I lived in York for four years, and it remains my favourite city in the UK. I read recently that “you belong in three places: the place you grew up, the place where you went to college and the place where the person you love is” and so it’s not surprising that York will always be an important place to me. It was the place where I studied, the place where I took my first graduate job, and it was the city where James and I met. However, I still had a nervous sense of anticipation about my recent visit. It was over 18 months since I’d last been to the city and a lot can change in that time. Part of me was worried that going back would feel so much like going home that I’d want to leave Bristol immediately, and a larger part of me was concerned that my favourite place would have changed into somewhere that I no longer recognised as much or felt a sense of belonging there.
In reality, the visit was a mixture of the two. Things change, and cities can and do change remarkably quickly. I became that really annoying person who kept commenting on every second shop – “Ooh that never used to be there” and “Oh, that’s new!” but it was also nice to see some familiar favourites as well. As soon as I arrived in the city I felt a sense of calm and contentment – I knew exactly where I was, knew my way around and nothing felt like it required much planning. I was also lucky with the weather – a crisp cold and largely clear skies meant York was looking at its best.
Disobedience, Naomi Alderman
“You belong in three places: the place you grew up, the place where you went to college and the place where the person you love is.”
There were two main things that I noticed as I walked around the city at the weekend. Firstly, how busy it was. We happened to be visiting at the same weekend as the York Ice Trail and on Saturday the city was packed! It was how I remembered it being when the Christmas markets were on, but not really at any other time of year. To be honest, it was busy I found it a little uncomfortable. Did I just ignore the crowds as a student? However, the friends I was with were also commenting on the number of people around so I’m assuming (and hoping!) that this isn’t now normal. I was also struck by the number of independent shops that there were, and how well they seemed to be doing. I probably wasn’t on the look-out for them in my student days, but I was pleased to see how many independent shops, bars, restaurants and cafes there were. A shop called Botanical (which I remembered as a stationery store) seemed to be doing particularly well – it was absolutely packed and all it seemed to sell were trendy cacti, succulents and small house plants.
I was intrigued by Spark: York, having read about the plans whilst I still lived in the city, but not having seen it in person until now. It fits in with the independent run of shops, but I’ll admit the cargo containers didn’t really feel as if they fit with the rest of York’s historic vibe. It was also good to see the familiar queue to the Jorvik centre, having left whilst it was still undergoing renovations following flooding. Travelling Man, a board game shop, has now moved premises and feels open and light, and a lot easier to move around. The Hebden Tea Company now has a secondary shop which also offers tea in the window. It was genuinely heart warming to see how some of the places I love have done so well.
Unfortunately there was one rather large disappointment – my beloved York Cocoa House has closed! Now York Cocoa Works, the business has expanded and has therefore moved to a larger premises. However, unfortunately the cute café that used to exist has closed, and the new location just isn’t the same. Modern, yes. Cosy – definitely not. There were about 4 tables and nowhere near enough space or the right atmosphere to sit and enjoy an hour or two over a hot chocolate. As the location of many an essay crisis, celebration and setting the world to rights with my friends, York Cocoa House was a really important part of my time in York. I definitely felt a wrench to see it changed.
It was also a little disappointing to see how The Shambles is changing – it’s now packed full of Harry Potter shops. I admit it looks a little like Diagon Alley, but I’d have thought one shop was enough – there doesn’t need to be an entire street dedicated to it.
I left York already looking forward to my next visit and berating myself for the things I didn’t do or couldn’t fit into the time I had there. I think it will always be a city I love returning to and I’m pleased I didn’t feel any differently after my recent visit. However, I surprised myself to some extent by not wanting to move back straight away. I’m sure if the opportunity came up I’d take it, but maybe it shows I’m not quite as tied to the place as I’d initially thought. Have you ever felt like that about anywhere?
A brief look at my York Favourites:
York will always be somewhere that I recommend for a weekend break. On the East Coast Mainline it’s well connected, it’s definitely small enough to fit the highlights into a weekend and it’s a beautiful place. Here are some of the things I would always recommend:
Places to eat
Bettys will always be a favourite place today and is most famous for afternoon tea or a slice of cake. I can also recommend the breakfast! LICC is the perfect place to head for in the summer – their ice cream is incredible and worthy of the queue you’ll find outside. If you’re looking for an evening meal then Rustique is my absolute favourite, although Guy Fawkes Inn is atmospheric if you’re looking for something a little more ‘York’.
Things to do
For a small city, there’s plenty to do in York whatever the time of year. The one thing I will always recommend is a walk around the City Walls. It’s completely free, has some great views, and allows you to appreciate the city from lots of different angles whilst soaking in some history. Of the many different museums available the York Castle Museum is probably my favourite, particularly the Victorian street. In the summer, make sure you head for the Museum Gardens or Rowntree Park for a picnic and to watch the world (and many geese) go by.
It may have changed, but a walk down The Shambles is still a must in York. If you’re looking for a unique or slightly random gift then Give the Dog a Bone is worth checking out. There are also a large number of second hand bookshops scattered across the city which I used to enjoy going in to browse.