Europe

Savoring the North of England

written by | Posted on October 1st, 2010

There’s no better place in the world to go back in time than the quaint, history-filled environs of the North of England with its charming collection of centuries-old pubs and shops and ghost-filled legends, all juxtaposed against fresh, contemporary architecture, shops and clubs, none of which takes away from the traditional.

york York, the first stop on a recent trip to the North of England, is a delightful time capsule of English history, beginning with its Victorian-style rail station all the way to its fabulous city-center ringed by an ancient Roman wall—most of which is still standing and utilized by visitors and locals alike as a delightful pedestrian highway that winds around leafy neighborhoods and takes you over to the old city gates and into the heart of the old town.

To give you an idea of the history of this unique town, it’s been considered an important region from the time the Romans occupied it in A.D. 71, followed by the Vikings, the Saxons and the Normans, and was a pivotal part of English history all the way through the medieval period and into the 18th century when wealthy Britons came here to build sumptuous homes. And today, all of that history is still stamped upon with a renovation of much of its historical heritage.

York Minster, the town’s famous cathedral with 1,000 years of history under its famous tower, is northern Europe’s largest gothic cathedral. It still boasts a literal treasure house of beautiful medieval stained glass windows. Hearty souls can climb to the top of the York Tower—all 275 steps—and be rewarded with fabulous views of the historic center. It’s a great place to get photos of York Minster’s exotic medieval pinnacles and gargoyles. Visitors can also head down into the York Minster Undercroft Treasury and Crypt and explore Roman, Viking and Norman remains, as well as the jewels of the treasury and eerie crypt.

And speaking of crypts, York also has the undisputed reputation of being the most haunted town in England. It’s a fact not lost on local tour guides who host a half-dozen ghost walks and ghost tours around town every night—all of them entertaining and fun. There’s also a “real,” 700-year-old haunted house visitors can tour at 35 Stonegate, situated across from the famed Little Bettys, a must-see tea house in the midst of the historic center going back to 1919. Here, you can enjoy an authentic afternoon tea with delectable pastries and the traditional finger sandwiches.

Other must-sees include the Jorvik Viking Centre—a museum focusing on the history of the Vikings; the National Railway Museum with exhibits ranging from royal carriages to the latest high-speed bullet train; the Yorkshire Musem & Gardens, which just re-opened in August; and finally, just for fun, the York Dungeon, which chronicles the city’s bloody history complete with live actors, shows and special effects.

York is also home to the new Cedar Court Grand Hotel & Spa, a grand, stately looking property just down the street from the railway station that was originally built in 1906 as the headquarters of the North Eastern Railways company, at the time, one of the most powerful public companies in Britain. Today, it’s a stunner of a hotel—aristocratic looking with 107 architecturally unique bedrooms including loft-style suites, as well as a sprawling penthouse suite with gorgeous views of the town, and a stylish restaurant with an eclectic menu.

It’s focused on becoming York’s first five-star hotel and judging from the amenities and the service—complete with 24-hour butler service—it won’t be too long. There’s plenty of event space with a terrace marquee that can accommodate 250 people and elegant meeting rooms for up to 120. The bar mirrors what one would imagine the traditional British men’s club to look like with leather chairs and a gorgeous mahogany bar. While the spa was not open at the time we visited, the area promises to be large with luxurious treatments, a large indoor pool, sauna, steam room and gym with the latest equipment.

newcastle Next it’s off to the train station and a pleasant rail ride to Newcastle, all without “carrying the coals” there, as they used to say. No matter, the coal industry is long gone from there and today, the emphasis is on the IT industry and aiming to be a cultural capital. Rail, by the way, is the best way to travel around the north of England in our view. It’s just a little over one hour from York to Newcastle and the trains are clean and prompt, with cart servers offering coffee, beer and snacks. It’s also the best way to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the region.