After a good night’s sleep at the Roomzzz Aparthotel, we enjoyed our complimentary Grab & Go breakfast before setting out for a second day of city sightseeing. Mist was just beginning to lift as we strolled along the riverside path outside the hotel towards York Castle Museum just a few minutes walk away.
It’s a marvellous museum and one I’ve visited previously albeit a long time ago. Standard adult admission is £12 and included in the York Pass which we were in possession of.
The museum covers 400 years of York’s history with re-modelled Jacobean rooms through to Victorian prison cells. An undoubted highlight is Kirkgate, a re-created cobbled street with full size authentic shops and people dressed as local characters. I vividly remembered this and was looking forward to exploring it once again but it wasn’t to be. Would you believe it that on the very day of our visit this part of the museum was actually closed to visitors as it was being used for filming! It was extremely disappointing but all wasn’t lost as we could at least look down on the street from a window in one of the other galleries.
As you can see from my photo, it had been transformed into a winter scene with artificial snow and festive decorations. We were unable to find out what the filming was for so whether it was for a film, television programme or an advert I’m not sure. If any of my eagle-eyed readers recognise it sometime in the future, do please let me know.
We then moved on to the cells which were once a Georgian prison where we looked in some of them including that of the highwayman Dick Turpin, the prison’s most notorious inmate. There was a clever system of projecting ghostly images onto the cell walls and hearing narratives of their chilling stories of life behind bars. Next, we explored the exercise yard where prisoners had as little as 30 minutes each day to stretch their legs and we inspected the set of stocks and then the gallows where horrifying hangings took place.
Back indoors we saw an exhibition on the Swinging 60’s, the decade of flower power, bell bottomed trousers and The Beatles and then completed our tour of the museum with a visit to its temporary exhibition entitled ‘The Museum of Broken Relationships’ which I’d actually already viewed when it was on display in the Helsinki City Museum in 2016. It’s a poignant collection of stories and symbolic possessions relating to the way we fall out of love illustrated by a lasting memory of a relationship breakdown.
After spending slightly less time in the York Castle Museum than originally intended due to part of it being closed, we crossed the road and headed off to Cliffords Tower directly opposite. It’s necessary to climb a steep flight of steps to access the tower as it stands proudly on a high mound. This is now almost all that remains of York Castle which was built by William the Conqueror but during its existence it served both as a prison and a Royal Mint and is now operated by English Heritage.
We inspected the central area and then climbed yet more steps to the open air walkway at the very top which was once used as a vantage point for castle guards but nowadays offers some panoramic views over the city’s rooftops.
Back at ground level we stretched our legs further by taking a stroll along the city walls. It’s possible to complete a circular walk of 2.6 miles (4.2km) following the remains of the original walls although these are no longer complete.
The walk can be started at numerous access points and we set off from Skeldergate Bridge as it was nearest to Cliffords Tower. We then followed the city wall path as far as Micklegate Bar so that we could visit the Bar Convent located on Blossom Street just beyond the city gate.
The Bar Convent is England’s oldest living convent and is still home to the Community of Sisters of the Congregation of Jesus. A guide was on hand to give visitors a tour of the Convent and he escorted us to the Secret Chapel explaining that as 1686 was a time of great danger for all Catholics in England, land for the Covent was purchased under an alias just outside the city walls.
For over 300 years no-one knew the truth the nuns concealed because if the Sisters of the Bar Convent had been discovered it would have meant punishment and possibly even death for them all.
During building works in the early 20th century an original priest hole was discovered. This was a secret hiding place that a Catholic priest could use if the convent was raided by the authorities. A glass concrete floor now covers the priest hole and we were able to peer down into the confined space.
Before leaving, we glanced in the wonderful entrance hall with its glass roof and tiled floor which now acts as a cafe / restaurant. It was also interesting to learn that the Bar Convent offers bed and breakfast accommodation, certainly a unique setting for a stay in York and I’m sure an enjoyable one.
The sun was shining brightly so we took the opportunity of strolling over to the York Museum Gardens containing the medieval ruins of St. Mary’s, a ruined Benedictine abbey and at one time one of the most powerful and wealthy monasteries in England. Snowdrops were beginning to show their heads and wrapped up with scarves and hats, it felt positively spring-like so we relaxed on one of the park benches for a few minutes breathing in the fresh air.
From the gardens we continued along the riverside footpath in a northerly direction as far as York Station via Scarborough Bridge. It wasn’t actually the station we were heading for though but to the adjacent National Railway Museum which I always feel the urge to pop into whenever I’m visiting York. Entrance to this splendid museum is free of charge and definitely worth a visit whether you’re into trains or not.
Our visit began in the Great Hall, a former engine shed until 1968. It lay in disuse awhile then new life was breathed into it as it became home to the museum, opening in 1975. On display is Mallard, designed by Sir Nigel Gresley. This famous engine broke the speed record for steam locomotives in 1938 and it has never been beaten. Visitors can even relive Mallard’s record breaking run in a simulator experience.
An original turntable is surrounded by an awe inspiring collection of locomotives from the past 150 years and there’s lots more to see such as a high speed Japanese bullet train (the only one of its kind outside Japan).
Moving into the Station Hall we stepped back in time to explore over 100 years of railway life. This vast space is home to luxurious royal carriages including Queen Victoria’s saloon which became known as the palace on wheels.
There’s also a vast collection of railway memorabilia including old station signs, art-deco railway posters and station clocks. As we were leaving the museum, we noticed a land train parked outside the door which shuttles visitors at half hourly intervals between the museum and York Minster. The usual fare is £3 but this is something else that is included in the York Pass so we hopped on board for a leisurely ride back into the heart of the city.
We’d spent two wonderful days exploring historic York, and it’s hard to think of anywhere else with so many interesting places to visit so close together. Without rushing around, we managed to experience so much and would love to return again to see even more. York is accessible from all parts of the country with trains between York and London taking only one and three quarter hours meaning that visiting the city can easily be combined with a trip to the capital.
During our visit we were guests of Visit York and as always all views and opinions are entirely my own.
If you have enjoyed reading this post you may also like:
Other posts in this series: