A quick trip ‘Up North’

Wednesday 13 June 2018 – Newcastle.

Not a brown ale in sight. The ten minute walk from station to hotel took me past two bars and nothing; no advertising, no ale drinkers, not even the sad relic of a shattered brown bottle in the gutter. So far, Newcastle has been a disappointment.

My view of Newcastle has always been tainted; a city built for and populated by ‘Newkey Brown’ drinkers, dour, gruff/rough northerners, black and white football shirt wearing anti-football thugs, haters of southern softies, the metropolitan liberal elite from London; me for instance.

As is usually the case I was wrong, very wrong. I really enjoyed the 24 hours I spent in Newcastle, it is friendly, welcoming and a lovely city. This sticker I found near the hotel I was staying in didn’t help my original thoughts. I am sure there was some ironic humour there.

I am up in Newcastle on my first official visit to another Cabinet Office location (have I mentioned where I work before? ) There is a large government hub on the outskirts and the team there are doing some interesting development work. It seemed like to a good opportunity to visit them, see what they are doing; and hopefully dispel my ideas of the city.

But first, York.

El and I visited York three years ago (bloody hell, I cannot believe it was that long ago!) and absolutely loved it. One of my key vendors is based in York and with a big project coming up I took the opportunity to visit York as the Newcastle train stopped there. I am very aware that as a civil servant, everything I do, including my salary, is paid for by the citizens of the UK. Taking trips to visit vendors when there is a cost involved is not something I do, though there will be future savings to made after this trip though, so all is good.

I didn’t have a lot of time in York after meeting the vendor. They did buy me lunch, and I had a glass of wine, all under the £25 declaration limit  🙂 There was just time for a short loop walk back to the station. Passing the fort, the minster, and the old cit walls on the way.

The few times we have been to Edinburgh we have passed through Newcastle station and over the River Tyne and the great view of the other magnificent Tyne bridges. I have liked the look of the station and was looking forward to finally being able to get off the train. I was not disappointed; it is a really nice station.

Arriving in town in the late afternoon I went straight to the hotel to dump my bag, passing the above sticker on the way. I was meeting one of my London colleagues for a walk around town before having a beer and burger planning session ahead of tomorrow’s full day of meetings.

Not having a huge amount of time, nor a plan, we started in the centre of town and walked down hill towards the river, passing the now shut, castle on the way. I didn’t know there was a castle here, and know nothing about it all, it was castle-like. Nothing wrong with that at all.

Newcastle is well known for the bridges that cross the River Tyne, individually they are excellent bridges, but the sum of the parts does exceed the components and together they are wonderful, different engineers, different styles, colours and construction. Lovely. There has been massive investment in the river front area and it is a really nice place to stroll, and not full of bars and restaurants for the tourist trade like so many other river and sea front cities. Being able to walk unimpeded by construction and ‘private’ property is a massive bonus, something Sydney could possibly learn from.

Walking back in to the centre of town we found somewhere to eat over a couple of beers, and still no Newcastle Brown Ale in sight.

I was hoping for a little time off after meetings the following day, but in the end it was a rush to the station, though naturally the train back to London was late.

York, lovely York, part three.

Sunday 07 February 2015 – York.

A quick update as to where the last post left us…  We had had a very enjoyable morning and had just finished a pizza lunch and a nice glass of wine after visiting all the parts of central York that we were going to be able to do with the time we had.  This after we planned to spend some time walking around the museum gardens before returning to the hotel for a rest before dinner.

I had been looking forward to visiting the gardens as they contain some really interesting ruins and I am all about the ruins!

The gardens were orginally created in 1828 when ten acres of the grounds of the former St Mary’s Abbey were gifted by the royal family to the Yorkshire Philosophical Society for the creation of a museum and the development of botanical gardens.

Our first stop was St Leonard’s Hospital. At its peak in the middle ages it was the biggest hospital in England, holding up to 240 patients. I did not realise that hospitals had been going for such a long time !  Construction started in the 1220’s and it was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII in the late 1530s.

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We followed some of the remaining sections of the old city walls around to the Multangular Tower, the best known of the remaining Roman towers in the city. It was built in the late 4th century to hold a large catapult and it has ten sides, hence its name. You can quite clearly see all the different materials used to construct and maintain the walls over the years.

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Inside the tower there are five stone coffins from the Roman period that were found in other locations in the city.

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This picture, sadly the light was poor, shows the different levels of wall built over the centuries, form the original Roman wall started in 70 AD, through the dark ages up to the 10th century, past the Norman period and finally Medieval times in 13th.

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This led us over to St Mary’s Abbey – which I have seen loads of photos of and particularly love as a set of ruins. A church was first built here back in Norman times in 1055, though the ruins here are from a modifications starting in the late 13th century. Like the hospital the abbey was pulled down during the reformation in 1539 and a lot of the stone was used elsewhere. I loved them…

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As the afternoon started to fade we headed back to the hotel, walking up the road outside of those ancient abbey walls.

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We bought a glass of wine in the bar and took them back to our room for a rest after quite a long day of walking. Later on we noticed a wonderful sunset out the window, so I grabbed my camera and took a very fast walk back to St Mary’s Abbey. I just made it in time to grab a few images – and left the tripod in our room.

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We had booked dinner at El Piano a highly recommended vegetarian restaurant and it was really full, it is a casual cafe style restaurant with really nice food and wine. We left very full.

I took the camera as I wanted to get a final photo of the Minster.

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On Sunday morning, we didn’t really rush out of bed, but we were still up early enough that we had to wander around again trying find somewhere to get breakfast. Even though we had a great breakfast the day before we wanted to try a different place. It took a while but we did found an open cafe and they did do a really good full English – I over ate yet again. On the way we passed through the Shambles again, and so much quieter than yesterday!

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Hello Smile

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And then that was it, back to York station and its famous old clock.

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And back to London, looking out on the loveliest weather of the whole weekend, via another dirty window…  It was another good train ride back, fast and on time, and I didn’t eat as much as I did on the way up!

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We loved York, it is a really nice town, there was a good vibe and so many things to look at. if you live in England or are planning to come here on holiday I highly recommend a visit.

Half a day in the lovely city of York.

Saturday 07 February 2015 – York.

Our room at the Churchill did not include breakfast so we decided to head out earlyish and get breakfast in before goiing to the minster for opening time, and hopefully beating any crowds. York is a very popular tourist town and York’s premier attraction is York Minster. It may look like one but it is not called a cathedral, so thanks to Wikipedia – A minster is a church that was established during Anglo-Saxon times as a missionary teaching church, or a church attached to a monastery. A cathedral is the seat of a bishop, because his seat, or throne, is called a cathedra.

The hotel was under half a mile from the minster on one of the main roads into town, and just outside the city walls. Though the walk in to the ‘old’ part was still pretty damn nice, with a mix of Georgian terraces and little bits that are significantly older.

 IMG_1192IMG_1193IMG_1194Once through the city wall at Bootham Bar – a toll gate from the thirteenth century, we were rewarded with our first day time view of the minster.

IMG_1195IMG_1197Even though it was 9:00 am on a Saturday, finding somewhere open for breakfast was rather tricky. as nothing appeared to be open. We did find the place where Guy Fawkes was born – which was a surprise as I had no idea, he was from York I just assumed he was born in London – my London centric view I guess.

IMG_1201We finally found somewhere for a very nice breakfast, and damn good coffee as well, good enough to have a second to take away as we carried on strolling around killing some time before the minster opened. The coffee did not come from Coffee Yard though, there was no coffee in Coffee Yard at that time of day, I had to duck to walk down this alley leading to old Barley Hall.

IMG_1202IMG_1204We popped out on to one of the main shopping thoroughfares of York and I took the opportunity to take a picture while it was relatively quiet, as you can see the streets are narrow, the buildings sort of lean in and it is all quite nice. IMG_1205I cannot remember the name of this building, it is behind the minster and I recall it was part of a school. The pillar in front is from the original Roman great hall and was discovered during excavation work in 1969. It was erected as a monument to celebrate the 1900th anniversary of the founding of York in 71AD.  A 1900th anniversary, wow. That is centuries older than the discovery ofNew Zealand.

IMG_1207The Emperor Constantine.

 IMG_1209It was now opening time for the minster and time for us to head inside.

IMG_1208We were a little disappointed at the cost of entry into York Minster, 15 pounds a head to enter a church building is a little steep in my book. I understand that running a building of historical significance costs an awful lot of money, but the church is hardly going broke.

There has been a church on this site since the early 7th century, though numerous fires and sackings, and the almost complete destruction at the hands of the Danes in 1075 meant the current building was started in 1080. The bulk of the gothic style was started in the 1220’s. There has been renovation work on the building off and on ever since. It is a pretty cool building, including a major and long term piece of work on the stained glass window. It did feel a bit soulless to us, unusually so. Normally we love the feel of the great cathedrals.

IMG_1215It was still pretty and interesting in place and I did take a few photos inside.

IMG_1216IMG_1219IMG_1220IMG_1221IMG_1222The crypt was quite interesting with some lovely old Norman artifacts, including this Doomstone, which depicts the entrance to hell and sinners being tortured and consumed. Nothing like a bit of churchy forgiveness…

IMG_1229IMG_1226I also really liked this 15th century carving of St Anne teaching the virgin mother to read.

IMG_1228IMG_1231We left the minster and walk around and through the gardens at the back.

IMG_1232IMG_1235Back out into the streets of York and off to walk some old city walls. York has the most extensive network of remaining city walls in the UK, something I did not know until we arrived yesterday and something I found very exciting. The walls were first built by the Romans, starting from their earliest occupation in 71AD, though they fell into disrepair and were largely rebuilt under the Danes and into the 12th and 14 century – and these are the walls we walked on today. We entered the walls at Monk Bar, one of the many gate forts along the wall.

IMG_1239IMG_1240IMG_1242IMG_1243The walls do not fully surround the city, there are numerous gaps, including the rivers. There was a river side walk down the side of the Foss, it had all the charms of Regents Canal in London. Not saying that is good or bad !

IMG_1247Back in to town, we found ourselves at Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma Gate. The shortest street in York. In this case gate is a corruption of the Viking word Gatta – which means street. It runs the width of the church…

IMG_1248Our next stop was Clifford’s Tower, the last remaining part of York Castle, which was built under order of the Norman king William I. It was partially destroyed in 1648 after a major explosion, but was used as a prison until 1929. IMG_1250IMG_1255There was a fee to enter the tower, so we flagged the opportunity to go inside, but we did walk up and take a photo from the top of the hill, before walking down to the Castle Museum.

IMG_1256IMG_1257This also had an entry fee, so we flagged that as well, though we did stop for a very nice coffee and disgustingly sticky and oozy custard slice in the museum cafe – it was magic.

We went down to the River Ouse and walked along the river side for a short while before heading back towards the city centre and our next stop, one of York’s premier tourist spots – the Jorvik Museum, where we had planned to pay the entrance fee. On the way we spotted an extremely rare thing – a closed down Tesco Express. Wow! Never thought I would see one of these, I didn’t even know they existed.

IMG_1264We also walked past The Stone Roses Bar, much as I loved the Stone Roses, I don’t think I would want to go into a bar named after them.

IMG_1265The Jorvik Museum was kinda cool, it is built on the site of an archaeological dig from the late 70’s that discovered a series of streets and houses from the ancient Viking community of Jorvik. The museum is like a history lesson on a Disneyland ride. Sitting inside a ‘time capsule’ we took a ride through the streets of the ancient Viking capital and were shown what daily life was like back then, it was part amusing an part interesting. I really liked it. Photos were not allowed, but I snuck one anyway.

IMG_1272It was lunch time after the museum so we started looking for someone where to eat, we had a bit of a list of places to try and started trying to find a couple. On the way we took a walk through The Shambles, one of the oldest streets in York, but rammed full of tourists.

IMG_1205We ended up not going to one of the highly recommended places, though we did book one for dinner – and had a pretty damn good pizza on the way….

The afternoon is coming next!

A weekend away in York. Part 1

Friday 06 February 2015 – York.

El and I had a look at going to York one weekend last year, it was at short notice, but even so 400 pounds for return train tickets was a tad excessive, and rather off putting. We went to Rye instead – and had a really good time. However, York was still high on our must visit list. Just after Christmas I saw an advert from the train company for cheap tickets to York so I grabbed a couple of return first class tickets for a very good price and this weekend we are off.

It has been a very busy month, work has been full on with my project getting good traction, and after some disappointment over the festive season we seem to back on track again. I am still enjoying it in the main, though it is building towards the new implementation date and I can feel the stress building.

Through work and Cyclescheme I have picked myself up a new commuter bike. As it salary sacrificed and I do not have to pay cash for it I have bought a new bike rather than picked up a second hand ride. Through my friend at Walthamstow Cycles I picked up a  Ridgeback Vanteo, with nice mud guards. It looks very serious and grown up.

???????????????????????????????I have ridden it to work a couple of times and it is pretty quick and I really do not regret my choice of buying a bike with gears. I struggled for ages over whether to buy a geared bike or a single speed, but gears and practicality won out over style and I am really glad of that.

I have also joined a team at work to undertake the mission of completing the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km walk in July. I have thought about doing it a couple of times, so when I was asked if I wanted to join a team I did not hesitate. It is great to have a physical goal to aim for and walking means El and I can do some of the training together. Much better than me having to disappear for half the weekend to run or ride. It is a really long way and will require some proper training time – he says sitting on the couch in front of the TV!

In support of my training and finally doing something I have talked about for about 15 years I have signed up with a personal trainer for a few weeks to work on my flexibility and core strength, both of which are close to non-existent. I saw a tweet from someone I follow on Twitter mentioning a local PT – MotionE17 and thought I would check him out. After a working meet up session to discuss what I wanted and what could be done I signed up and have really enjoyed the experience so far. It was good to get what I wanted out of the sessions, something that does not appear to happen with all PTs from what I understand. Happy 🙂

End of the news, back to the start of the York visit !

What can I say about the York trip?  loved it – and I think that sums it up nicely. I took a lot of photos so I will have to split this post into three to fit them all in. That plus the fact it is now over a month later and I just do not have the time at the moment to write qll three posts, but at least all the photos are done.

I met El at Kings Cross Station just before 4:00, unlike on Virgin Trains, our cheap first  class tickets did not get us into the East Coast lounge, so with a bit of time to spare we stopped in at the bar in Kings Cross and had a pre-trip celebratory drink before heading off to the train on platform zero . Platform zero – that is a cool start to a trip!

IMG_1189We took the high speed train to York, there were only a couple of stops so it was a fairly quick trip, lasting almost exactly two hours. We left on time and were soon flying northwards with the sun setting out the very grubby windows.

IMG_1191The journey was good, we had some pretty reasonable food, and a couple of drinks, all covered under the first class ticket and we arrived on time in York at 18:30. We had pre-booked a hotel which was only a ten minute walk from the station so we took a slow stroll, across the river Ouse. almost to the cathedral before heading off to the Churchill Hotel.

IMG_1317The walk from the station had me pretty excited, there were old city walls, an old church and the Cathedral on the darkened sky line.

As a major town, York appeared on the history radar when it became the northern English centre of the Roman Empire in 71AD. It is located at the confluence of the major trading rivers, Ouse and Foss. After the Romans it was a major centre for the Anglo Northumbrians before becoming the capital of Scandinavian Jorvik between 875 – 954, after an initial invasion by Ivar the Boneless in 866. I had to mention that just because he has such a cool name.

The town is small and largely concentrated inside city walls first built by the Romans; it is very walkable and bristling with history. I was really looking forward to the morning….