although York St Mary’s will open over a longer period in 2014 showing three exhibitions). I don’t know about you, but I think that’s a pretty fantastic deal!
And let’s not forget the other attractions, should you wish to play tourist, such as indulging in a dramatic Ghost Walk, visiting the Georgian gems of Fairfax House and the Mansion House, breathing in the historically-accurate smells of the Jorvik Viking Centre, climbing Clifford’s Tower, and marvelling at Barley Hall and the Merchant Adventurer’s Hall.
And I haven’t even mentioned the food yet! Rustique, near Topshop, has topped, or hovered very near the top, of TripAdvisor’s Best Restaurant for several years with very good reason; their confit of duck and haunch of venison are to die for. Café No.8 on Gillygate is a foodie haven; Guy Fawkes is a cosy niche for real ales and mulled cider; The House of Trembling Madness packs a punch while Evil Eye, if you can ignore the sticky menus, offers mouth-watering Asian-inspired dishes. Next on my hit list is Ate O’Clock, about which I hear only great things, as well as 31 Castlegate and Mumbai Lounge. Bang goes my latest diet.
As for the shopping; who needs Leeds? Boasting excellent high street shops (Reiss, French Connection, Oasis and Topshop are particularly favourites) as well as intimate boutiques like Jo Malone and Mulberry Hall, I rarely want to venture further afield and can easily empty my bank account in a single spree.
Whatever mood I’m in, whether I fancy soaking up some history, spending money I don’t have, consuming calories I don’t need, or simply meandering around, York never fails me. This is real love.