Posts Tagged ‘York’

This week has been the end (mostly) of a very long saga of accounting issues stretching back to April. Apparently getting yourself set up the first time for a tax cycle in the UK is a lot more complex than you might imagine, but it all got filed on Thursday. We may still have one more thing to dispute later on if HMRC (the UK version of the IRS) decides to press it, but that might not come up. I cannot stress enough the cumulative building stress that I was under and the relief that I felt when we got the final email from the accountants saying everything was filed and, by the way, Merry Christmas.

One thing to know though, before skipping along to the travelogue, is that I do not recover instantly from stress. While in no way does this compare with the experience of an Iraqi vet, in the same way that you can’t expect a returning soldier to simply kick their heels up and pop open a cold one because they’re out of the trenches now, neither can I go frolicking through the fields with daffodils and kittens. I tried to explain this to Bear, between unpredictable emotional outbursts, and it went something like this:

Bear: But it’s OK, why are you crying? It’s over!

Me: <sniff> Why did Tom Hanks break down at the end of Captain Phillips once the Navy SEALs rescued him and he was finally safe?

Bear: Because he wanted another Oscar?

I had somewhat calmed down by Saturday thanks to two trips to the movies to see Frozen and The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug, and Bear planned a trip up to York to see some spots we had missed. I really like York a lot and was trying to look forward to it and ended up napping most of the way until we arrived.

Byland Abbey is a really extensive Cistercian abbey in the Yorkshire moors that, like many, has fallen into ruins thanks to Henry VIII, but what’s left is still impressive.

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

Unusual rose window at the end, an influence of Gothic architecture

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Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

Ammonite fossils are commonly found in Yorkshire and we found this one in the stones used for the building

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

The window was fairly whole until the late 1800s when the circular frame collapsed.

We had tried to find Helmsley Castle last year when we first came to Yorkshire but it’s oddly located off the main square with absolutely not one single sign pointing to it. Given how freaking large the complex is, that’s pretty amazing.

Helmsley Castle

Helmsley Castle

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Leona would be very disappointed in the state of the moat

Bridge over one of the two moats

Bridge over one of the two moats

Museum inside

Museum inside

Monks still active today!

Monks still active today!

The East Tower

The East Tower

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

View of the Helmsley town from the castle hill

We talked to the guys at Helmsley about the Jorvik Center in York which we haven’t been to and we’re on the fence about it. It looks kinda cheesy in some of the pictures and we have a firm rule against mannequins, but reputable people keep telling us it was a good experience (including an archaeologist at Creswell Crags who sounded exactly like Jane Horrocks, which is a little terrifying). The guys said it was a little dated but that the collections were really good so we think we’ll break down and do it.

Around the corner from the castle, there was an amazing bakery (Auntie Anne’s Bakery) that had won some awards and we picked up scones and some cranberry cookies with tea. Scones are generally very dry and even hard, but these were light and beautifully fluffy, almost like Southern biscuits. I nearly cried.

To get to the next site, we took the off road through the moors and on some single track roads which led to some really nice scenic spots while eating scones and cookies and getting crumbs basically everywhere.

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The next stop, Mount Grace Priory, was a two in one with a manor house from the 1800s that was part of an abbey that was still accessible. The driving force behind the house was a man named Lowthian Bell who was a follower of the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement started by William Morris, and much of the house was decorated/designed through Morris’ company.

The house portion

The house portion

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Admittedly, not the best lit photo of the priory ruins

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Honest to God English holly (no sign of ivy)

Bell also built a recreation of a monk’s cell as it would have been for the Carthusian monks who founded the abbey. There weren’t many Carthusian houses in England as the order were hermits, which is not to say that they were ascetics. The restoration/recreation of the cell was really nice and comfortable and each one had its own latrine and running water in addition to private chambers and being part of a cloistered area with its own tiny gardens.

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

This sculpture is of a Madonna but in a very different pose. The plaque contained a statement from the artist detailing his vision of her as strong and determined, offering up her child, the Christ, up to heaven even as she received him, and it’s interesting to see how her posture forms a cross. It was supposed to combine the nativity, the annunciation and the crucifixion all in one.

We headed in to York and had dinner at the best restaurant in York (IMHO), La Rustique, which is an amazing French place with actual French waitstaff. I know this not only because of the accent but because of how nice they are to us. Go for the set menu of starter, entree and dessert for just 15 pounds and you get amazing food, like Bear’s seafood linguini.

Seafood linguini

Seafood linguini

We made a good stab at visiting Howden Minster on the way back south but it was already pitch black by then (which happens at 4:30 p.m. now) and while we found it, it was so dark I nearly twisted my ankle just walking through the graveyard. Cue the spooky music, it would’ve been a perfect setting for a horror movie. (I’ve seen pictures online though and it’s absolutely amazing so we’re not claiming that one yet until we go back by daylight.)

I was still really tired from the week and, frankly, the last eight months since the accounting stuff started in April, so we have a deal that tomorrow I’m going to go to the movies all day courtesy of the Cineworld Unlimited card. We’re on track to get a Cineworld theater of our own in St. Neots in mid-February, just about two months from now. Since the project has undergone some bizarre setbacks so far, including being built 88 cm off the blueprints which resulted in a woman who shall not be named protesting that it was too close to her house and getting the entire structure torn down so they had to start over again, I’m not making plans just yet, but I am excited. However, this week the News Crier had a story about how a worker at the site was crushed between an earth mover and a wall (I guess he didn’t see it coming?) and has serious injuries to his pelvis (not a good area in general), so who knows what that will mean for the opening. My co-worker Sheila says that after all my anxious monitoring of the progress that they should let me cut the ribbon. I don’t know about all that, but I certainly plan to be there for it.

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Juliet has now taken to lying down in front of the door when she senses that we’re leaving and this has become really hard for me to watch, so Bear distracts her while we get out the door for our Saturday excursions.

We’ve taken trying to take our own snacks and drinks as much as possible which has led to some issues with the cupholder. It was a dealbreaker when we got the car and they had to actually go find the accessory that fits into the console just so we could have something. It was a good effort, but I had a sense that the upper level holder would work but the bottom level one (aka “mine”) would have issues with certain kinds of cups, as in the very narrow kind. Which leads us to our current situation which is the question of how to take tea and hot drinks with us on the road. There’s a plan in the works to get some great travel cups that are vacuum sealed and will keep stuff hot for at least 6 hours but they’re vastly more expensive to purchase over here.

Because we’ve just watched the extended editions of each installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy (twice) in the last two weeks, Bear had lots of questions about particular back story bits of the plotline, things like “Who is older—Elrond or Galadriel?” and “She called Aragorn a man of Númenor —wait, where is that?”  (Answers: Galadriel, by a few thousand years and Númenor is basically at the bottom of the ocean.) So I started with a very cursory overview of the cosmology and moved into the coming of the firstborn Eldar and we got up through the Oath of Fëanor, the burning of the ships at Losgar and into the Dagor-nuin-Giliath (Battle-Under-Stars) by the time we got to York. (I married a very tolerant man.)

We found a nice all day parking place but the trick was that you needed to pay by phone, which fortunately we could now that we have phones and a real bank account. It’s a bit of a process and involves putting in your vehicle’s registration number (which is the license plate actually), but once you’re registered they somehow know it’s you whenever you call and that makes it a lot easier the next time. We did have a bit of a difference of opinion though about what “Long Term Parking” meant. It asked me how many hours I wanted or did I want Long Term Parking. We knew the limit was 5 hours before the rate was the same to get 24 hours, so of course I pressed Long Term Parking. At that point it asked me how many weeks I wanted to be there. Hang up, start over.

We walked up from the parking to find ourselves right on the river and walking along a very nicely kept area to some bridges. As it turns out, it was the River Ouse, the same river that runs behind our house, which oozes all over the countryside it seems.

The rowing club on the river had several boats out

An apparently withered tree, which only reminded Bear of the withered tree in the court of the fountain in The Return of the King.

The bridges we crossed several times had some clever things worked into the existing structure, like tea rooms in what used to be little guard houses.

York Minster is an extremely impressive cathedral to say the least and is the seat of the second highest ranking bishop in all of England, if I read the brochures correctly.

York Minster

 

We took a peek around the eastern side of the cathedral while waiting for the tour of the Tower, which was fortunate because they closed it off shortly after we left for some other services.

We also looked in the crypt which has some very interesting items, but most of that was closed off for further renovation also..

They had charcoal art up all over the central area which was themed to Passion Week with various scenes from the sufferings of Christ, to which I was relieved that at least it was thematically relevant unlike what we saw in Gloucester.

Veronica's Handkerchief (Judy Kirk, this is for you!)

We also saw some sculptures that I jokingly called Semaphore Saints…until I saw a placard explaining that this is exactly what they are. Little angels making signs in semaphore, which you could decipher (decoding key included below–hint, it doesn’t say “Drink more Ovaltine”).

First half...

Second half

Decoding key

We undertook the climb up the tower which was a lot more daunting than they advertised at first, although to be fair there were multiple signs saying that the staff had the right to deny anyone access if they judged it best. It was nearly 300 steps pretty much straight up in a very narrow spiral stone staircase, not too unlike the stairs of Cirith Ungol which we’d been watching in The Return of the King (yes, yes, in the books it happened in The Two Towers, I know) just the night before.

Note ferris wheel to the left of the towers

 

A white horse hill figure carving is visible in the distance to the left

Unidentified gardens below

From the descent to the main cathedral

 

But the view from the roof is completely worth it and we even felt justified in heading to a tea room and having a scone immediately afterwards just to get the calories back in us. Bear was able to get his favorite black currant jam, brought to us by an extremely androgynous waiter (if his name had turned out to be Pat, I was going to have to leave the room for fear of cracking up inappropriately).

Cream tea, a good reward

We wandered through the center of town along a pedestrian mall for quite a while and really enjoyed the buskers playing piano and creating a nice atmosphere.

Down one of the main pedestrian avenues

Along the way we spotted a very sad reminder of the recent British losses in Afghanistan.

For the Yorkshire Regiment soldiers who had just died in Afghanistan days before

We wound up back at Clifford’s Tower, which was a somber note because for all the bright yellow flowers, it’s perhaps most famous for being the site where over 150 Jewish citizens retreated in 1190, chased by an angry mob, and most ended up committing suicide rather than be captured and tortured.

Clifford's Tower

Interior of Clifford's Tower

It was also at Clifford’s Tower that we learned from the helpful English Heritage worker that the York Minster people should have given us a discount for being EHS members. It was of course my own fault for not whipping out my card and asking, but they certainly didn’t volunteer it either. For some reason we both felt equal levels of desire to get that money back, so we marched off to return to the Minster and somehow got turned around and ended up walking on the city wall which actually gives you a great view of some interesting points along the city.

The York city wall--we could see the Minster ahead and kept stalking towards it

It was a detour well worth taking and we eventually wound up back at the Minster and got the partial refund, which covered our earlier trip to the tea room and gave us a valuable lesson in the process.

We walked along the river a lot more, looking for a place for lunch and wound up in the guildhall by accident where they were having a crafts show so we got entrance for free on this one day.

The river you just can't escape

I spotted someone making fresh pasta in a storefront window and it turned out to be a clever ploy to get you to come in to Peccolino’s the restaurant itself. Hey, it worked! We had a really nice risotto con funghi with bread and Bear said our waitress reminded him of a meerkat. We also spotted a machine to slice up prosciutto in the back and stopped to look at it on the way when The Meerkat bounded over and offered to show Bear how it worked and he got several slices to sample out of the deal.

On the way back, we stopped through St. Mary’s Abbey and visited the grounds along with everyone else in the city who was enjoying the end of winter. While there we saw a a family with really amazing floppy curly ginger-blonde hair (although the Mom had darker hair).

Seriously, that is some amazing hair

We felt like we’d walked close to 5 miles and we probably had in the course of going all over and back, so we headed home having gotten our money’s worth out of the all day parking deal. I quizzed Bear on what he’d learned out about The Silmarillion that day and  we listened to Classic FM at the Movies where they featured Bernard Hermann, most famous for his work with Hitchcock but also (to me) for his second marriage to Lucille Fletcher, the author of such classic radio scripts as “Sorry, Wrong Number” (starring Agnes Moorehead), “The Hitchhiker” (with Orson Welles in the lead), “Fugue in C Minor” (Vincent Price) and “Diary of Sophronia Winters” (Agnes Moorehead again).

Juliet was, of course, very happy to see us as she seems to have grown to forget that we used to leave her during the day all the time back in America when we would go to work. She’s become accustomed to our faces.

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