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  • Devin Gackle

Journals from Across the Pond: A Day in York, England

In the morning we boarded our bus, and just like that, Edinburgh was behind us. We were on to York, though after about three hours, we stopped for lunch in the English town of Durham.

Durham is a very cute and charming little town, with cobblestone streets and quaint old buildings (not all that different from Edinburgh.) We had some time, so a handful of us went up to explore the cathedral.

The outside of Durham Cathedral is not unlike other Romanesque churches, and certainly impressive in size and appearance, but it was the inside that struck me. It was one of the most beautiful examples of Gothic architecture I’ve ever seen; there was so much attention to detail, from the towering stained glass windows, right down to the arched ceilings and columns—even a spiky Gothic sculpture over a fountain. There were other carved wooden sculptures and artwork, a little sanctuary, the painted and gold-bedecked tomb of St. Cuthbert, and intricate stone spikes complimenting it all. Everywhere I looked not a detail was missed.

We couldn’t take pictures in the main part of the cathedral, but we took lots of pictures in the connecting cloisters, a long, gorgeous hall that wrapped around a square of green grass. We were told this is supposedly where the hallway scenes in Harry Potter were filmed.

We then wandered the idyllic streets and popped into a Gregg’s for lunch—Gregg’s is a popular chain bakery throughout the UK, so we thought we’d give a try. I got a coffee and a “sticky toffee muffin,” which was just delightful. It was pleasant just to wander the market and streets, pausing for a peaceful take-it-all-in-you’re-in-England-now moment on a bridge before returning to the bus.

It was a couple more hours before we reached York, where we settled into our hotel before our guide took us around to get acquainted with the city. (And may I say, York is just as quaint and quiet as Durham, though a bigger town.) We were lead to the main hub of town, passing by part of the Roman Wall on the way, and coming to a stop just in front of The Shambles.

The Shambles is a narrow, photogenic street known for its long history, unique shops, and photo opportunities. It dates back as far as the middle ages, and is called The Shambles because of its history as a street where butchers would sell their meat. It is also supposedly the inspiration for the movie version of Diagon Alley. Today there are some neat little shops and restaurants there.

We walked a few more streets before our guide took us to a tower right off of Goodramgate that would lead up to the walkway on the Roman Wall. This quickly became one of my favorite parts of the trip.

The ancient wall winds through trees, and opens to provide unique views of the city. There are many curved nooks along the way, some with benches, and a large corner lookout; I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to be a Roman centurion stationed there, and why he was stationed there.

When we came down from the wall through the Bootham Bar City Wall entry, exiting onto St. Leonard’s Place, our guide lead us around the side of the York Art Gallery, which was surrounded by more ancient walls and opened to a courtyard. She walked us through the museum gardens outside the Yorkshire Museum, and to a grassy park where people lounged on blankets next the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.

Constructed in 1088, St. Mary’s Abbey was once the most powerful Benedictine monastery in England; today all that remains is one epic wall with arched windows and the stumps of pillars, an impressive and poetic skeleton of what once was.

From there our guide left us to explore on our own. There was an owl-guy there, so some of us stayed in the park for a little bit so those who wanted to hold an owl could do so; I did not hold one, but it was fun to watch.

On the way out (toward Museum Street), there was an ice-cream stand called Ice Cream Rescue selling award-winning ice-cream; and as it was about 80 degrees out, this sounded particularly appetizing. I tried their intriguing and delectable flavor “gin and lavender”—it was seriously the best ice cream I’ve ever had, and it was super refreshing.

After that a few of us split off to take a closer look at York Minster. We didn’t go inside (it was closed), but the enormous Gothic church was certainly a sight to behold. We did some window shopping, shuffling our way back to The Shambles, where we ran into the others we had split off from. We then decided to find a pub called Yates; our guide had mentioned it was a place others on our same tour had gone in the past, because of their shots special on Wednesday nights—beers for a pound a pint, and shots for a pound and fifty pence.

The special didn’t start for a couple hours, but we were hungry, so we found a long table and ordered dinner. I had a beef and ale pie with chips (fries) and peas, washed down with a pint of Black Sheep, which is a lighter-tasting beer local to North Yorkshire. When the specials started, I ordered a pint of John Smith’s, another local beer, but with a smooth, dark flavor I preferred—turns out John Smith’s is very popular in the U.K.

By the time the specials hour started we were joined by nearly everyone else in our tour group—seems everyone wanted to try out Yates! We had loud conversations over the music and crowd noise, watched whatever soccer game was on the TVs (or football on the tele, if you will), and tried flavored shots of vodka that were honestly kind of like water. I only tried a couple, as I nursed my pint of John Smith’s.

It was a long night of camaraderie, and it was late when the last of us returned to the hotel. Though our time in York was short, I think it’s safe to say we made the most of it. It was only our fourth day together, but the moment that everyone gathered around the long table was, to me, evidence of the power of travel to bring people together.

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