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The English town of York was the very first place that Gail researched when we began preparations for our world trip almost two years ago. York is also the last place that we will tour in England before we leave the British Isles.
When we left Eaglescairnie Mains on June 1st, we had planned to return to the Falkirk Wheel in the hopes of finding it open. As we looked at the map, however, we realized that we had a long four-hour drive ahead of us just to travel south from Alba back into England. Falkirk was to the west, would take an additional two hours out of our day, and still might not be open yet. So we kept what memories we had and headed directly south.
Mike Williams had recommended that we take the A68 and A19 instead of the less-scenic A1, and we followed his advice. We passed through Jedburgh to Corbridge, where we hoped to stop for a picnic lunch at a park with some Roman ruins so Cameron and Joss could run around. It turned out that the park charged admission, so we just ate our sandwiches in the parking lot before moving on.
We arrived on the ring road outside of York in the early afternoon, when traffic suddenly came to a dead stop. With Russell behind the wheel and not wanting to sit in a traffic jam, Gail used our AA Britain Motorist's Atlas and navigated us through several one-lane back-country roads until we arrived at our destination: the Cuckoo's Nest Farm, east of York between Kexby and Wilberfoss.
We were struck by the contrast between this farm and the last one. At Eaglescairnie Mains, we had free reign to explore the entire property -- our room even had mud maps of suggested walks. At Cuckoo's Nest, we were asked to keep a close eye on the children and not let them wander into the working areas of the farm. Edinburgh's Barbara Williams was very efficient and businesslike. York's Joan Liveridge was, by her own admission, slightly disorganized. At our first breakfast, she had only one yogurt out (she did find two more by searching her refrigerator). When Joss asked for hot chocolate, she searched the entire house and found a package of "something" that we never did identify (even after tasting it). By the end of our three nights, however, we felt like family.
Again, because we had called around so late we were unable to find accommodations within York itself. Even as it was, we had to change rooms at Cuckoo's Nest partway through our stay; the first night, Joan only had two twin rooms available (and we never were able to get any ensuites). Unlike Edinburgh, however, we made a point to go into the city of York itself.
York has a long history, going all the way back to AD 71 when it was the Roman City of Eboracum (Constantine was proclaimed emperor here). When the Romans abandoned England in the fifth century, the English kingdom of Northumbria renamed it Eoforwic; and when the Vikings invaded in AD 860, they renamed it Jorvik. In the Middle Ages it was a walled castle city rich in the wool trade; in the Industrial Age it was the railway hub of Northern England. Today it is a tourist town, with many streets reserved for pedestrians only.
We had an easy drive in on June 2nd, and found a good parking space right next to the York Minster. Our first stop was Jorvik, "The Viking City," a cross between a museum and an amusement park ride. Beginning outside in the ticket line (which for us was thankfully short -- in the summer, it can be an hour long), men in Viking costume spoke of Viking days and displayed their authentic weapons (the boys loved this -- Joss swooshed the heavy sword around, and the man was terrified that Joss was going to break it... or hurt him).
Outside of Jorvik, with an authentic Viking
Once inside, we boarded a Disney-like vehicle and rode through a 15-minute re-creation of Coppersgate Street in Danish times, complete with mechanical people and animals. After departing our capsule pods, we walked through the museum, where an ingenious system of darkened mirrored cubicles showed how excavated artifacts might have been used by the Danes. Both Cameron and Joss made their own "Viking coins" using a sledge hammer and actual excavated coin dies (the only two ever discovered anywhere in the Viking world). Finally, in the gift shop, Russell purchased an ancient Viking board game called Hnefatafl (literally, "King's table").
Our next stop was a 15-minute walk across town to the York Castle Museum (York's "Attraction of the Year" in 2001). Rick Steves calls it "one of Europe's top museums," and we agree. At the turn of the century, a Pickering physician, John Kirk, observed that the world was changing and the lifestyle he knew would soon be lost. He began collecting things from his patients -- anything from postcards to eyeglasses to tableware -- often accepting their knick-knacks instead of payment for his medical services. In 1935, he presented his life's collection to York, where it became the foundation for a museum dedicated to Victorian and Edwardian times.
Today, the gigantic collection includes exhibits on everything from crafts to clothing to medicines to children's toys. Kirksgate recreates a Victorian city street, with shops stocked exactly as they were 150 years ago. For us the highlight was the "From Cradle to Grave" exhibit, which discussed everything from childbirth (and the "war" between midwives and doctors) to weddings (one book was titled "How to Master a Wife") to funerals. Cameron and Joss were kept entertained by a contest in which they were to search for ten "fairies" hidden among the exhibits (despite long searching, they only found nine of them). (Russell also missed the entire last half of the museum; he had to run back across town to feed more money into the parking meter.)
Kirksgate in the York Castle Museum (yes, it's actually inside the museum)
After noon, while Russell stood at the payphone making reservations for Ireland, Gail and the boys visited Clifford's Tower, the only remnant of York's 13th-century castle. Inside, Gail discovered that walking the high ramparts was like having edges on both sides of you. When a couple asked if she could take their picture, a terrified Gail could only point to Cameron and say "let him do it."
At Clifford's Tower
(While in York, Russell also visited some of the many bookstores. We have discovered a couple of superb book series that are fantastic for Cameron and Joss: Horrible Histories cover everything from the "Groovy Greeks" to the "Rotten Romans" to the "Woeful World Wars"; while Murderous Maths teach everything from fractions to probabilities. We cannot recommend these books highly enough, and we are buying every one that we can find.)
Our next stop was magnificent York Minster, the largest Gothic church north of the Alps -- "minster" refers to a place from which people go to minister, or spread the word of God. (Henry VIII spared the building in order to use York as the northern capital of his Anglican Church). It was Sunday, so we made a point of grabbing some precious seats for the 4:00 PM Evensong service. Between listening to the wonderful choir, we were able to hear the Archbishop of York himself (second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury in the church hierarchy) deliver a sermon in honor of the Queen's Jubilee, where he reminisced on her coronation 50 years ago. After service, we descended into the Undercroft, where we were able to see the excavated foundations of the Roman, Saxon, Norman, and Medieval buildings that preceded the modern one.
We finished off our day at Betty's Teahouse, a York tradition (founded two generations ago by a Swiss chocolatier, the source of the name "Betty" remains a family secret). As we sat enjoying our early dinner, the pianist suddenly started playing "I Left My Heart in San Francisco." Gail and Russell looked at each other, not sure whether to laugh or cry.
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