Days 10 and 11: Old York

After a long drive up north, we arrived in York just in time for dinner and for getting settled in to our digs in town. We did briefly walk around some of the city center before and after dinner, admiring the city walls and the imposing minster. For our days in York, we stayed at the Groves guesthouse, just outside one of the city gates, about a 10 minute walk from York Minster. This was the one accommodation on the trip that annoyed me and did not receive a 5 star rating from me on Trip Advisor. They advertised laundry facilities and since we were at the midpoint of our trip and in need of cleaning our clothes, I booked this particular accommodation based on that information. When upon arrival we were told that they could not, in fact, offer laundry services and offered no real solution other than to recommend a self-service place a 15 minute drive through town, that clouded my perception of the rest of the stay. And I can hold a grudge! Our room was on the top floor. It was a decent enough size but it was incredibly hot, especially considering the weather in York was not hot at all. Breakfast was alright, the tea was good and the servers were nice. But it wasn’t anything to write home about and the fruit salad was down right odd. I have never seen fruit salad that incorporated so many different fruits. Seriously! It had apples, peaches, grapes, pomegranate seeds, kiwis, melons, pineapple, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, weird cherries, mangoes, papayas, some Chinese fruit the English seemed to like but no one ever knew what it was, and a couple other things that I am forgetting. So anyway, to sum up, I wouldn’t recommend The Groves in York.

But York itself is definitely worth a visit. The day after we arrived, we decided to start the day touring the huge church in the center of historic York, York Minster. I actually ended up loving the minster more than I thought I would. They have an amazing exhibit in their crypt detailing the history of the site back to the Roman era complete with artifacts and architectural foundations from that time period all the way through the present day. While the Husband climbed the tower (of course), I happily wandered aimlessly through the crypt looking at Roman walls and medieval coins.

York Minster

York Minster

down the nave

down the nave

stone choir screen

stone choir screen

back down the nave

back down the nave

Prince William. No, not that one. Son of Edward III who was married in the minster in 1328.

Prince William. No, not that one. Son of Edward III who was married in the minster in 1328.

just an awesome Elizabethan tomb in the church

just an awesome Elizabethan tomb in the church

After our visit to the minster, we walked over to the Yorkshire Museum because I had heard that it had some great exhibits on the history of York. What I didn’t know was that it’s actually built on top of the ruins of a former abbey and cloister and is believed to be where Richard III stayed on his occasional visits to York. The museum showcases the exposed ruins in their exhibition and also has some great pieces like original prints of Shakespeare and jewels that belonged to Richard III. I did think the museum was tiny, especially given what they charge in admission, but maybe we just didn’t find everything? Always a possibility! We did wander through the ruins of the abbey right next to the museum when we exited, before sitting in the garden and enjoying a sweet treat.

abbey ruins

abbey ruins

a pig sugar cookie from a local bakeshop

a pig sugar cookie from a local bakeshop

For the afternoon, we headed over to the National Rail Museum to see a huge warehouse full of old trains. It was just as exciting as it sounds. ;-) I kid, I kid. Not my favorite type of attraction, but again the Husband does deserve to see some things that he is interested in right? I did at least have an appreciation for the collection of royal coaches on display. They had the train cars that Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth, as well as every monarch in between, traveled in. And they did travel in style!

Having had our fill of trains, we headed out to dinner and then off on a ghost walk to explore York by night. Of course this being the summer in northern England, it was completely light out the entire time, but it was still good fun with some interesting history and stories. With tales of ghosts, tormented souls, and drunkards in our heads, we gathered some refreshment from York’s version of a fast food restaurant (which had a hell of a lot better selection of food than any of ours here) and headed back to the guesthouse for an evening of dining in while watching the World Cup since England was on.

The following day, we started out by airing our dirty laundry. Or at least taking all of our clothes to a launderette in the city. The owner was super helpful and we sat and caught up on some reading while we waiting on our clothes to wash and dry. With freshly laundered garments, we headed back towards the historic center and dropped off our clothing at the guesthouse– except, of course, what we were actually wearing. I assure you we did not walk around York naked. Tempting thought it was, just too chilly.

We spent the rest of the day exploring the winding streets and seeing the Shambles and all of the various shops and street performers out. We stopped by the Jorvik Viking Center which details some of the Viking history of the area with a Disney-like theme ride and a wax figure village. I really enjoyed it, though I could see how some might consider it hokey. After seeing that, we stopped in a local alcoholic beverage store where I had to remind the Husband that while I was fine with his purchasing whatever he wanted, we still had not yet made it to Scotland and our planned Scotch whiskey distilleries, and well… there was only so much room in the suitcases. After quite some time of worthy evaluation, he selected just a few sample bottles to take home.

At that point, we decided to head out to find the Richard III Experience within the city gates opposite of our hotel area. Within the tower where guards and prisoners once worked and lived, there is a multiple floor exhibit about York’s King Richard. It details his childhood, his genealogy, his rise to power, and subsequent death, as well as the controversies such as how he probably didn’t kill his nephews, the Princes in the Tower, and his unfortunate and undignified final resting place under a parking lot. It was interesting and something I would recommend if you are a fan of the much maligned monarch. From there we were able to hop on top of the city wall and walk around walls that once served as the ultimate security system for the “most powerful city in Northern England.” At least that’s what Braveheart taught me. After walking an almost complete circle around the city walls, we grabbed some dinner (pub food of course) and traveling provisions (namely Cadbury chocolate bars). Then it was time to retire to the hotel to pack up our things and get some rest, because the following day was the day I was truly waiting for- we were going to Scotland.

a view of the minster and some lovely English gardens from the wall

a view of the minster and some lovely English gardens from the wall

atop the city walls

atop the city walls

Days 8 (con’t) and 9: Visiting Middle Ear… er… England

Fleeing the cityscape of Bath, we headed north into the charming countryside of central England and the Cotswold area. The Cotswolds are always described as the best scenic drive in England, a place where city dwellers vacation for lazy long weekends and somewhere where life slows down and takes notice. This description is not incorrect.

We headed out of Bath and a bit north to visit a couple of villages in the Cotswolds region. We began the afternoon getting lost on two-way single lane roads trying to find our way into the Slaughters. Originally, we were planning to head into Upper Slaughter first, but since we managed to find the road to Lower Slaughter that was where we decided to go. We parked the car just outside the village near a fishing spot and headed in to walk around a bit. Lower Slaughter is a super-small town, very quaint and quintessential English cottage-like. We walked by the brook running through town and by a few homes.

We ended up finding a walking trail, Warden’s Way, that would take us into Upper Slaughter, just a 20-30 minute walk down the path. The walk was a nice chance to get out and just see the countryside. I was perhaps delirious and intoxicated with the English air because I did at one point suggest to the Husband that it would be a great idea for us to do a backpacking/hiking trip on our return to England in a few years. Those of you who know me know that’s probably NOT going to happen! But this short walk made me think it could someday be a possibility. ;-) We passed the river that fed the town brook, watching swans and ducks dive into the water. We wandered through sheep fields where the sheep stare at you inquisitively wondering why you are intruding on their land. We listened to constant baa-ing coming from the distance where it was determined that local farmers were in the process of shearing their sheep. We walked through a shaded wood that took us down the road into Upper Slaughter.

Upper Slaughter was very similar to its Lower sister with the same cobblestone houses and small village streets. There was a tiny parish church in the center of town with a lovely shaded graveyard bearing the names of villagers past. We strolled a bit before heading back past the sheep to Lower Slaughter and the car.  After collecting the car, we headed just down the road to the king village of the Cotswolds, Stow-on-the-Wold. As it was by now, late evening, the sleepy town was quiet, all of the day trippers and tourists having moved on and returned back to the big cities. We checked into our residence for the evening, The Bell at Stow, and headed out to walk around the town before dinner.

Stow is so small that you can really walk from one end of town to the other in about 5 minutes. But it’s the perfect Cotswold getaway with plenty of shops and restaurants available for those wishing to partake. We walked by the town churches and sat for a minute in the old village square in the center of town. The square still holds the old stocks, a remembrance to the criminals of times gone by in this wool market town. Back at the Bell, we had what was probably my favorite dinner of the trip. Since we were a few minutes ahead of our reservations, we were welcomed at the bar for a couple of cocktail pints before being seated in the dining area. The Bell bar seemed to be a favorite for those staying the evening on their way through the area and for locals fro town as well. They even had a lovely outdoor picnic area to accommodate patrons when the weather cooperated (as it did while we were there). Dinner was amazing. I dined on a cheddar and beer souffle before having the best steak and ale pie that I had during our entire trip. The Husband had the seafood specials that evening. For dessert, he decided on an Eton Mess, which is basically a big ice cream sundae, while I enjoyed chocolate and orange pudding. Everything was delicious. And the service here was outstanding. When we do return for that hiking trip, I plan to return to the Bell and use it as a base to explore the area. I will add that the Bell is not a traditional B&B. It’s more of a regular tavern, a bar downstairs that just happens to let a couple of rooms on the upper floor. I was somewhat apprehensive about how this would work out, but was eager to give it a try. And I’m so glad we did. The service and amenities for our stay made me wish we were staying at the Bell for a week. It was simply lovely.

SHEEP!

SHEEP!

more sheep, on the trail

more sheep, on the trail

The Husband and the sheep I wanted to bring home with us. Every house needs a pet!

The Husband and the sheep I wanted to bring home with us. Every house needs a pet!

Just your local swan hanging out in the river

Just your local swan hanging out in the river

My favorite stay, The Bell at Stow

My favorite stay, The Bell at Stow

The following morning after breakfast, we decided to change up our plan a bit and have some fun. The original plan was to visit a few more Cotswold villages for more glimpses at small town life, but instead we decided to visit Warwick Castle to have a little history and silliness injected into the middle of our trip. On the site of the current Warwick Castle, William the Conqueror has built an early castle after his successful invasion campaign in 1068. During the later Middle Ages, the wooden castle was rebuilt in stone leaving the large complex that survives today. The Castle was inhabited by well-to-dos, namely earls, until the 1970s. Because of this, the castle was not allowed to fall into ruin and stands a prime example of 13th century castle architecture. Now, the silliness factor comes in because the castle was purchased in the 1970s by the Tussauds group (of Madame’s wax museum fame). They have turned the Castle into sort of Medieval theme park. There are shows and demonstrations and mini-tours. There are people in costumes and wax figures throughout. Despite the kitsch (and the expense), the castle is worth a visit and still tells great stories about the history of the grounds. It would be an excellent stop for those with children as well. We did do an additional mini-tour of the dungeon which is sort of like a haunted house but it tells the stories of plague and medieval torture . Yours truly was put on trial for being a witch and the Husband was beheaded for supporting Lady Jane Grey. It was fun, but beware the smells if you go.

Warwick Castle

Warwick Castle

the Great Hall

the Great Hall

Kings Henry VII and Richard III- I am taller than poor King Richard.

Kings Henry VII and Richard III- I am taller than poor King Richard.

Wax figures getting ready for a Victorian soiree.

Wax figures getting ready for a Victorian soiree.

The gentlemen gathering in the study

The gentlemen gathering in the study

Back to medieval times, someone had to make the arrows

Back to medieval times, someone had to make the arrows

The washerwoman in the basement

The washerwoman in the basement

a view of part of the castle from atop the ramparts

a view of part of the castle from atop the ramparts

Warwick Castle has its own peacock garden.

Warwick Castle has its own peacock garden.

Seriously, a dozen peacocks just wandering around, hanging out.

Seriously, a dozen peacocks just wandering around, hanging out.

And England grows the best roses.

And England grows the best roses.

After spending the better part of the day at Warwick, we then headed out for long drive towards our destination for the next several days, York.