My girlfriend and I recently returned from a vacation to Europe. The first stop after landing in London was York, a city in northern England. There we visited a dungeon, went on an entertaining ghost tour, enjoyed the pubs amidst the old medieval buildings, and bludgeoned our friends with a plastic axe.
York is a city that preserves its medieval and renaissance era streets and structures, full of winding maze-like alleys and cobblestone streets. It has plenty of old pubs, shops, restaurants, and Tudor-style houses with the second story overhanging the sidewalk below. These market streets can sometimes be crooked, especially in the area known as The Shambles, which is thought by some to be J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for Diagon Alley.
In fact, there are Harry Potter themed shops in The Shambles. Not far from a few pubs. Just down the street from a McDonald’s and a Starbucks. Gotta love capitalism.
Before going any further, I just wanted to point out this warning sign I saw on the train to York. Warning signs like this tend to exist because someone has already tried it. I mean, who uses a toaster on a train?
And now back to our regularly scheduled travel blog.
After arriving in York, we went to the Guy Fawkes Inn to meet our English friends for lunch. Our friends, Karen and Nigel, live near Doncaster and drove up to enjoy all York has to offer with us. The Guy Fawkes Inn is a nice place to enjoy a pint of beer and a nice meal. Its walls, floors, and furniture are all a dark, stained wood. The pub’s interior, ambiance, and even the quaint, brick dining patio in the rear felt like what a proper British pub truly is, including the bathroom’s humorous urinal.
I think a great part of the Guy Fawkes Inn is the picture below. It’s located in the men’s toilet, just above the urinals. Yes, that’s the establishment’s namesake mocking the manhood of every bathroom patron. You can almost hear Guy Fawkes say, “If you shake it more than five times, you’re just wanking it.”
After lunch, we wandered the winding streets of old medieval York. In this city one can find old castle walls and buildings alongside modern shops selling all manner of tourist trinkets, double-decker tour buses, and many pubs and bars with interesting names. I took photos of a few of their signs and made a little collage.
And yes, we visited several of York’s pubs and imbibed many a pint. As one does in England. When in Rome.
As for other interesting shops in York, I saw this one in the photo below. I’m sure many of you have heard of “Pound Town.” Well, in York they apparently have the next level.
One of the entertaining things you can do in York is visit the dungeons. It’s not just the place where you’ll get tortured for being a heretic or for listening to Justin Bieber. Although that still happens. At the York Dungeons, you’ll be guided through the restored dark rooms and cells by costumed actors as they recreate witch trials, ghost stories, black plague, highway robbery, and leeches.
You can even take a group photo before you enter the creepy dungeon. Why? Because dungeons are fun. And of course, we indulged for the camera. Couldn’t help it. I think it turned out rather well.
It’s a great picture. Who doesn’t want to pillage and burn at least once in their lifetime? Am I right?
As is standard operating procedure, we made sure to stop in for a pint after the dungeons.
One of the things York is known for is its very large minster. A minster is an old medieval church, and the one in York is particularly large. While I did take a few photos closer to the minster, the one below I like the best, showing its size and scale.
The Minster in the Mist, rising above the surrounding city, emerges from the fog with a towering presence.
Not far from where I took the Minster photo, I photographed this fountain in the square. As you can see from the photo, the fountain is full of suds. I don’t know why. Maybe some hobos were doing their laundry there earlier, but I didn’t see any.
A little later as we explored the Shambles, a man dressed like an undertaker handed out fliers for an evening ghost tour of York. We thought, “Why not?” And we were glad we did. Because that evening we joined about twenty other would-be spirit seekers at the appropriate meeting point.
When the witching hour drew neigh (about 7:35pm) the same gentleman who gave us the flier soon approached, ringing a bell. As mentioned before, he was clad in nearly all black with a top hat and cape. His clothing was reminiscent of the late 1800s, and with his hand-carried brass bell steadily ringing, it gave us the impression that this ghost tour was to be quite spooky.
It was not spooky. But it was very entertaining and well worth it.
The ghost tour guide would take us to various locations around York and tell us a mix of historical stories, and how the building or house we stood adjacent to was haunted. But instead of trying to make the tour scary, he would surprise us with unexpected comedic elements.
In front of one house down a seemingly empty alleyway, our costumed ghostly guide told us a story from the time of the black plague long ago. In this story a mother and father learned their young daughter suffered from the plague, and harshly locked her in the room and abandoned her to die. The guide told us that the ghost of the girl haunts the room of that house today.
That’s when he stated, “The little girl’s house in question is not the house we are standing next to. You see, I’m not telling this story next to the girl’s house out of respect for the family that currently lives there. Instead, I’m telling this gruesome story in front of this house. Because the people who live here now…I hate them.”
We all laughed. Then the ghostly guide told us to breath deeply and hold it, and while holding our breath in, to listen to the eerie quiet, to feel the spiritual energy in the air. He counted to three while we listened, and then turned to the door of the house, rang the doorbell several times quickly, banged on the door, and exclaimed, “Ok, let’s get out of here!”
Near the end of the ghost tour, our guide had us stand just outside of an Italian restaurant. He instructed us to stand right next to the main window where people sat on the other side eating their pasta. When the restaurant patrons looked up, we all waved, and after the guide counted to three, we all gestured jazz hands towards the unsuspecting dinner eaters while shouting, “Bleh!”
Then at the guide’s insistence, our group beat a hasty retreat down a cobblestoned alley while one of the Italian restaurant’s hostesses chased us with a large pepper grinder.
Best. Ghost tour. Ever.
The following day we only had a few hours before we caught the train to Scotland. So we made our way to Clifford’s Tower, which is what remains of York Castle. It is a large keep structure atop a large, earthen mound. And of course we climbed the stairs and explored the tower. See for yourself.
One amazing coincidence was when we happened to be in York when they celebrated Remembrance Day. Remembrance Day is a holiday in Great Britain to commemorate the end of the First World War, and as a Memorial Day for the members of the armed forces of who died in the line of duty. The day we visited Clifford’s Tower was the very day that members of the British military were putting on a Remembrance Day parade. And by sheer coincidence, the parade got organized and began in the square below the tower.
As you can see from the photo below, we got to witness the beginning of the parade from up high.
After the parade departed, our merry little band crossed the square to visit the York Castle Museum. Inside the museum is a wing that pays homage to the British soldiers who served in World War I, which is highly recommended especially for those that love military history. It even had a Vickers machine gun displayed on a setup of mock trenches.
The other wing of the museum includes displays and recreations of Victorian era York. The coolest part of this wing was the full recreation of a Victorian street, complete with old shops and even the horse-drawn carriage. Although the museum curators didn’t think to include the road apples, Jack the Ripper, pollution from burning coal, and funny smells to round out the fully authentic Victorian experience. Probably a good thing.
One of the other displays at this museum I found amusing was a large porcelain bowl labeled “Leeches.” Ahh, that romantic era of the past when placing blood-sucking parasites on the body was considered the epitome of medical science. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if a modern-day, self-proclaimed “new age” homeopathic treatment company tried to market leeches as an “All Natural Sanguine Smoothy.”
As such, I couldn’t help myself by making the photo below. Hehehe.
After the museum it was time to catch our train to Scotland.
York was a fine city to visit, full of history, fun activities, ancient twisting streets, and good pubs. I definitely recommend the York Dungeons and the York Castle Museum. And you absolutely must go on the ghost tour hosted by a man clad in an 18th century vampire costume.
Below I’ve added several more photos of York for your casual enjoyment. Before I sign off and let you browse those last few pictures, I’ll leave you with a thought I just had.
“All Natural Sanguine Smoothy” would make a good name for a gothic jazz fusion band.