Monday, July 14, 2008

July 2, 2008: York

The centre of York is completely dominated by the Minster - a cathedral that was built between 1220 and 1480. It's a stunning building - as striking an example of gothic architecture as you can imagine.

The inside is just as impressive as the outside - massively high ceilings, wonderful stained glass windows and an astonishing amount of detailed stonework - the chapter house in particular was studded with hundreds of intricately carved faces - it's little wonder the construction took more than two hundred years.

We also went for a brief wander through the foundations of the minster (where photos were prohibited) - there are still remnants of the massive Roman basilica that was originally situated here, as well as sections of the Norman cathedral that was replaced by the construction of the minster. The roman ruins are particularly impressive - either incorporated into the foundations of the cathedral, or simply built around, there are plenty of columns and stonework that remain, including a still functioning culvert that drains water from the foundations down to the river Ouse.

We followed up with a brief stroll through the museum gardens, stumbling across the ruins of the 13th century St Mary's Abbey.

All this history left us both hungry, and we stopped in to Betty's, something of a York institution, for some lunch. It's basically a fancy tearoom, with lots of people enjoying traditional high teas.

Cindy insisted that we needed to try whatever vegetarian local delicacies we could find, so both of us opted for the Yorkshire Rarebit. I think we were both imagining this as basically a fancied up cheese toastie, but it turns out that it's more like an entire block of cheese melted over a small piece of bread. The ale and worcestershire sauce gave the cheese a bit of flavour, and the apple and tomato chutneys cut through the grease a little, but the overwhelming impression was an overdose of cheese.

We decided to embrace our inner tourists and take a trip on York Boat, a 45 minute river cruise promising to show us the sights of York. Of course the river doesn't really go particularly close to the minster or the wall, so the sights are a little limited. Still, we got glimpses of one of the UK's oldest schools, St Peter's, and some pleasant river scenery.

The boat dropped us off towards the southern end of town, so we wandered across to check out Clifford's Tower - all that remains of the 12th century York Castle.We didn't have the energy to climb the stairs, so we just mosied our way back through town, admiring some of the wonky Tudor buildings along the way.

Where we headed? Back to Betty's for afternoon tea - although this time we went to Little Betty's, the slightly less crowded spinoff. Rather than tackle the full high tea, we settled on the cream tea - a pot of tea and a couple of scones with jam and cream to share.

I'm not sure I really understand the point of the dainty afternoon tea tradition (I certainly don't fit in - sloshing my tea across half the table almost immediately), but it was a pleasant enough bite to eat. We headed back our accommodation for a quick snooze, and settled on a pleasant but uninspiring burger chain (Gourmet Burger Kitchen) for dinner.


  1. Is that more Pimms and cranberry next to the cheese toast?

  2. I'm a big fan of the high tea ritual, there's just something so relaxing and charming about it. In fact, seeing those matching teacups and saucers has made me want to whip up some scones myself and have an at-home high tea!

  3. Mmmmmmm, clotted cream...

    Although Hayley (apologies, pedantry ahead!), high tea and afternoon tea aren't the same thing! High tea is an actual meal, eaten earlier than a normal dinner (say, around 5 or 6pm), whereas afternoon tea is lighter and eaten in addition to dinner, not instead of it. It would normally be served mid rather than late afternoon.

  4. lovely photos of the minster - strange to think generations would have only known it as a building site given how long it took to build

    and I love a cream tea - can't help calling them devonshire teas although I am sure pedants would take issue with this! there is something particularly pleasing about it being served in those layers of multistory plates (can't think of what you call them)

  5. I welcome pedantry, Anon, it means I learn new things!

  6. Not quite, Thanh - that's a raspberry lemonade. Good for cutting through all that cheese!

    Hayley, I like the idea of all those bite-sized treats but barely have the drive to create them! My pretty layered display plate has so far only stored fruit. :-)

    Thanks for the clarification, Anon - I didn't know the difference either! I've always wondered how folks fit in all those high tea delights and then a dinner as well. :-D

    Johanna, I had always thought the teas were Devonshire and the rarebits were Welsh, but at Betty's it's all Yorkshire! (Actually, this site says that the Yorkshire rarebit distinguishes itself with bacon and a poached egg - neither of which we had. The cream tea origins remain a mystery.)