Historic York is choc full of surprises

Historic York is choc full of surprises

IT claims to hold Britain’s answer to kissing the Blarney Stone while also being the home of Terry’s Chocolate Orange, so it took little persuading to pack a weekend bag and head for York.

The city seemed like the perfect match for my companion (the chocaholic) and me (the romantic) — boosted by its Viking roots which, as a Waterford girl, made me feel right at home.

And so less than a two-hour train journey later, we found ourselves in York meandering around the city’s narrow streets and snickleways that provide tourist treasures at every twist and turn.

From Coffee Yard to Mad Alice Lane (named after a woman hanged in 1823 for poisoning her husband), York’s most famous street is the Shambles — and it’s well worth a wander.

As an example of one of the most complete Medieval streets in Europe, it’s the former home of York’s butchers’ shops and you’ll still see the wide windowsills and hooks where cuts of meat would have been hung and displayed.

It’s the city’s most photographed street and today its home to all manner of cafes and souvenir shops — the perfect pit stop for a coffee or keyring.

Armed with a York Pass (from £36 for a one-day adult pass you’ll get free entry to over 30 attractions) we decided on our top three tour stops — York Minster, York’s Chocolate Story and Clifford’s Tower.

But if you visit don’t miss the JORVIK Viking Museum, which we missed due to time constraints and because our visit coincided with the annual JORVIG festival (Jorvik is the Viking name for the city) that sees scores of Vikings descend on the city for a nine-day festival celebrating York’s historic heritage.

York3-n Climb Clifford's Tower for great views of York

It was just like stepping back in time as we headed to York Minster, great heights of Clifford’s Tower — climb the mound and tower for great panoramic views — we caught a reinactment of the Battle of Fulford.

For history buffs this is when Hardraada’s Vikings clashed with the menfolk of York in what would be a pre-cursor to the Battle of Stamford Bridge — a bloody battle that pretty much ended the Viking Age. So long Asterix!

But for those who do want to figure out their Asterix from their Obelix, the JORVIK Viking Museum is definitely the place to go.

The visitor attraction is a product of a 1976 dig, which uncovered a Viking village and over 15,000 artefacts — confirming York’s reputation as an archaeological treasure trove.

York2-n York's Viking history comes to life on the streets

The city — home to many 18th century Georgian town houses from a time when it was seen as the perfect alternative to London by the upper classes — is also surrounded by Medieval walls that were famous for being the longest in England.

If you fancy being one of the 2.5 million people who walk them annually, prepare for a leisurely two-hour dander over 3.4km past 45 towers and numerous gateways. And leisurely strolls are all part of York’s charm. You’re never far from a historic site, attraction or chocolate bar!

Which brings us to the city’s Chocolate Story in King’s Square, where you’ll find out everything you need to know about the city’s famous confectionery families.

While this particular tourist attraction might best be undertaken with kids in tow, it should put a chocolately smile on most faces with a guided tour giving you a behind-the-scenes look at how York became famous for sweets — thanks in part to the Rowntree’s and Terry’s factories built there in the 20th century which brought the likes of Smarties, Aero, Kit Kat and of course the Chocolate Orange to body and brain a buzz that lasts four times longer than a passionate kiss.

York4-n The Heart of Yorkshire is just one of York Minster's stunning glass windows

So putting that to the test, we moved on from our York Chocolate Story tour to the Minster — home to The Heart of Yorkshire stained glass window where every July 6 on International Kissing Day couples visit what’s described as England’s answer to the Blarney Stone.

There you can test out the legend that if you kiss your love under the window you’ll stay together forever — and while it’s only been a few weeks, so far so good!

York’s an old romantic at heart and that seems to have rubbed off along the way with many a royal wedding taking place in the city. It also boasts two Love Lanes, while just a short drive away is the Yorkshire Moors and the site where Emily Brontë wrote Wuthering Heights.

Taking a leaf out of Kate’s book (‘Heathcliff, it’s me Cathy. Let me in-a-your window’ ) we took in the breath-taking York Minster, northern Europe’s largest Gothic cathedral and home of The Heart of Yorkshire that sits in the Great West Window, in all its stained-glass glory.

The cathedral is up there with the best of them and certainly pays tribute to the 250 years it took to build.

From its magnificent glass windows, awesome architecture and crypts, make sure you climb the 275 steps to explore the open-air rooftop views from the cathedral’s central tower. There you’ll get to see the city from a loftier level and catch the eye of a Gothic gargoyle for good measure.

Our home for the weekend was The Grange Hotel — a Regency townhouse that’s recently undergone a six-bedroom extension.

Located close to the city centre, if you’re driving you can leave the car in its free private car park, and enjoy a short walk to the Minster among other sights.

It offers a sterling breakfast and we also dined at the hotel’s Ivy restaurant where you can enjoy the likes of pea soup with Italian truffle and Yorkshire ham; confit lamb with minted potatoes and spiced aubergine purée followed by a chilled rhubarb soufflé — or if you’ve had your fill of sweet treats from earlier in the day, there’s a tempting Yorkshire cheese slate.

York5-n Take a boat trip on York's River Ouse, which can also be seen from the city's sightseeing bus tours

York is the birth place of Dame Judi Dench, M to James Bond fans worldwide and also the daughter of a Dublin mother.

And there’s plenty more showbiz and entertainment to be found in the city, which is home to York Theatre Royal and the Grand Opera House where we took in a production of Monty Python’s Spamalot.

There were lots of laughs on the night where cast members included second-generation Irishman and former EastEnders actor Todd Carty, as well as comedian Joe Pasquale as King Arthur.

For the latest shows and tickets click here

With some time to kill before our departure on Sunday we took the scenic route to catch our train back to London, taking the hop-on, hop-off City Sightseeing bus, which stops just outside York railway station.

With an audio tour included you’ll find out how the phrase ‘daylight robbery’ originated in the city; drive past its most haunted pub The Black Swan; discover more about the infamous highwayman Dick Turpin and catch a glimpse of St George’s Roman Catholic church, which was built in 1850 for Irish settlers who arrived during the Famine.

York’s Irish connections continue to this day with the newly-founded York Irish Association having hosted the city’s very first St Patrick’s Day parade this year.

The association supports events throughout the year (see www.yorkirish.co.uk) having been founded by Dubliner Brendan Tamman, who moved to the city two years ago, joining an estimated 1,300 other Irish people who’ve fallen in love with York.

Having come in search of chocolate and romance but finding much more, it’s safe to say that we did too.

Useful information

How to get there...

By car: York is 20 minutes from the M1/M62 motorway network.

By train: York is less than two hours from London and is served by East Coast and Grand Central Trains. York Station is a short walk from the city centre. Grand Central calls at Sunderland, Hartlepool, Eaglescliffe, Northallerton, Thirsk, York and London with East Coast operating 72 weekday services between London King’s Cross and York.

Where to stay...

The Grange Hotel,  1 Clifton, York, YO30 6AA. Tel: 01904 644744 | www.grangehotel.co.uk

For more accommodation options, sight-seeing ideas and discounts click here

Travel tip...

The York Pass offers free entry into over 30 attractions and tours in the city as well as restaurant and shopping offers. One,two and three day passes are available from the York Visitor

What’s on in York...

York International Shakespeare Festival | May 9–16

The York International Shakespeare Festival (‘YorkShakes’) is a major new cultural venture for York and for the North launching in May.

York Horse Races | May–October

From next month York Racecourse will host the first of 17 meetings throughout the year kicking off with the Dante Festival from May 13-15 and its Spring meet on May 30.

Yorkshire Medieval Festival | August 19–31

Head back to the Middle Ages this summer as part of a festival  organised by those behind the JORVIK Viking Festival.

York Food Festival | September 18-27

A 10-day festival of food and drink. This year’s theme is ‘food in words and pictures’. A taster event takes place in June. See www.yorkfoodfestival.co.uk for details.