Leeds, A City for Shopping and Architecture

Leeds 2013

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I long remember name of the city of Leeds from a play in University in which I played a ridiculous Welsh director of a small Operatic Society, Dafydd Ap Llewelyn. I think it was my lead male auditionee who I continually interrupted, every time the piano played his introduction to start I just couldn’t help but to jump-in myself with a lovely little Welsh translation of “All Through the Night”. My auditionee was from Leeds, I read it out from his application with a strong sense of disapproval. The way I said “Leeeeeds” with my nose wrinkled and voice lowered always got a laugh. I don’t remember being directed to turn my nose up at Leeds but it seemed obvious by the writing that my character might consider it to be somewhere that was below his standards. The play was “A Chorus of Disapproval” by Alan Ayckbourn.

I never heard anything of Leeds reputation throughout the years. The week before my visit my Aunt Jenny told me on Facebook that she was born and spent her first years there. I didn’t know that about my Aunt who was married to my Dad’s late brother Harold all of my life until Uncle Harold was taken from us by a heart attack a few years ago. I knew her English mother too a bit as I was friends with Aunt Jenny’s niece, Joanna. Granny Franny lived in a grandmother’s suite in Jo’s family home. In fact, Joanna was in the above-mentioned play with me; it was put-on by the Drama Department of the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton. I was a student of Business Administration, but I took my electives in English, Psychology, and Drama. This meant I had no major, but I did fine in business without a major anyway. A major would make one more employable though, the most lucrative choice after accounting at the time was the very new industry of IT. “No, I think I’ll take Drama and Creative Writing instead,” I remember telling my guidance counsellor that year. She didn’t think that the best choice, but I figured since I was studying business when I’d rather be studying arts at least I could have a little bit of arts and I still get the business degree even if devalued by having no major. (I ended-up just shy of having enough credits for a Bachelor of Business Administration with a minor in Drama, but I’m not sure they make those anyway.)

I arrived this afternoon in Leeds after spending the day in the beautiful spa townn of Harrogate. An unfortunate contrast, Harrogate attracts a formal senior crowd who enjoy the many tea rooms, promenades, and lovely English gardens. I may just be an old woman trapped in a 39-year-old man’s body so that was rather my scene. I am quite happy for the excitement in my day to be having room for dessert at Betty’s Tea Room, a locally-famous Yorkshire Chain that originated in Harrogate. Sadly I am not kidding, visiting the original Betty’s was high on my list of things to do when visiting the lovely spa town of Harrogate.

I arrive to my hotel in Leeds and park what to me seems like a small car but what in the UK is a very wide car. £14 ($20) per night my hotel charges for the privilege of using their car park and normal cars don’t even fit. The receptionist talks me closer and closer until my car is a hand-width from the car next to me. I don’t know how the last person who parks is going to get out of his car, nor how I will enter mine if there are cars parked on both sides when I need to get in. The hotel is in an industrial building but refurbished quite modern and to very nice effect.

I make my way to the tourist information centre where they are not at all helpful. This feels a contrast to the warm and friendly service I have come to expect in central England. In this city of nearly 4 times the population of York, they can not refer me to a bus tour or a walking tour or any kind of tour whatsoever that I can join tomorrow or anytime. Must sees? Well that depends what you’re interested in. There’s lots of shopping. This seems not to be a tourist destination. They don’t even know a direction where they should point a tourist to. I leave with some maps but no real idea of what there might be to do or see other than shopping.

My first impression on the streets is of being in a rougher place. I notice more guys, always guys, sat on the sidewalk asking for my spare change. They seem to think that they deserve my custom, when I ignore them they seem to think I have simply not heard their request for funds. I give to one fellow who then walks alongside me. I know he is bad news and I try to get away. He asks for £10 to buy a week bus pass. No, sorry. I just gave him £2 ($3), can’t he just thank me and let me go? He doesn’t want to relent. Finally I circumnavigate a bench where two girls are sitting, I am trying to get away from this guy. It ends poorly, me yelling at him to leave me alone, that he should be embarrassed to harass a visitor to his city and give such a poor impression. He walks away and the girls throw me dirty looks. I feel badly for being so harsh, but it was what I was thinking and how I was feeling. He and others have now soiled my first minutes walking around this city. My first impression makes me want to retreat to my nice hotel but I don’t.

The shopping here is incredible. Who is buying these luxury goods? Not the people I see around me late on a Monday afternoon certainly. These shoppers are heading straight to Poundland and McDonalds. Perhaps Leeds is a shopping destination for visitors. Very near to York, I bet people from York probably come here to shop. I was surprised to hear that the receptionist who helped me park has never taken the 20-minute train ride to visit York. I cannot even imagine. I took a much longer route going through Harrogate from York to Leeds, but it was still a very short journey. It’s so close that people might live in one and work in the other.

Perhaps the shoppers of these goods are weekend shoppers, that would make sense. Nine-to-fivers. Professionals and business people. I suppose I won’t seem them about during my brief two-night stay so I am destined to get a continued dim view of this former industrial town. I am much impressed by the architecture though, Leeds has lots of beautiful architecture stock in what is now a very large shopping district. A stately town hall. Gorgeous rows of buildings strewn everywhere.

I have dinner at GBK. “Have you eaten at GBK before?” My brain scans through memories, I know I have, where was that, I can see the empty pedestrian shopping street in the evening, wide and modern, it was another shopping district that seemed out of place for the locals. . . . .”I have, in Cardiff in January!” Well done, brain. Well done.

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If someone parks in the last parking spot, which is on my other side, I don’t know how I’ll get in. “Can you get it a little closer?” No.
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The Ellington Hotel seemed to be inside an old warehouse, but was modern and comfortable.
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A patio with doors that fully open to the fresh air!
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As in Birmingham, I enjoy the new and old contrasting each other.
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In this and the following photos you can see some of the beautifully restored Victorian shopping arcades.
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I don’t mean to be rude, but where are the shoppers for these high-end stores? I don’t see anyone who looks like they shop at these stores, including myself.
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The Newest “Trinity” Shopping Centre
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“The Light”, mostly cinema and restaurants.
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Some shoppers enjoy a wee break.
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Yummy, the Wellington, and angus burger with portobello mushroom and horseradish sauce. Burger restaurants that serve wine deserve awards, I think it’s harder to get liquor licenses in Canada because I do not remember this happiness at Hero or the like. I could be mistaken. I’m sure in Quebec you could though. Canada is very odd with different restrictions province-to-province.
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Back at my hotel I am told that the shopping district in Leeds is second only to London and that yes, people do come here specifically for shopping trips from all over the UK. Much cheaper than visiting London, if you come here you can use most of your cash for the shopping. Makes sense. It’s not like in Yorkville, a shopping area in Toronto where the people are wandering about wearing the couture you see for sale alongside. No one here looks like they shop in any of these stores. There’s nothing wrong with that, I don’t either, it’s just incongruous.

Later I read, “Join footballer’s wives on shopping sprees in the high-end arcades of. . .” Ah, the notorious footballer’s wives. The British are crazy for football, the sport North Americans know as soccer. Like all sports that has fanatical fans, the players are ridiculously paid. Taking shopping trips to Leeds to try to burn-off some of that cash could be a full-time job, even when touting £3000 handbags and filling shopping bags with £200 t-shirts. And they could avoid all that annoying culture and sophistication of London. I can see the appeal, Leeds has all the shopping with none of the pretension.

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I have a first-time experience here in Leeds. Walking through busy crowds, a grown man, seemingly able-bodied, looks to be on his way back to work. Near to 50, wearing a trench coat, appropriate for the on-again off-again rain. Here’s what happens. He coughs a great, chesty, wet cough right in to my face. I am covered by his spray. I am too shocked to react but I stop in my tracks. He bumps into me as he continues past.

I am absolutely disgusted. Maybe his arms don’t work? Perhaps he’s actually very mentally challenged but hides it well? I did meet someone at Castle Howard who was a regally-dressed woman and when she opened her mouth she sounded like a 5-year old. “I really like your shirt because yellow is my favourite colour,” she had run over to tell me. Very sweet. She had the posture of a cave-girl and had a handler with her who was of average appearance. Perhaps years of nobility in-breeding, I thought. The gene pool too narrowed. She had looked like she stepped out of a film set, so lovely was her sun dress, hair, and bag.

But today near the train station in Leeds, I cannot imagine what ignorance would cause someone to seemingly intentionally discharge directly into someone’s face. Square-on. At close proximity. I can remember when my own arms didn’t work, I wrote about this briefly in one of my Edinburgh postings because I was living there when it happened. I would have at minimum pulled out of the crowd to cough into nothing and if possible (ie. were I able to stop a moment in a moving crowd) I would have bent over to cough into my lap. He must be a sociopath. He’s sick and he wants to make others sick. I’m really going to hate this place if I get sick now.

The closest experience this reminds me of happened in Harbin, a city of about 3 million in Northern China, about a decade ago. I was walking down the street on my way to work when a huge ball of garlicky phlegm splat on my face. It was an enormous, warm goober. It was so big that after hitting my face it trailed all the way down my clothes before settling on my shoe. I am gagging now as I write about it. But this was possibly far more innocent. Completely thoughtless and careless, but less intentional than this face-to-face assault. Someone had spit out their window over the busy sidewalk. It may have been in malice too, but at that time people were spitting all the time in Harbin. Even inside trains and buses, shopping arcades, public buildings. It certainly was not limited to the outdoors.

How can people spit so much? I wondered that because I never spit myself, except at the dentist when he tells me to, or at the end of brushing my teeth. But that’s mostly water and dental stuff, not great gobs of secreted slime. I never have occasion to spit, it’s not as though I use my willpower to stop myself from spitting, the thought doesn’t pass through my head, “Wouldn’t it be nice to spit now.” Additionally, it seemed to be a (mostly) male condition. So I looked for causes of this behaviour. For one, around the world women tend to be more polite and conscientious than men anyway, so that explains the high male to female ratio of spitters adequately for me. Women tend to have stronger empathy, they can see themselves more as the other than can an average man. I think that is why we so often use that low “stupid voice” when quoting men. Even men sometimes use the “stupid voice” when quoting other men.

One main cause for the great amount of spitting was the chewing of tobacco, but that kind of spit is apparent. It’s brownish. This also supports the sex ratio, since I have only on occasion seen women chewing tobacco. Those who do also have the look of having generally given-up on life and any possibility of having a feminine demeanour. But brownish spit seems to account for well-less than half of all spit I encounter in Harbin.

I found my second answer in a type of pickle-relish that the Northern Chinese eat with many meals. It also explains the garlic stink-slime that covered my face that unforgettable morning. I made the discovery when I forced myself to eat this harsh-tasting pickle (chutney-like concoction) with my breakfast. I was being polite, my host was saying, “Try it, it’s so delicious! No, take more!”. Perhaps deep-down he was punishing me. Anyway, when I ate this pickle-relish it made me barely able to swallow. It gummed-up my saliva for an hour or more and I was constantly clearing my throat and feeling the need to spit. I nearly felt like I was choking on my own thick, disgusting saliva. I never accepted eating that pickle again, I would just poke at it and pretend to have some.

I know that Chinese government tightened it’s reins on spitting before hosting the Beijing Olympics. It must be lovely to stroll down the streets today, not a care in the world with no fear of being slimed anonymously from above. I should go back again.

There were education campaigns and spitting police giving fines to violators as they tried to stamp-out this bad habit. It could have been fun making the slogans. “See that rubbish that you just dropped in the street? Now, don’t also spit on the street.” One thing at a time. I was always shocked when doing things with well-educated Chinese when they’d have a chocolate bar and just drop the wrapper wherever they were. Or have a bottled drink and truly just toss the bottle to the side as they continued walking. The same happened a lot in India. Walking down the street with University students I met I am carrying an empty bottle to put into a bin should I ever encounter one. “Just drop it, that’s what everyone does.” “I know they do, but I just can’t” Then the same people blame the government for there being rubbish all over the streets. It’s probably a bit difficult to pick-up after more than a billion people, true for both India and China.

It’s unfortunate, I will probably always remember Leeds as the city where a professional-looking man hacked right into my face and left me stood there in shock. In 2013, I might add. NOT 1713 before germs were invented.*

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The handsome Post Office building stands off a square near the Train Station in Leeds.20130625-173813.jpg
There is no shortage of handsome listed buildings in Leeds. I read that the number of listed buildings is 2nd only to London. I also read this “fact” in Birmingham so I’m not sure. Let’s just say that they both have lots of fantastic architecture.

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I go through a list in the “This is Leeds” book provided in my hotel room. “Ten Reasons to Love this City.” It seems like they had a hard time coming up with the ten things, but here is my abbreviated interpretation.

1. Lots of shopping.
2. Some nice restaurants.
3. Some good bars.
4. A concert that took place here performed by The Who in 1970 was made into an album. (Really? This is a reason to love Leeds today? Sounds more like a piece of trivia than anything.)
5. Yorkshire Dales are not too far. (Yes they are lovely, but they are not in Leeds, so that’s a bit of a stretch.)
6. A good Art Gallery
7. Leeds Carnival in August. (Doesn’t help me in June.)
8. Leeds International Concert Season, September-May. (See comment for number 7.)
9. The Carling Festival is near Leeds in August. (That’s lovely, but it’s not in Leeds and also – See comment for number 7, which now also applies to 8 & 9)
10. One of UK’s largest rep theatres.

Basically, when you come here to shop, you will be able to enjoy a good meal and possibly find some entertainment. Unless you come in June.

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Someone did not do a great job on that list. I would certainly have, “Lots of fabulous architecture” high on the list.

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I don’t know what Pleasure Time was but it sounds naughty.

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Like “Pleasure Time” this Horse and Carriage Repository seems to have become redundant.

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Sadly, I think the converse might also be true. I imagine my visit to the information centre from the point-of-view of the workers. “There’s lots of great shops,” they had informed me when I first inquired what one should see in Leeds. “I don’t really want to do any more shopping, ” I had replied.

If the tourist worker had cared, I could see this playing-out like a skit on Little Britain. I imagine the tourist worker calling head office with this conundrum. “I have a gentleman here from Canada who says that he doesn’t want to shop. What should I tell him?”

“Yes, he seems to know that he has come to Leeds. Yes, intentionally. No, I don’t think he’s lost, I think he came specifically here to look around the city. He seems surprised that there are no tours whatsoever that he can join, not a bus tour, not a walking tour, nothing. Yes. Yes. I know. Right, there is that occasional walking tour so I gave him the number for that guy rather than call myself to have that information here. I doubt he’d be doing anything on a weekday anyway, he didn’t before. Yeah, I only have the information for up to last week. I can’t be bothered really, I mean if people come here not to shop I don’t know what they expect. No, he doesn’t seem mentally unwell, not that I can tell. Hmmm? Right. No, I haven’t asked him if he’s a football fan yet. He’s shaking his head, he doesn’t want to see our (soccer) stadium. He’s not interested in the art museum either, he wants to see some local flavour rather than a world collection of works, apparently he travels a lot and has seen a few museums already. Yes, I have told him that this is an excellent centre for the performance arts between September and May. Since there’s nothing on this month he’s not that interested. Yup. He is, definitely. One of those American-types who expects us to help them plan their time in Leeds, as if I have nothing better to do than to hand out maps and give out sight-seeing advice. Yeah, yeah, I know that’s my job description, I’m just sayin’. I know, I know, well I would suggest maybe he’s come to the wrong place but he only just arrived today. There must be something we can suggest because he just won’t give-up already. No, I don’t think he’s fat enough to try out one of the private medical facilities advertising in our tourist information book by having lipo. Well, now that I take a better look. . . . just a second, I’ll just ask him . . . . he’s shaking his head no, oh he’s leaving now. Excellent, thanks for your help! Bye-bye!”

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I found the Market Stalls at Leeds City Kirkgate Market interesting, more so than all the chain stores certainly.

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Inside the Leeds City Kirkgate Markets. This is where Marks & Spencer’s started, as a stall!

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Behind the City Markets is an Outdoor Market.
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If I had visited Leeds directly from Canada I would have been impressed with the architecture and found the local culture an interesting change from what I’m used to. As it is however, arriving after 8 weeks of visiting towns, cities, and villages throughout the UK I am more comparing this apple to other apples and it really does come-up short. If you love shopping, this may be the best place in Great Britain for that, much cheaper than London but with many of it’s stores. Apart from that, I would not plan to return myself.

It’s not a bad place, it’s just not for me. I don’t know how many times I was asked for change and stopped by people with clip boards. Mostly I ignored them or tried to, but sometimes they saw an easy target in my slow wander as I tried to take in the sights. Also being alone makes an even easier target, and perhaps here I look well heeled. But when you spend most of the day wandering about zig-zagging through all the streets, you encounter a lot of this here. Far too much, in fact. The last one asked me a dozen questions about travelling between English cities before it was all voided with the question, “How long have you lived in Leeds?” “Well why didn’t you say so! This is a local survey!” I didn’t know why she had charged across the pedestrian street to block my way and interrupt me with a survey, probably for a budget airline or coach service, but I didn’t find out. And anyway, did I really look and sound like a local? Were there no hints, possible indicators in my manner of speech that might have given her pause to ask before unnecessarily detaining me?

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Along the River Aire in Leeds.

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It isn’t possible to go very far along the river, it’s not been redone in the way it has in Birmingham.

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The handsome Town Hall.

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Just some random lovely architecture throughout the city centre.

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Wow. Look at those windows! I’m not a traditionalist, but my goodness aren’t they an interesting choice.

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Oh my, I seem to have stepped out of the zone.

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I tend to notice things that locals have never seen before. Look at these interesting smoke stacks, or something?

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Picked-up this hat today because I didn’t think to wear one and my goodness, the sun was out ALL DAY!

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Big Building – Little Building – New Building – Old Building.

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I got some odd looks when taking this photo, but it’s a great natural composition.

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*Yes, I know germs were discovered and not invented. I was being silly.
**UPDATE: Three days later and I am sick. My throat is killing me and I can hardly swallow. I hope it doesn’t last too long.

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Beautiful English Countryside of the North York Moors from staying in a Country Hotel

This is a very short posting. I may change my posts to become weekly from now as to have more time to work on each story and improve the quality overall. Expect some more interesting stories coming soon!

I stayed in a beautiful country hotel near to Scarborough in the North York Moors. Sadly, I would not recommend this hotel no matter it’s lovely surrounds due to the extreme incompetence of it’s staff unless you are looking for a Faulty Towers type of experience. I did write a piece during my stay there but it seems to have completely disappeared.

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View of the country hotel from the car park.

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A lovely view from the grounds of the hotel.

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The lovely dining room where I had breakfast the first day. I didn’t bother to have the included breakfast on my second day though.

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WIFI was available in the well-appointed bar. This was a place where we were off the grid, no cellular signal here so WIFI was the only communication available with the outside world.

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This was a lovely place to sit and work. Less so in memory if you later lose your work, as in my case.

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Despite being advertised, lunch was not available. The ducks asked me to share my veggie snacks that I had brought with me but then spit them out. Click on the next image to view a short video.

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Hiking on little trails around the property.

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A hotel guest fishing for mackerel.

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Another view of the hotel.

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The charming green lounge off the main hall near reception.

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Looking across the pond.

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So beautiful, but I do warn that the staff were very untrained as of my visit in June, 2013. It was as if none of them had ever been to an inn or hotel before. Or the people in charge had gone to get some eggs and never returned. Some years previous.

Thank you for reading my blog! I hope you will look around and click on “Follow” at the bottom right of your screen so you don’t miss an adventure! One easy click to unfollow so it’s no risk. Cheers! Darren

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More Walks around the Medieval city of York

There are always two walks scheduled to start at the same time by Yorkwalk. I arrive on site to join the Graveyard,Coffin, and Plague Tour but being the only one who has shown that tour cannot go so instead I join a merry group of about 10 led by our very erudite guide, John. We start off through the lovely Museum Gates, where all of the tours commence. This is a wonderfully personal tour for although John was not born and raised in York, he has lived most of his active adult life here. His main quality is understanding what is interesting for the general public who are not themselves mostly historians but merely curious.

At the ruins of St.Mary’s Abbey (constructed 1270-1294) John shares with us how in the 1940s England requested cities to have performance festivals as part of the renewal of lives after the war. During this time the Edinburgh Fringe started as did many others including York’s Mystery Plays. Dame Judy Dench was one of the first actors to entertain audiences in front of this Abbey ruin, which has been repurposed as a backdrop ever since.

In another area of the gardens John points out the sone work use to contain flower beds. He pulls out a photo from the treasure trove he carries with him and shows us a drawing of the Abbey ruins perhaps over a century ago. As we can see, much of the rocks used in the gardens were pilfered from the ruins. But they don’t do that anymore, now they are more valuable as they are.

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Look at me with my healthy breakfast! It is, look carefully, my egg is poached and I had them hold the fried bread, baked beans, potatoes, and toast. I may need my cholesterol meds again after this trip with all the included English Breakfasts. At least my clothes still fit. Mostly.

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I stay just outside the back gate to these lovely Museum Gardens where all the Yorkwalk tours commence. Here you can see our guide, John, walking backwards as he narrates the history of the Roman wall ruin to our right.

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After showing us a drawing of what the Abbey ruins looked just over a century ago, John takes us nearby to see where some of it was pilfered to.

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You don’t have to look too closely at the flowerbeds to notice that many of the rocks used have been very much altered after being quarried. Ah ha. Pilfered from ruins. Ancient ruins had not been as cherished in the recent past as they are today.

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There is simply so much to look at everywhere, I had not even noticed this until John pointed it out. I had passed through this park nearly ten times up to this point. Remarkable. And that is why I am so pleased to enjoy these walking tours with a variety of interesting and unique guides. No, I do not work for them. Also, when travelling alone taking walking tours is a great way to meet locals and other travellers. It’s good to have the social interaction.

Along the city walls he tells us how the walls impeded the development of York throughout time, when other cities were becoming major trading places the walls of York hindered the coming and going of goods and inhibited growth. In the 1800s parts of the walls were disassembled to build roadways and to give the city new life. Like taking a tourniquet off a limb and allowing blood to flow.

We stop at the location of one of the main city gates where John shows us a photo of what it used to look like, quite a sizable tunnel-structure has been removed that would have disallowed a street to run along the wall. The photo is not of this gate, it is of another gate where the tunnel has been left in tact and he points out where there is evidence of the removal of this one.

Inside the gate, he points out some architecture that was redone in the 1900s. When the railways connected York in the 1830s, with it came tourists to enjoy England’s most complete Medieval city. They wanted to see the York Minster and the city walls. They expected to see gothic architecture here on the gate, so sometime in the 1900s they removed lovely windows from this space where a guard keeper would have lived and changed it with more harsh gothic defence-looking walls that visitors expected to see. But these arrow slits are pointing inwards, it would have been very unusual for the gate to have defences like these pointing towards it’s own. As for changes at York Minster, a group of homes were removed to have a clearing, opening the view to the Minster from much further. I had noticed myself that I had to go more than half a block away to be able to capture the Minster in my camera’s viewfinder. Before the clearing, I wouldn’t have been able to fully capture the front of the structure.

John went to University in Brighton, in the South of England. I don’t know how he ended-up in York, but I do know that for some time he worked in the accounts department of a bookshop under a Polish woman who was born during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. The offices of the bookshop overlooked the toilet shop that was later discovered to have some medieval innards and today is a type of small museum. He finished his career at the York Minster Library from 1994 to 2010. He shares a few fun stories from his years there as we stand behind the great York Minster from where we can see the building where he worked on the same grounds. A couple donated their “Wicked Bible”, a book that was printed in the 1600s and nearly immediately destroyed intentionally by fire due to it’s heresy. A printers error that could not be overlooked, the missing of one short word made so much difference. “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oops. Obviously the missing word was “not”.

Throughout the tour I also enjoy sharing comments with an interesting woman from the West Coast. She is visiting York for her 50th University Class Reunion. She joined the tour a few minutes in having stumbled into us by the Abbey Ruins where John was showing us photos from the year he joined the Mystery Plays. Photos of the stage work set-up in front of the ruins. John played a demon.

I’m going to call her Judith, but I didn’t catch her name. Judith studied at what was the 3rd year of this young university. She has not visited York since her school days so she was in that blur of struggling to remember days so long past they nearly seem like they were from someone else’s life. We walk through an interesting compound where she actually had classes. I think she’s a bit stunned by it all, surprised by the unfamiliarity. I share with her that it took me some days to better remember my life in Edinburgh. It took some time and effort for memories to sift through the deep sand residue that has since accumulated. Such a different time, such a different life. I hope she is able to visit for long enough for the memories to flood back, she has much more sand to sift than I had. Although I have a lot of sand from having had a lot of variety in my experiences over the past 16 years. If I had lived in one city and had one main career I would have had much less to sort through myself. I have had very distinct shorter chapters whereas many people have one or two longer chapters.

I always think of Universities as being old, so I am quite surprised by the age of this one. But my first university was oddly old for being in Canada. Originally named Kings College, the University of New Brunswick is tied with Georgia State as being the oldest university in North America, both founded in 1789. Those were the very early days of formal education on that continent. (It was still Kings College during the era of the book series, “Anne of Green Gables” and was the setting for her studies.)

We end the tour with some overlap of my other tours and again visit the lovely owls. I really don’t mind having overlap, I only capture half or less of what is presented to me anyway. With ADHD I have a natural filter that automatically only captures the most interesting bits while my mind wanders during the presentation of minute details that might fascinate me were I a historian.

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Much of the walls we walk on today were recreated in Victorian times. This bit is Roman.

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Notice the tiny little window. We are told that this is located in a toilet. Well, not IN the toilet, but British also call the room in which a toilet is located the toilet.

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John asks us if we can guess what has happened here. Iron fencing removed for the war effort.

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“Judith” was excited when we rounded the corner to this building. Most of York University is located outside the city walls in newish buildings but she happened to have attended some classes here when she was a student during the University’s early days.

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During the poring rain last night whilst I was enjoying Verdi in the comfort of York Mister a university group was doing an outdoor play about Anne Boleyn. They have tarps for over the audience but the actors were soaked. We meet the director who lets us lift the incredibly heavy costumes to feel their weight.

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These arrow slits of the construction reconstructed to look “more Gothic” are facing into the walled city rather than towards intruders.

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With my hair it’s longest since high school, my facial hair (since November 2012), and full-time travelling, I think I may have become a hippy.

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I explained the purpose of this little plaque in my previous posting about York.

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A little ornamental devil in the middle of the colourful medieval streets of York’s centre.
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After walking past lots of crowded lunch spots, I settle on having lunch at the library. I have chosen this because of it’s quiet setting and being located directly beside where my next tour will commence in just over an hour. Lunch is simple and good and has the benefit of being cheaper than in the tourist restaurants. Sadly the fluorescent tube lights are too bright for me and I have forgotten those glasses, but I leave soon enough not to have gotten a headache.

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In the afternoon I join a tour called, “Guildhalls & Hidden Places” which has a largely English crowd in attendance. When I say “largely”, I mean 5 Brits and me. This is a well travelled group, three of them have been to Canada and are happy to share about their travels. In our conversations about England I have now added Chester to my list of places to visit, and it may even happen on this trip after Liverpool.

The other solo walker is a local nun, she lives a 2-minute walk away from the York Minster in a Maisonette. She too has visited Toronto, she stayed for a month there with some sisters in Willowdale. She enjoyed her stay.

We walk past a pub that once was the city dwelling of country folks who were the parents of General Wolfe. The Wolfe who defeated the French and took Canada for the British Empire.

Our first stop is to visit St.Cuthberts, a church that has been made redundant three times. The first time was during the reformation when nearly half of all Yorks churches were made redundant. The last time was more recently, the priest in charge decided he didn’t like the groups that were making use of the church and made them find another home. Now, empty and unused, it has less chances of survival from things like moisture damage and vandalism. It’s much better for a building like this to have people coming and going.

Our guide, Warwick, removes some carpet floor tiles, then wood, then support beams, to unveil a secret entrance to under the floor. Two of us climb down the fixed ladder to see the marked grave below. There are many, many unmarked burials below us and outside surrounding the church.

PHOTOS

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The Black Swan pub in York was once the city home of the parents of General Wolfe. (I was told that they spent most of their time in their country home.)

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St. Cuthburts has had been a church long in disuse and has been made redundant again recently because the person in charge did not like it’s uses. But any use is better than no use when it comes to preserving an old structure. It was being used by Christian groups, just not ones the person in control approved of apparently.

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Trying to save this structure, self-sufficient offices were built in the middle so the building would be used without touching it’s actual structure. They have been made empty recently though.

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Notice the floor tiles in front of the jacobean pulpit. They hide an entrance to underneath this modern sub floor.

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The entry opened, two of us venture down for a peak. General public cannot enter this locked church, and fewer people still have access to this area.

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Some views under the sub-floor.

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It’s not a beautiful church inside.

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Showing the patchwork of brickworks outside St.Cuthberts.

We visit part of the York City walls where we come to understand that most of what we see today are Victorian recreations of the walls. In this location we can see some of the original Roman walls, from the 200s. They seem very short but this is because the ground level has risen by a few meters.

Lastly we visit a Guild Hall that was once part of a priest’s commune. It was another case of the priests misbehaving and then being housed together under a watchful eye. Even then, it was known for the occasional priest to sneak in male tradesmen to do work who were in fact women in disguise. Naughty priests.

Today this is a modern guildhall, serving as the meeting place for several different guilds and being rented out for functions.

When I return to the hotel I am introduced to my new room. I had originally only booked to stay 3 nights. To increase my stay to 6 nights I need to move twice taking what accommodation they have available. The feeling at the Coach House Hotel is fantastic, very homey and welcoming so I didn’t want to move anywhere else. This is a wonderful home away from home and in a great location too.

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A section of York’s city walls.

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The walls high above are the Victorian reconstructions. The darkest part are the most modern ones, they are retaining walls holding the earth away from the unburied Roman walls, which our guide has trekked down into.

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There are numerous Guildhalls throughout York.
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Visiting Seaside Resorts in Yorkshire; Whitby (where Dracula was written) and nearly Scarborough

Whitby is a coastal town in the North York Moors National Park of Yorkshire. I happened through Whitby on my way from Newcastle-upon-Tyne to a country hotel near Scarborough. A very scenic town of less than 14 thousand residents, I had not known it’s reasons for having become famous, it’s reputation as being a pretty seaside resort had precluded them.

We’ve all heard of Captain Hook. His adventures of exploring the globe during a more adventurous and less predictable time are the stories that fascinate children all over the world I expect. Captain Cook first went to sea from Whitby as an apprentice. The home of the shipowner with whom James Cook started his sea career is now the Captain Cook Memorial Museum.

One would also likely familiar with Dracula. The original story was written by Bram Stoker while holidaying in Whitby in 1897. A large part of the original book was actually set in Whitby, although Hollywood spinoffs have featured Transylvania much more. I did not have time to visit Whitby Abbey, the setting for Dracula’s arrival on land.

Another asset Whitby is famous for is it’s deposits of jet, a coal-like substance mined from it’s seaside cliffs that was made famous by Queen Victoria when she wore jewellery made from jet during mourning. The term “Jet Black” comes from this jet, I had only learned that recently from one of my favourite podcasts in which two very clever linguists answer questions about word use, linguistics, and etymology. It’s a fantastic and entertaining show, the two hosts are playful and light heated. You can look them up on iTunes, I have them to automatically update on my Blackberry through whatever system that is. Podcasts are free.

I came into Whitby around lunchtime on a Sunday with the idea to have some lunch and to wander about for a few hours. However, the best I could find for parking was restricted to 40 minutes. If I could have found another spot to double my time I would have, but the town was completely over-run with daytrippers. In retrospect I should have perhaps ignored the time restriction and paid any possible fine that came my way, it would have been well worth it to explore the town further. As it was, my responsible citizenship won-out so I had a very brief run about the main waterside areas before accepting defeat that I could not find better parking. I’m happy to pay any premium for parking where there is little available but I could find none.
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The approach to Whitby on England’s East Coast.

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Whitby was really crowded on a Sunday afternoon.

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I think I found THE LAST parking space behind a small caravan. Sadly, it only gave me 40 minutes to see the sights but all the more reason to return for a proper visit. On weekdays.

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I’ve never been one to enjoy the excitement of crowds. What a popular spot!

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I’m growing my hair the longest it’s been since high school! I guess I’m a proper hippy now with the beard and long hair!

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I did not have time to cross the bridge to the other side where several very interesting historical places wait to be explored.

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Several people had the idea to visit Whitby on this lovely weekend.

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Looks like a remote scene from some far off fishing village. That side of the river does have fishing trade, but one could not consider this remote I don’t think.

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Today is Father’s Day so I took a photo to post on his Facebook.

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Whitby seems a lovely place and I look forward to visiting it in more depth in the future.

Even if I did only visit for 40 minutes, I am glad that I visited Whitby. It has now entered my list of places to visit for a few days, WEEKDAYS. At “The Greedy Pig” where I stopped to get a sandwich on my way back to the car I asked him if the crowds were so large because of Father’s Day. “No, it’s like this every weekend when the weather’s nice.” So may I also recommend to you, Whitby has enough visitors on the weekends throughout the summer so perhaps aim for weekdays like I will myself in the future.

Robin Hood Bay

Next I had set my GPS to visit Robin Hood Bay. This town has a reputation as another lovely place but the incredibly slow bumper-to-bumper traffic from 2 miles away had me change my mind midway. I had programmed the GPS coordinates of a car park, this town is somewhere that I researched to park at the top and then walk into the town. “Don’t even think about driving to the centre,” I had read in a guidebook. But with this endless stream of cars from 2 miles away, I could not imagine that on my arrival there would be any parking spots left nor anywhere to even pull-over to pause. So I gave Robin Hood Bay a miss.

There is a 6-mile cliff-top trek from Robin Hood Bay to Whitby, and a 20-mile cycling route to Scarborough. I’d like to stay a week in Whitby sometime and to be sure to have my bicycle with me again to enjoy these activities.

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Scarborough

From a private driveway near Robin Hood Bay I now programmed the Sat Nav to take me to a car park in the centre of Scarborough. With a population shy of 60 thousand, this is the original seaside holiday town of England. This happened due to it’s inclusion in a 1660s book promoting medical benefits of “taking the waters” in which a spring in Scarborough was included.

I have heard that today Scarborough has become a typical British seaside resort town of slot-machines, donkey rides, fish and chips, and tack souvenir shops. But I don’t know myself because I was unable to stop here. The two car parks I encountered were both full and the streets had many free spaces but the signs indicated “disc parking only”. I didn’t know what this meant, I just knew that I did not have a disc.

I pulled over on a high road above the ocean that was lined with independent hotels. I took some photos of the lovely views I could see from where I was, but I did not want to leave my car illegally parked to go exploring. So in Scarborough I only visited for about 2 minutes.

I may visit Scarborough in the future if spending considerable time nearby, but from what I saw I would not stay here. Certainly I would not venture over on a weekend, at least by car. If I had come specifically to Scarborough and then could not park I would have been very disappointed.
Really, I cannot offer much opinion as to this town as a destination having only driven through it. I know someone from York who really likes Scarborough but I also know a tour guide who pleaded with me not to stay there because there are such better places to spend one’s time.

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There was lots of parking available but not for visitors so I pulled-over for just a moment to take a few pics before giving-up and continuing on to my final destination of the day. I think it’s important for the locals to be able to park on their own streets, I don’t mean to suggest otherwise.

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A lovely view high above the North Sea.

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Many of these pretty buildings contain small independent hotels with lovely views.

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I was unable to decide whether this is a place I should return to during my 2 minutes or so while I was illegally parked. There are other lovely towns I would definitely give preference to first though.

From Scarborough my journey continues to “near Scarborough” where I now stay in a country hotel. Ducks look up at me longingly as I sit under an umbrella, keying away at a patio table overlooking the gorgeous countryside. I’m not decided what I think of this hotel yet, it is very picturesque and the public areas are very well appointed visually. I say visually because in the one area of the hotel that has wifi, there are no chairs with tables. There are lovely red leather sofas and armchairs and low coffee tables, but two of us balance our electronics on our laps to awkwardly use the only signal. I had planned to spend a day working on my blog postings here, so I am not delighted with the set-up. I have a SIM card in my iPad so I had expected to be able to use my own internet throughout the grounds, but I have no cellular reception here. I am off the grid.

This travel story will continue in the next posting.

Thank you for reading and I hope you will check out some more of my many travel stories on this blog. If you enjoyed this posting, please share it with your friends by clicking on the “Facebook” button below or sharing http://www.PersonalTravelStories.com with them.

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Cheers!
Darren

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Walking around the lovely city of York, Part One

Walking Tours of York

I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.

I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.

Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.

Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.

Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.

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We don’t just visit this church, our guide has the keys to allow us entrance to the private areas attached.
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This odd little attachment to the church does not block any window while creating a living space for a hermit who can view church activities through a spy hole. (Called “Priest Hole”)
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Today, the hermit quarters is used for storage and such. However, this was a living quarter into the 1960’s!
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Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
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Main areas of the church.
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Here is another pulley system. This one lowers these ropes to within reach to ring the system of bells.
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A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
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Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.

At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.

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“Jacob’s Well”
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This lovely front door was constructed in 1905, perhaps from reclaimed materials. A kitchen now stands on the other side of the original entry door.
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Here you can see the original exterior wall and exterior door which now leads to the kitchen at the side.
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This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
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The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
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We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.

Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.

We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
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The front of this gentry pied a terre that was originally two smaller homes.
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Originally the dining room, now this is the dining hall.
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Who’s that? Oh, it’s me!
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The gorgeous main staircase with three variations of palisades.
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Wonderful ceiling details at the top of the main staircase.
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This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
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At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
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This gentleman played the violin near my table where I had lunch in the square. Sadly, I had no coin left and my smallest bill was a £10 ($15) which was a bit too much to show my appreciation.
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After dining, I took this photo of the area as I left.
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Afternoon Tour

I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.

We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
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This tour was far too long and too details to possibly remember all the things we saw. 90 minutes would have been a better stopping point.
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A bit of York University. This coat of arms currently being refurbished.
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An entrance into what was the walled city.
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Here is our first Snickelway!
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One comes upon the very imposing York Minister when wandering the narrow streets.
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According to our guide, this is one of two cathedrals in the world with it’s own police force. The other is the Vatican.
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What! Who’s that!
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I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
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That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
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Some shots around York as we wandered about.
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Most interesting to me about this medieval room is the fire area in the middle of the floor, fire places with chimneys were only invented in the 1500’s!
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Another snickelway.
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This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
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The reason he included this church wasn’t for the church but for what was in it’s front garden.
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No, not this, silly. This is just the back garden where they put the dead people. Who, according to our guide, number more than 1.5 million in York. That’s a lot of fertilizer.
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Oh my goodness, birds of prey on leashes. That little guy to the right behind the sign is a real owl!
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I was really surprised how calm these owls were to be approached and held.
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We are told that when walls sit on top of the floor boards overhanging the wall below, it creates a stress on the boards that keeps the floors within straighter and in need of less floor joists.
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At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
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The inner courtyard.
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Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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Here it is, a little owl! Seems to be a theme today!
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York is no longer completely walled due to some removal to improve roadways a century ago or so. But most of the walls remain.
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Thank you for visiting http://www.Personal Travel Stories.com.

I hope you will visit some more of my postings, as of August, 2013, mostly of India, Great Britain, Manhattan, and a little Los Angeles.

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Cheers!
Darren

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Wandering about one of England’s Finest Homes, Castle Howard

Castle Howard is a continued residence of the Howard family who have opened their home to the public for 300 years. Located about 20 minutes north-east of York, it was the perfect stop for my short journey to York coming from near Scarborough.

From the Castle’s Website:

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You can visit the website for more information. Click here:
www.castlehoward.co.uk

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According to my Sat Nav (GPS) the distance from the initial property gate to the next property gate was about a mile. “Follow the road for one mile,” she told me. “It’s not a road,” I explained to her, “it’s a driveway.” Easy to confuse, long as it was.
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After entering the second gate, there was still a large area of ground within.
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This large oblesque stands in the centre of the Howard’s traffic circle. For the main home, take the third exit. (Turn right.) I expect the other directions lead to further property access, but I did not travel them.
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I started my visit to Castle Howard with a delicious lunch at their Courtyard Cafe which you can see in this photo ahead to the right. Of course the cafe has an interior dining area for in-climate days. There is also another dining option in the Castle itself with both indoor and outdoor seating.
Do plan to lunch here if you visit.
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The front of this sizable home faces a lovely sculptured garden.

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Perhaps just as deep as it is wide.
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This would be considered the front yard. (Front garden if you’re British.)
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This fountain in the middle of the front garden.
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The back door entry where visitors are welcomed. Seems nicer than a servant’s entry though.
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Some of the hallways open to visitors.
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I like the fun variety of different types of 4-poster beds.
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View into the central area between the front and two side wings. This “courtyard” is open to the lovely country view with lake.
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View from the back of house.
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Perhaps because I come from a family of engineers who operate in heating and cooling industries, I always seem to find different radiators to be interesting.
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This and the next few images are of the main central hall.
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The Howards became friends with William Morris when they hired his firm to do much of their wallpapering and window glasses. Here is a display of various Morris wallpapers used throughout the house.
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Here you can better see some Morris designs. I have always liked these myself.
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The front garden hedging used to be more elaborate than today.
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But the fountain is still lovely.
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