Travel: A spadeful of Yorkshire grit

A view of York's medieval gate, tower and Minster in the background
A view of York's medieval gate, tower and Minster in the background
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As York cleans up after the floods the city is welcoming visitors, finds Catriona Thomson

Floody Nora” were among the words that I uttered when I saw aerial photographs of York looking a tad soggy. Someone must have known how much we were looking forward to our January family city break, because by some miracle, the floods subsided enough for us to visit.

Catriona Thomson with Graham, Eve, left, and Hope

Catriona Thomson with Graham, Eve, left, and Hope

My first concern was for people’s lives and property, but I confess a close second was whether Novotel, Fishergate was affected. The Foss flood barrier and pump station, which we had heard about on the news, are located directly behind the hotel. However this gave us a ringside view of the reconstruction work during our stay. It was heartbreaking, passing countless skips filled with belongings and seeing the flood lines on buildings. However folks hereabouts are filled with spadefuls of Yorkshire grit.

We travelled via CrossCountry trains, First Class no less and our two-hour journey went without a hitch. On arrival we walked through the centre to deposit our luggage and explore our base. The girls approved; a great location near to town and the attractions, a small pool, and crucially free wifi, essential for any teen traveller.

First on our to do list was a walk to The Shambles to get our bearings. The lane derives its name from an Anglo-Saxon word, ‘Shammel’, which describes the shopfront shelves. Many buildings here date from the late 14th and 15th century. Historically minded Graham was in his element. He briefly stepped slightly out of the medieval period to chat with the Roman re-enactor, advertising the nearby Roman bath house museum.

Our younger daughter Hope adores everything tea-based, so headed straight for the Hebdentea shop. Harsh teen big sister, Eve, described her as “an excited pensioner, trapped in the body of a clumsy ten year old”. Undaunted, after examining and sniffing everything in the shop Hope eventually purchased a small packet of minty gunpowder loose-leaf brew.

York's Chocolate Story

York's Chocolate Story

We had a handy prepaid discount card, or York Pass, that allows you free or discounted access to certain attractions. It makes sense to buy either a one-day, two-day or three day pass to match your length of stay.

As we all love confectionery, we book an afternoon tour at York’s Chocolate Story. This city has a unique relationship with the cocoa bean, with Cravens, manufacturers of French almonds, toffees and humbugs, Rowntree’s, Terry’s and even Cadbury having a link back to York and its Quaker community. It was an informative tour exploring the origins and history of chocolate and its relationship with the city, with the bonus of some tasty samples.

York is jam-packed with history and with that comes a fair few supernatural stories. The city is overrun with ghost tours, with The Original Ghost Walk, Ghost Hunt, and Ghost Trail to name a few. However, we choose an entertaining spooky bus tour aboard a Routemaster, complete with eccentric conductor.

Next day after a walk along a section of the city walls, we head to nearby Yorkshire Castle Museum. The highlight was the recreation of a Victorian street called Kirkgate, complete with window displays of every kind.

Cross Country trains photography in Manchester. Picture: Shaun Fellows/Shine Pix

Cross Country trains photography in Manchester. Picture: Shaun Fellows/Shine Pix

The Minster is such a presence in the city we challenged ourselves to scale the 275 steps or 70 metres, to reach the top. The imposing central tower showed signs of instability in the 1970s, so work was carried out to underpin it. During the process the tower revealed the footprint of Roman barracks, an Anglo-Saxon cemetery and the foundations of the Norman Minster – the forerunner of the present cathedral. This is now presented as an interactive tourist attraction called the Undercroft.

Tired legs called for a welcome sit down and a healthy lunch at Filmore and Union café, where the junior menu proved a definite hit.

On our final day it seemed appropriate to head to the National Railway Museum. We enjoyed peering through the windows at the royal carriages and staring up in wonder at the massive painting of Waterloo Station by Terence Cuneo, before heading back to platform ten, to catch our train home.

The winter floods didn’t dampen our spirits at all and the only time we got wet during our stay was courtesy of a quick dip in the hotel pool.

• First Class advance weekday returns with CrossCountry Trains (www.cross cost from £54.60 for adults and children £27.30. Family rooms at Novotel York cost from £65 per night, For further information about the city and York passes, see