These City Walls

Woke up this morning on a day that wasn’t sure if it was going to be sunny, windy, or raining (or all three). Got showered, dressed, had our breakfasts then put on our trainers and left the house at 9.00am to walk to Durham train station. Today we were going to spend in the beautiful and ancient walled city of York, a place we visit on a regular basis as it is only 50 minutes away on the train. 🙂

It took us about 40 minutes to walk the two miles to the railway station. We haven’t been since before the COVID-19 outbreak and the differences were evident immediately. As soon as we entered the station we were required to put on masks; the WHSmith kiosk and Costa Coffee remained firmly closed, and black-and-yellow striped tape everywhere indicated the one-way route around the station, with markers showing how far apart we had to stand.

Our train arrived on time and we boarded and found some empty seats and settled for the journey. Everyone was wearing masks apart from those who were eating or drinking something; you had to bring your own food and drink onto the train as there was no buffet or trolley service. 😦

Off we went, speeding through the northern English countryside, fields nearly ready for harvest glowing mellowly in the weak September sunshine. Darlington, Northallerton then York, arrival time 10.49am.

When we alighted from the train we were surprised at how busy York train station was, bearing in mind it was a working day. Everyone headed towards the exit and there was not much evidence of social distancing. Once the left the station, we thankfully removed our masks and headed in the direction of the city centre, walking along Station Road flanked by the impressive and imposing City Walls, and crossing the bridge over the River Ouse, where we briefly contemplated going down and taking a walk along the river…. no, that could wait until later.

Instead, we made our way towards the fantastic York Minster. We thought we might go inside, but there was quite a long queue as they are obviously limiting the number of people who can be inside at the same time. Instead, we wandered around and gazed up at the wonderful Gothic architecture, from the towers to the rose window to the main façade. A magnificent building, but maybe not quite as good as Durham Cathedral (but, then again, I am perhaps a little biased). 🙂

York Minster
York Minster, showing Rose Window

A couple of artists had taken up a good vantage point near the Minster; one was completing a water colour whilst the other appeared to be doing a charcoal sketch. It was not too crowded and there seemed to be plenty of space; last time we were here was just before Christmas 2019, when the streets were packed with stalls for the Christmas Market.

York is such a beautiful and striking city, with its old timbered buildings, some dating back to the 14th century. We set off in the direction of the Shambles, probably York’s most famous street. It’s simply wonderful, with old eclectic buildings, some so close together at the top you would have been able to reach out of the leaded windows and shake hands with the person in the window opposite.

Trevor walking along the Shambles

There were sweet shops and shops selling locally-made handicrafts and souvenirs; charming little cafés and tea-rooms all rubbing shoulders with 21st century retailers like mobile phone shops. I saw an old-fashioned sweet shop selling cinder toffee and nougat and couldn’t resist going in to buy some.

Cinder toffee, fudge and peanut brittle in a York sweet shop

After wandering around and looking at some of the market stalls, we came to The Three Cranes, a pub that we always visit when we go to York at Christmas, as they serve a wonderful mulled wine and mince pies! Whilst we couldn’t expect such a thing now, we still fancied a cold pint, so in we went.

Three Cranes pub

We like the Three Cranes because it’s a proper traditional pub with lots of character and atmosphere, unlike those soulless chain establishments. They also play a fantastic selection of 1960s and 70s music in the background. Ususally when we come here it is pretty crowded, but today we had the ‘snug’ area of the pub mostly to ourselves.

We enjoyed out pints then decided to go along to the Postern Gate for our lunch. This is one of the two Wetherspoons pubs in York, right on the banks of the Ouse, near the distinctive Clifford’s Tower perched on its grassy mound.

York Castle, otherwise known as Clifford’s Tower

When we arrived at the Postern Gate it was doing a roaring lunchtime trade. The guy who greeted us asked if we wanted to sit at one of the high tables or a lower one; we opted for the lower but there was only one left, and it was near the door which had to be kept open for a flow of fresh air into the pub. It looked out onto a sort of courtyard and balcony area overlooking the river, but where we were sitting it acted a bit like a wind tunnel, so it was somewhat draughty eating our lunch. At some point we decided it might be warmer in the courtyard, so we moved outside, where we had the benefit of the sunshine. The wind still had a nip to it though.

We ordered a second drink each and sat overlooking the river. It would have been really enjoyable but for that cold breeze, and once we’d finished we decided to move on.

We enjoyed a pleasant stroll walking around the streets and looking at the old buildings. At one point the sun decided to make a reappearance, instantly making a huge difference. Some of the centuries-old buildings looked as if they had been constructed without any spirit levels or plumb lines, such as York Gin in Pavement which looked as if it was sagging in the middle:

Old timbered building in Pavement, York

As the weather now felt pleasantly warm, we decided we’d take that walk by the river, so we went along to the bridge so we could go down the steps to the quayside. On the way we passed one of the strangest street names I’ve ever some across (in England, anyway).

It was very pleasant walking along the riverside, and the pavement cafés were doing a roaring trade, as were the York City Tours boat trips.

River Ouse, York

We spent about half an hour strolling around, then we decided we were ready for another beer (!) and so we started to make our way along to the Punch Bowl, another Wetherspoons pub which is handily situated about five minutes’ walk from the railway station.

Once again, we were lucky to find a seat inside and, apart from the perspex screens that had been erected between the tables, you would hardly have thought we were in the midst of a global pandemic, as the pub was doing a lively trade and, shortly after our arrival, people started to queue outside.

I enjoyed a couple of glasses of rosé prosecco while Trevor stuck to his pints of John Smith’s. We then made our way to the train station, once again donning our masks as we stood on the platform waiting for the Durham train. It arrived on time, and we took our seats feeling pleasantly tired.

50 minutes later, at 7.25pm, the train pulled into Durham station and despite having seen this sight many hundreds of times before, I never tire of the view of the Cathedral from the window of the train:

Durham Cathdral at dusk, from the window of a northbound train

Alighting from the carriage we set off on the two-mile walk home, arriving back just after 8.00pm. It had been an enjoyable day. 🙂

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