Wednesday 11th January 2006
After re- packing (which really means sitting longer on the cases to compress unchanged but less well-arranged contents) in readiness for my N by WNW expedition, I had what could only be described as a dream run on a beautiful relatively clear morning. The fact that the dream run didn’t last all the way to the hotel had nothing to do with the directions, only my reluctance to follow them. In any event, I had to “pay and display” in order to walk to the “Dean Court” to get guidance – sensitively provided in such a way as to minimise my chagrin. Following these directions with a deal more discipline than shown earlier, I found my way to the hotel really quite easily!
As the prime reason for returning to York was to revisit York Minster, the hotel couldn’t be better sited, being almost opposite the west front – the view of which is, thankfully, no longer scaffolding impaired. That’s now on the east front, where I understand it will be for at least another 10 years!
The hotel’s restaurant boasts two AA rosettes, which makes it quite special and quite expensive. As it was a cold and somewhat windy night, says he in a dismal attempt to justify himself, I decided to eat in; but I did restrict myself (with difficulty, I might add) to a main course only – Pigeon Pie. Now I know how the rosettes were earned. It was just beautiful!
Thursday 12th January 2006
I was at the Minster soon after 10:00 am on Thursday morning and didn’t leave until after 2:00 pm. As has so often been the case, the tour was enriched by another of those well-informed volunteer guides who somehow or other manage to communicate their own enthusiasm. It really is a magnificent cathedral – which, in truth, is what it is. I will long remember the “Heart of Yorkshire” great west window, the 15th century stone screen and, now that the scaffolding has gone, the splendour of the west front – a view which I’d not been able to see before.
The rest of the afternoon was spent just wandering through the narrow pedestrian-friendly streets, window shopping and rediscovering the Shambles, before returning to the Minster for Choral Evensong at 5:30 pm. In addition to the boys’ and girls’ choirs from the Minster School, there is a men’s choir who, in fact, sang at Evensong. The singing of the psalms and an anthem “Ante luciferum genitus” by Jacob Handl was such that I decided there and then to return on the following evening to hear the combined men’s and boys’ choirs.
Still restricting myself to a main course, I sampled what was billed as the chef’s signature dish, “Roasted Monkfish, Scallops and Mussels simmered in a coconut lime and chilli broth with bok choi stir-fry”. Although the serving was of nouvelle cuisine size (minute by American standards and merely small by Australian ones), it earned a “just beautiful plus” rating!
Friday 13th January 2006
I had planned to visit both the National Railway Museum and revisit the York Castle Museum on Friday but after four and a half hours at the NRM sort of ran out of “exhibit absorption” puff! I had heard that the NRM was worth visiting and, not being altogether a train buff, felt an hour or so would be enough. How wrong I was. I’m still not a buff, but the range of exhibits was such as to keep me interested for all that time. Certainly, the audio guide helped, but I rather think it was more the number and quality of exhibits themselves, be they locomotives, carriages, rolling stock or whatever.
After catching my breath – and any e-mails that were lurking on the server – I attended “Evensong” again. The singing of the combined choirs was wonderful but, try as I might, I couldn’t find whose arrangement of the “A babe is born” they sang. I suspect it was relatively recent but it was nonetheless of the tuneful rather than the discordant variety that my ear is still not attuned to yet!
Suitably refreshed in spirit, I had no difficulty at all justifying straying from my self-imposed one-course regime and succumbed to the attraction of what turned out to be one of the best fillet steaks I’ve eaten since I left home, followed by a crème brulée that I’m loathe to admit would be worthy of Cynthia’s skills. You’ve probably guessed by now that I enjoyed it – and I did, thoroughly.
Saturday 14th January 2006
On Saturday morning I took the short drive up to Helmsley, which is to be my base for the next three days while I explore more of North Yorkshire. It had rained heavily overnight and, although dry, was very foggy indeed and slowed the trip considerably. My minimal experience of such conditions and resultant caution was not matched by others who either had more experience or less patience or, I suspect, both!
As I arrived in Helmsley too early to check in to “The Black Swan”, I took the opportunity of revisiting Rievaulx Abbey, a little over 2 miles North of Helmsley. Originally built to house only 12 Cistercian monks who came to Rievaulx in 1131, it grew to being one of the wealthiest monasteries in England – that is until its dissolution by Henry VIII and subsequent systematic destruction by its new owner the first Earl of Rutland.
What is left behind is however still impressive, though in my view less so than Fountains Abbey – about 25 miles away – the physical siting of which really shows it off to advantage. I plan to revisit Fountains later in the week. The fog that surrounded Rievaulx whilst I was there added to the atmosphere but did little, I regret to report, for the photography!
Sunday 15th January 2006
If the fog was bad on Saturday, it was worse on Sunday, and as I didn’t consider it safe to drive until after 10:00 am, this meant that I had to cut my plans for the day from two abbeys to one – Fountains. I arrived there just before 11:00 am and got back to the visitor’s centre for a much-needed cup of coffee just before 3:00 pm – which, given the “foggy, foggy dew” and chill in the air (2° C) – gives a fair indication of how much I enjoyed it.
A Cistercian abbey like Rievaulx, Fountains was founded in the early 1100s. In spite of occasional crises (including occupation by Scottish forces in the 14th century), it grew in size, wealth and importance. In fact, because of the abbey’s prestige, its influence was such that its abbots sat in Parliament, something that I assume came to an abrupt end when it suffered the same fate as its sister Abbey, Rievaulx, at the hands of Henry VIII. But back to the visit itself.
I followed the northern-side path which overlooks the follies, temples, lake and water meadows that were the result of landscaping by the new owner of the property in the early 1700s. This took me as far as the eastern entry to the estate, where I crossed the weir there and made my way back up the southern-side path. Whilst this gives a different perspective of the gardens, the main attraction in going this way is that it offers just magnificent views of the abbey as you approach it. Though the light was only fair, I managed to take thirty or so photographs, of which less than ten have survived the first round of culling.
I’m glad I didn’t leave my departure any later than I did at 3:30 pm, because by the time I got back to Helmsley daylight was but a grey memory and the fog had started to settle again. Although it turned out to be a single site visit day, Fountains has to be one of the highlights of the trip thus far.
Monday 16th January 2006
We had heavy rain on Sunday night and the promise of more for Monday afternoon. Rather than undertake my planned coastal round-trip I restricted myself to another single-site visit, within walking distance of the hotel, namely Helmsley Castle. Yes, I know, yet another ruin!
The castle was built in the early 12th century by a Walter Espec who, as it happens, donated the land on which Rievaulx Abbey was built. Throughout the middle ages it was strengthened and developed but is a ruin now mainly as a result of the only action it saw, when it fell to Cromwell’s forces.
I found the siting of the castle of greater interest than what remains of the castle itself for no other reason than, being completely encircled with two concentric rows of massive earthworks, it looked just like one of those pictures in children’s books says it should!
Then, as threatened, the rain returned – as did I to the hotel, to enjoy the warmth of an open fire in the lounge before doing battle again with my recalcitrant e-mail program and getting the next “Global Update” up-to-date, so to speak!
Tuesday 17th January 2006
I was told at breakfast that the day was brightening and that if I wanted to do my coastal round trip, today was the day. While it seemed to make sense to take the advice of a local, there were some important things to be dealt with first, not least being my bacon, eggs, black pudding and fried bread! After all driving a hundred miles or so is taxing work.
My route took me to Scarborough were I parked as close as I could to the Castle and with spritely step made my way up the hill to find that it was open only from Thursday to Monday during the winter. Some day I’ll learn to take some account of the “Opening Times” provided in the English Heritage Handbook. But I’m sure the exercise was good for me!
Then on to Robin Hood’s Bay which, on such a beautiful morning was picture postcard perfect. Well it would have been had the tide not been full out – which put paid to my plans to get some photos of the seafront! I did get a couple of the main street, however, with some boats in the foreground, which may be used as evidence to the effect that I did get down there.
Those of you who have been there will remember, I daresay, that the only way to the village is on foot and down (steeply) and that the only way out is also on foot and up (more steeply, I swear)! For all that it really is a lovely spot and at times other than winter, when all the shops and galleries and cafes are open, it must be beautiful.
I had long heard about the beauty of Whitby Abbey and its glorious setting overlooking the town and harbour, and was looking forward to my visit there. It didn’t start too well – the only parking available for non-residents was down at the harbour-side which meant, you guessed it, another mountainous ascent – well 277 steps to be exact! But worse was to come – only marginally breathless (fibber!) – I reached the gates only to find that Whitby Abbey too is open only from Thursday to Monday.
Unlike Scarborough Castle, however, the Abbey was at least visible above the enclosing walls and I was able take a couple of shots of what I could see from the park opposite.
Although I didn’t get to do my “tourist bit” in either of the sites I’d hoped to visit, the day was still memorable. As a destination, Scarborough did nothing for me, but Robin Hood’s Bay and Whitby more than made up for that, as did the glorious North Yorkshire countryside. And the drive back along the northern boundary of the North York Moors National Park and across the Moors themselves to Helmsley was a fitting end to an image-filled day!
Tomorrow I head North again to spend time in the County of Durham and, perhaps, Northumberland – from where you can expect to hear more of what I hope are more breath-taking than breath-less exploits!