Despite calling Yorkshire ‘home’ for more than two years already since studying at The University of Sheffield, I was quite embarrassed when I came to the realisation that I hadn’t seen much of the region at all, or even in more general terms, the UK. This is something I am working on though now.
During my Year Abroad, I travelled around France and Spain extensively at weekends and during holidays. Since I have returned to the UK for the next 12 months at least, I felt it was time to devote some new energy into appreciating the beauty on my doorstep and not just in exotic destinations abroad that are out of reach for now. Well, while I still can before the new academic year sets in; weekends will be spent mostly in the library over the next year!
Yorkshire-wise, I have been into the Peak District where I climbed to Stanage Edge in Fresher’s Week of my first year and I also went to Chatsworth House last summer, but I have hardly ventured into other parts of Yorkshire. I remember some Erasmus students in my Second Year who would travel around the country during weekends while I would either be studying in bed, or studying in the library and they were somewhat unimpressed with my lack of energy to get out and about.
It’s easy to have so much more enthusiasm when you are abroad, exploring a different culture. You are in ‘adventure mode’ and that is certainly how I felt when I lived in France, Spain and Portugal. I do love living in Sheffield though and I am content enough to spend my free time there, as there is so much going on at the university for me! I have society events, part-time jobs and circles of friends, all of which I had zero access to when I was abroad.
With a weekend free, James and I decided to book train tickets to York for our first visit to the city. Famous for its Minster, historic walls, cobbled streets and other heritage sites, it is only one hour from Sheffield.
I understand that we visited York on the Saturday of August Bank Holiday, so we didn’t choose the best day to go in terms of avoiding the crowds, but there were so many tourists!!! Due to the narrow streets, the heavy crowds made it difficult to get around and it was quite stressful.
The short walk into the city center from the train station was very pleasant though. We climbed up the steps to walk along a part of the city walls on the way in, not something you do every day! Then we crossed the river:
Our first stop was to admire the outside of York Minster. Tickets are not cheap to enter, as we found out with most attractions in York, however their website does state that it costs £20,000/day to run York Minster and this is the reason why they charge so much for entry! I see why they have to do it, but if they charged a little less, we would have been more inclined to go inside.
Walking around the old streets, we came across some beautiful old buildings on every corner:
We ate at a small pub in one of the main squares for lunch before walking towards the other side of the city to the York Castle Museum. Entry was £5 for us as we were under 26.
The museum is housed in a former prison, and you can see some of the original cells which have projectors in each room with recordings of individual inmates sharing their story of how they ended up in the prison.
The rest of the museum is a fascinating collection of social history, reflecting everyday life in Yorkshire. Upstairs, there are ‘period rooms,’ examples of a farmhouse room, how a living room looked in the 1950s, a kitchen in the 1940s etc.
Downstairs you can explore Kirkgate, a recreated Victorian street which was originally built in 1938. This feature is the most iconic part of York Castle Museum and it was incredible to walk around! The street houses real shop fronts and products that were from that era, all originals, and thanks to extensive research, every single shop is based on a real York business which operated between 1870 and 1901! You are walking through history in this place.
The street has its own schoolroom, police cell, Hansom cab, Cocoa House and cobbled street. A few years ago, they added on a new backstreet, Rowntree Snicket, to portray the life of the poor who lived in Victorian slums in York; there is a very foul-looking toilet shed and an example of a working class home, showing where a family would live (one single bed only – mother slept at night, father slept during the day). The alleyway is dingy and smells awful thanks to the artificial scents. There is a candle factory there though and our guide said that the smell coming from that room is very real, because the candles were made with animal fat. It was all quite revolting so I was happy to get out of there! I wouldn’t last very long as a Victorian…
They also gave a talk on the Victorian Cocoa House which was run by Quakers. Their philosophy is that alcohol is bad, so they drink hot chocolate instead. The Cocoa House was a meeting place where families were welcome, different to the pubs where the adults could go but children had to stay at home, and there was entertainment free of charge. It was a way of educating the poor into a ‘better way of life,’ without alcohol and spending quality time with the family.
After a tour through the rest of the building, we got some fresh air and had a look at the iconic York Castle next door, which was built on a conical mound by William the Conqueror. It’s an English Heritage site, so it is free entry if you have membership, otherwise entrance is £4.40 for adults and £4 for students. Other than climbing to the top to get a view over York, it didn’t seem like there was much to do inside, and TripAdvisor reviewers had been “disappointed” with their visits for the price of the ticket, so we decided not to go up.
After some retail therapy, we ate at Pizza Express which is located in a large Victorian building, much in keeping with the rest of the historic city, before catching the train home to Sheffield in the evening.
York was a wonderful place for a day trip, very historical and plenty of things to see and do. It has a very different vibe to Sheffield, which has been shaped more by its industrial past, but is now a beautiful, green, hilly city that’s full of students. I am biased though.
I’d recommend the York Castle Museum as somewhere you must visit when in York; the exhibits have been well researched and thought through, it was an education. We also enjoyed walking around the walls and seeing different perspectives of the city for free.
Here’s to visiting more of the UK this year!