If you follow along with either mine or Do The Daniel’s Insta stories, then you most likely know that by day, I work for the Council in the UK and one of my projects is the ground breaking Pop Brixton. As part of this work I have been consulting on a similar project in York, which opened earlier this month called Spark:York. It was due to this exciting opening, that I headed to York for a whirlwind 24 hours and thanks to Visit York, got to see some amazing things.
York is about a two hour train ride from London, prices can vary, but if you book in advance, you can get some good deals on Virgin Trains. My friend Nathan and I work on the train and nibble on Pret as we speed past the countryside. We arrive in York to a beautiful train station, and head to Nathan’s Mum’s, who is kindly putting me up. The walk through the city is lovely. The old town is surrounded by the ancient city walls and there are lovely ornate gates. York is very walkable. We are to rack up a huge number of steps in the next 24 hours.
After a chat and a cuppa, we head into central York and meet some friends for a drink at The House of Trembling Madness. This bar is pretty special. The ground floor is a bottle shop that specialises in craft beer but also in boutique gin and more unusual drinks. I will be back here later to grab some York Gin and a few miniatures for my friend Liam who is missing out on this trip and would have loved that shop. Upstairs is a bar filled with taxidermy animals on the wall and loads of shared tables. We are stopping for a drink before we head to Spark for their big opening. This pub is really awesome. The atmosphere is really friendly, the service is chatty and quick and the surroundings are so interesting. I wish that we had longer to spend here.
Spark:York is situated just outside of the historic area of central York. Like Pop, this is a project that will not be there forever, but is animating a site and giving small business a chance to try out innovative ideas, before a more permanent development is built on the site. Spark is cool. It’s the right mix of community and business and will have you shopping for vintage clothes, whilst drooling over the amazing chocolate laden waffles. The opening night was packed. There are amazing cocktail bars with swings, pay as you feel cafés that use food waste to make delish meals, and even a shop where I bought a gorgeous scarf – because what I defo need is more scarves, it’s an addiction at this point. We ate and drank until they closed up. I was so proud of the team who put this together and the hard work that I know it took them to do it!
Because the night was still young, even if I am not, we headed out for a few more drinks – first stop Fossgate Social. What a cool place, I am beginning to realise that York might be full of history, but the bar scene is brilliant and varied. I try some Slingsby Navy strength Gin (because that sounds cool!) and we chat for a while before heading out to the next bar. We head to Evil Eye and catch the end of an amazing live music set whilst we drink some pretty cool cocktails. I chat to some other tourists and discuss what we are going to be doing tomorrow, as they were only here for one day as well. After a sing along to “Blister in the Sun”, we decide to call it a night and walk home. Both of us marvelling at how clear the sky is and how many stars we can see. Yes we are Londoners, both of us now.
The next day we put together a loose plan of what we would like to achieve – bodies willing but spirits ever so slightly hanging. We walk to the JORVIK Viking Centre. I am a bit excited about Vikings. I have visited many places in Europe where Vikings are a part of the landscape and after watching Vikings the series (yes I know that this is not a documentary but let’s face it, the Vikings are easy on the eye), I know that they came and plundered York. In the late 1970’s, excavation began for a shopping centre, and imagine their surprise when they discovered a full Viking settlement, complete with housing, latrines and shops.
The first part of the museum is a ride through the settlement. You hear the sounds, smell the smells and see what life was like in AD975 for the Vikings. After the ride, you can walk through a really interesting exhibition and see some of the artefacts that have been recovered. Because I am a child, I love the Viking poo. But in all seriousness archaeologists love a good poo as it tells so much about the health and the diet of the people of the time. I just find it hugely amusing that someone’s gift to York all those years ago was that. Imagine being told that was your legacy. There are other more grown up artefacts like instruments and jewellery, as well as coins.
We leave JORVIK and head into the markets and have a wander around, before making our way to the Minster. York Minster is known to be the largest medieval gothic cathedral in Northern Europe. It is stunning. Various parts are under restoration, and I imagine it’s a full time job. We are able to go down into the crypt and see the different layers of history there, as well as climb to the top see views of all of York. The stained glass windows are incredibly beautiful. I always find it amazing to see how delicate and intricate the decorations on these buildings are, why can’t we build such beautiful structures today?
We have worked up a bit of an appetite by this point and meet some of Nathan’s friends for lunch at The Hop, which is known for its pizza, which is fine by me as I love me a good pizza. There is a lunch time pizza and pint deal, and it’s worth it. These pizzas are huge. We chat and I learn some more about the history of York and answer questions about how a kiwi girl living in London came to be writing for a Canadian lifestyle blog. The people in York are just so friendly and lovely.
As our bellies are full we head out to walk around the Bar Walls for a bit – these are beautiful, you can see historical sites from the walls and check out some amazing gardens. We wander past St Mary’s Abbey ruins and then head to something else that is close to my heart. The York Chocolate Story. This town is winning me over with pizza and chocolate. York is home to a number of chocolate and confectionary manufacturers. Whole suburbs are there as the homes were built for the works in the Rowntree’s or Terry’s factories. This tour is a must do. It’s interactive, tasty and very informative. I stun the guide with my knowledge of Kit Kat’s worldwide (seriously curvy girls know our choc). People on our tour range from primary school age to pensioners and all are smiling throughout. I even meet a family who are from my suburb in Auckland, we bond over eating of chocolate. You will learn about the origins of chocolate, the families who had the factories in York and even make some of your own chocolate.
From here we are feeling a bit touristed out – we head out along The Shambles – which is referred to as a snickelway – I am a bit in love with that word. The Shambles is home to not one but two Harry Potter shops and there is a space where legend has it that the people who lived in the buildings were able to reach across the street and shake hands each morning. It’s time for a well earned drink before heading back to London. We stop by Spark and are delighted to see that it’s packed, the weather has certainly been on their side for their opening weekend.
I am sad to be leaving so soon after arriving here. There is so much more to do and see. There is something for everyone – foodies, thrill seekers, history lovers and culture vultures. I will be back, even if it’s just to shop and drink gin – or head to the various museums and attractions. Thanks so much to Visit York for hosting me for a very short trip!
PS – one last tidbit – if you are heading to York for a hen’s or stag party, beware, there is a bylaw that prevents you from taking blow up errr “willies” or other such things out with you. So leave your blow up dolls at home and help keep York a classy place!
Photos by Nicola Whyte, Visit York & JORVIK Viking Centre
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