One of those days where the hills are the same colour as the sky—a dark blue or grey, blending with the clouds so that the tips of the hills are barely visible. Rain whips against the windows of the train carriages, and I try to spy the White Horse in the distance, but it’s no longer there.
I’ve been visiting York for a long time, and have never experienced such a dreary day as this. Perhaps I’ve always been lucky in the past, or maybe it was the thick cold I’d come down with, but the weather today just seemed cruel—berating me for leaving the house when I was clearly ill. Though it wasn’t raining when I set off from Yarm on the train, by the time I arrived in York less than an hour later the rain and wind had escalated, making the line of taxis leaving the station longer and slower. I suddenly wondered why I had come at all.
It’s an alluring feature of the town, the Minster. Leaving the station, it’s one of the first things you see walking into the centre of the city. Go under the medieval city walls and over the river and suddenly you’re confronted by it, in all its gothic glory. For a real experience, it’s best to go inside, and even better, to climb the 275 steps to the top of the central tower. On a good day (with the weather conditions I was experiencing, I doubted the tower would even be open today), visitors can see the entirety of the surrounding area, as well the inner city of York. It’s a gruelling climb, but worth it.
Today, I stuck to the cobblestoned streets, where the rain was actually starting to ease up. From my table in an upstairs cafe (which I’d taken refuge in after proclaiming the day a write off) sunlight was starting to streak down the sides of the buildings opposite, and it actually seemed like the afternoon might offer a renewed opportunity to walk around the city. Full of coffee and pancakes (Double Dutch on Church Street is the cutest little place for lunch, just to let you know), and by default, caffeine and sugar, I started to feel a little better and set off for a walk through the nearby streets while the rain kept at bay.
I started at the Shambles, a street that in the summer and at Christmas is packed with tourists looking to get a picture of the famous buildings, leaning in to each other in a manner that looks almost film-set-like. But this is no set—the buildings, from the fifteenth-century, just swaying a little with centuries of use. It’s a quaint walk—and was once voted the most picturesque street in Britain—but after hundreds of visits, it does become just another one of York’s shopping streets, full of chocolatiers, pie shops, and tea rooms.
Looping back round towards the Minster, I came across an alleyway called Coffee Yard. It doesn’t look like much, but actually leads you straight to Barley Hall, a former townhouse for a local priory which dates to the 12th century. Outside the Hall, you can no longer hear the tourists in the streets—they’ve been replaced by strange, medieval flute music, played through speakers at the hall’s front door. This is a place that most tourists, I imagine, wouldn’t find, located as it is off Stonegate, one of the main shopping thoroughfares. The lack of visitors, though, just makes the place all the more inviting, as if the alleyway has acted as a strange time machine.
I finished off my walk back at the Minster. The rain was starting to come in again, black clouds rolling over towards the Minster and contrasting with its sandy stonework. It really does occupy a fortuitous place in the city, inviting tourists both to and from the train station to see it up close. As the clouds opened, I strayed away from the Minster and back towards the station, knowing that, sure enough, I would be back here soon.