Journal: 27 December 2017
The second city in our '8 cities in 8 months' tour was York. I’d heard York was similar in size and architecture to our home, Norwich. However, the reason we chose York was for their highly regarded Christmas market and festivities. We thought it would be a magical place to celebrate our 6th wedding anniversary and get us in to the Christmas spirit. On our way home, we incorporated a very special stop off in Wakefield.
As with our Bristol tour, I asked for advice on social media (thank you to everyone for their tips) and I supplemented the information with my own homework. I set a loose itinerary comprising of galleries, a fair amount of walking, good food and mulled wine thrown in for good measure.
Holidays with children are always subject to change and, on the first night, Stanley had a high temperature and flu. That means this guide definitely isn’t exhaustive but the following are our personal highlights.
Located in exhibition square, York Art Gallery had recently been through an £8 million redevelopment with an extension I was particular keen to explore. Greeted by very friendly staff, we soon felt at home and Stanley took up residence drawing in the Madsen Gallery. Bridget even provided extra colouring pencils for Stanley.
We were inspired by the photographic collage work of John Stezaker and have since made our own interpretations with Stanley.
Unable to get to the gardens which I’d read about, I spoke to a member of staff who explained there was a light display on and that we could buy additional tickets for that instead.
We left the gallery not entirely clear on what we were queuing for but, boy, had we stumbled across the most spectacular way to spend our wedding anniversary.
BBC Breakfast said ‘the lights looked absolutely spectacular’ which I couldn’t agree with more. You begin the Christmas at York Museum Gardens journey in the courtyard and wander beneath canopies of trees drenched with colour. Followed by a disco, projections onto St Mary’s Abbey and surrounded by specially commissioned neon installations from Yorkshire artist Richard Wheater.
We even had a chance encounter with Father Christmas en route. It was a beautiful journey.
Stanley has been obsessional about trains since he was two (he’s now almost five), so the York Railway Museum was an absolute must. Free entry with a request of a donation, it’s a vast and extensive museum. Although Stanley was still recovering from flu, we arrived as it opened and his eyes twinkled as he entered. He was most excited about seeing the ‘Flying Scotsman’ which, as it happens, had recently visited Norwich. He squealed with delight as he spotted it before us. We enjoyed a coffee and cake in the cafe and meandered to the other part of the museum where there was a restaurant and what I can only describe as carriage installation/recreations which were just magical.
‘This is the best place I’ve ever been’ said Stanley aged 4 years and three-quarters.
A trip ‘up North’ wouldn’t be complete without seeing one of our favourite sculptors’ (Barbara Hepworth) work at the Art Fund Museum of the year 2017.
Hepworth Wakefield is a purpose built brutalist building by Chipperfield Architects, completed in 2011. It reached its initial annual target of 150,000 visits in the first week – quite a feat!
Bobby and I loved the dedicated art stations which contained sculptural pieces, stationery and books for children. Stanley made a bee-line for the stations and, as he played, Bobby and I were allowed time to take in the most serene gallery we’ve ever been to.
Watching the fast flowing water through the vast windows was mesmerising.
We had coffee in the cafe and Stanley enjoyed the bento box and, of course, no trip home is complete without a few souvenirs from the gift shop.
My little disclaimer – this is where our advice is thin on the ground in terms of eateries as, due to Stanley being unwell, we changed our plans, but these are our recommendations.
I’d read in the Telegraph that Spring Expresso is one of Britain’s 30 best coffee shops, so this was a must. We both had a coffee, Stanley a hot choclate and a small halloumi platter which was delicious.
This is a tapas restaurant, which happens to be one of our favourite cuisines as a family. We booked online and met my high school friend (and her baby) for lunch. The food was great and sangria even better!
My friend and first intern, Lauren, said you MUST go to Brew & Brownie so we hotfooted over there after our tapas. She wasn’t wrong, Stanley had a pancake and I had to try the brownie which I can confirm was super tasty.
With Stanley being unwell and no longer in a pushchair, Bobby and I shared carrying him (on backs and shoulders) so we didn’t cover all of the beautiful city (as hoped). We had to pass on the walk of the city walls but did explore the Christmas market which was bustling. There was plenty of mulled wine on tap, which certainly helped ease the back pain!
As we navigated around the city, we stumbled across lots of Christmas trees with lights which were so simple and beautiful. We also enjoyed some buskers doing a few mixes of classics.
From the bus driver to the staff in galleries, we found York to be a very friendly city.
We stayed out of the city at the Mercure York Fairfield Manor Hotel. This hotel is good for a budget break. It also has significant grounds so Stanley and Bobby explored the first frost on our final day. We enjoyed a breakfast and dinner at the hotel – oh and Bobby can highly recommend the mussels!
Our transport enthusiast loving Stanley particularly liked getting the ‘park and ride’ into the city which was located just up the road. The buses are every 10 minutes and take you right into the centre. Be warned, if you miss your last bus, like we did, they will lock the gates and fine you as a result, which we have to say is a real shame. So please don’t make our mistake, check the return times!
York was the perfect city to get us into the Christmas spirit.
Next up on our ‘8 cities in 8 months’ tour is our first Welsh city, Cardiff. We can’t wait!
Words and photography by Fiona Burrage.