IMG_0903

The Wonder of York: June 2

     Morning in York!  I have a morning ritual that inspires my day. It starts my day everyday no matter where I might be. Propped up in bed, I sip my coffee and journal. I acquired this habit in February of 2005…living on my own in an old farmhouse built on the most sacred of lands in Vermont. I had begun reading a book by Julia Cameron (Cameron, Julia, The artist’s way: a spiritual path to higher creativity, New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002). Her proposed exercises include writing three pages each and every morning. She refers to them as morning pages. For me they were MOURNING pages. At the time I discovered her book I had experienced an unexpected and unwelcomed shift in my life and I was searching for some way to swim through the profound sadness that this shift left in its wake. This concept of morning pages proved to be so helpful and so healing for me that I have continued to write them more than 15 years later. Every morning starts with three pages of uneven prose, vague ideas and mundane musings. The second part of this ritual is my morning meditation, twenty minutes or so of conversation with the Goddess or focus on living in the present tense. And thus my morning in York begins.

   A hot shower and the wonders of ibuprofen have alleviated the aches of attempts to get from train station to guest house and then explore a bit of York. Having successfully charged phone and Ipad, I slip my travel journal into my day pack, count me pounds stirling…yes, need to find a bank…and head downstairs to the dining room following the promising fragrance of bacon. 

  The dining room of the Arnot House has a lovely large bay window that looks out on Grosvenor Street. The view is perfectly framed by cascades of roses. There is a couple in the dining room as well, but they have not chosen the table by the window, so clearly it was meant for me. I help myself to a bowl of Greek yogurt and fresh fruit from the sideboard. Kim appears with a french press full of coffee and a plate of wheat toast and fresh baked scones. I am suddenly hungry and have no problem eating my two eggs over easy with bacon breakfast.

  Conversation always comes easily to travelers sharing a dining room at a guest house. Very soon I learn that the couple is from Victoria, Canada and that they too are travelling through the UK. We shared our impressions of York and recommendations and a few helpful suggestions. As they were finishing their last sips of coffee, an older woman entered the dining room. She too is Canadian but from Ontario. She is originally from Kent and is visiting England for the first time since leaving Kent during World War II. She is in her mid eighties, and clearly all those years in Ontario have not erased her English accent.  As the couple leaves, we briefly discuss our plans for solitary travel. She is back in England on a sort of pilgrimage, paying homage to her past, to her history, to her land, to her people. She speaks of a childhood marked by rations, darkness, sirens, the sounds of bombers, the persistent and pervasive fears. She worries that this generation will forget because they not only have not learned, they have not listened. She tells me that one of the unexpected benefits of this journey has been the number of people who have shared her history of war ravaged England and the validation of sharing their stories and hers. She has experienced the country emerging from 1945, and like her, it is resilient, but she worries that the healing will mask the scars and it is the scars that bear witness. The wisdom of the Crone.

  Just before crossing the street to enter Bootham Bar is the Yorkshire Museum. It adjoins St. Mary’s Abby, the gardens and the Church of St. Olaves. There is a place to sit and I am able to use the wifi emanating from the Museum. My plan is to explore York without a plan and with no expectations, although written in pencil is my wistful plan to attend Evensong at the Minster and finally hear it sung. I gather my touristy stuff and decide to explore the gardens, St. Olave’s Church by Marygate and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.

 

St. Olaves, Marygate
A view of the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey and the gardens.

Unfortunately, I am so mesmerized by a sea of iris as I approach St. Olaves that I neglect to take out my phone and take a picture. The blooms defy description. The gardens fittingly adorn this complex that dates from the early 11th Century. The Church was built in 1055. Originally dedicated to St. Olaf II of Norway, the Church remains an active Church to this day. In May of 1088 the church was rededicated to the Virgin Mary and the area grew into the richest and most powerful Bendictine Abbey in Northern England.  The richness of the Abbey did not escape the notice of King Henry VIII, and in 1539 he closed the Abbey and destroyed the structure that had been rebuilt in the 13th Century.

     I circle the Abbey Gardens drinking in the early June blooms and the echoes of times past;  meander around St. Olaves and leave via Marygate to find the entrance to the stairs that lead to the top of the wall. I have decided to walk the wall this day.

     The Wall Walk is one of the best ways to experience York. Medieval city on one side, the hustle and bustle of modern day York traffic and life on the other. The Friends of York Walls have produced a helpful and  informative guide for exploring the Wall…at www.yorkwalls.org.uk, there is a ton of information and a valuable map for making your way between the gaps, places where the wall is not, but should be. 

     The Minster dominates the city within the walls. The wall is a mosaic of city view…chimneys, roof tops, glimpses of gardens and green spaces, the wonders of the Minster appearing and receding, sunlight splashing off windows.  The path is well worn, with the steps of history on each stone.

View from the Wall

  The Minster from the top of the York Wall

     Walking the Wall is a two hour undertaking…for this traveler a  bit more…I want to see it all, to hear it all, I do not want to miss anything, but of course, I do. I reach the last bar and descend the stairs to the street below. On my way to the Shambles, hunger gets the best of me and I slip into the Wildwood Restaurant on Lower Petergate. An Italian restaurant with modern decor, I am soon sipping wine and eating perfectly cooked whole wheat penne pasta with vegetables…yummy. The diffuse sunlight has disappeared and as I leave the restaurant I am greeted by a light drizzle. This is the England I know and love!

     Any history or travel guide of York will tell you that the Shambles is the best preserved medieval street in the world. Its overhanging timbered structures and narrow streets bring back memories of times long past. Although there is a street names the Shambles, the area is a twisty turny maze of beckoning alleys and narrow streets…a maze of delight and fancy.

The Shambles

 

 

 

     The Shambles certainly looks like J.K. Rowlings’ inspiration for Diagon Alley.  There is even a shop that takes  full advantage of this inspiration.  30 The Shambles is now home to the Shop that Must not be Named. The shop is purveyor of all things Potter. Even in the chilly drizzle of midday there is a cue extending down the block of  devotees eager to explore the shop and spend their money. Because the shop is so popular, shopkeepers are only letting in a few people at a time….a crowded store must most certainly limit sales. The wonderful benefit of Harry Potter and this shop is that this new shop has endeared York to a whole new generation who will feel its magic and soak up its history.

30 The Shambles, York

 

Photo from yorkmix.com

I did not take the picture of the inside of the shop…I copied from another site. I do love Harry Potter, but not enough to stand in line in a cold drizzle just to get in the door!

     I wandered the walled city for the rest of the afternoon, dipping in and out of alleyways and small shops, making my way back to the Minster for a bit of time in the garden before attending Evensong.  As I entered the garden gate and located a bench close to the Minster, the clouds and drizzle gave way to a rosy hue that bathed the exterior of the Minster in a mystical glow. A woman asked me if she could share my bench and I smiled, nodded and moved over to make room for her. A young woman from northwest of York, I discover that she often comes to York on her own to rejuvenate and renew. Leaving children, husband,  work and mundane life behind to bask in the more ethereal. When I mention my plan to finally hear Evensong sung, she shakes her head sadly. “Not tonight,” she tells me. A bump in the path has occurred and the service will be a spoken one. Disappointed I decide to enter the Minster and sit quietly just for a few moments. I have always been drawn to the magnificence of Gothic cathedrals. Souring tributes to a god built by pagan hands. Built on sacred sites, celebrating the human spirit. York Minster is particularly beautiful. Inner arches soaring to the summit, stone embracing soaring stained glass windows. The Great East Window, the size of a tennis court it is the largest expanse of stained glass in the country. I learn that half of all the medieval stained glass in England is embraced within the walls of York Minster. During World Wars I and II, the windows were removed, hidden, protected and later reassembled. I also learn that keeping them in good repair, like the preservation of the Minster is a never ending task done by many loving and dedicated protectors.

The Great East Window

   

      After an all too brief interlude gazing at the intricate wonders of the Minster interior, I decide to return to the Shambles for a light dinner.  On Lower Petergate I discover the Rouge Cafe. Within moments I am seated, sipping a glass of red wine, enjoying a salad and a bowl of onion soup.

Tomorrow I leave York for Edinburgh, and oh, yes, I will have that apple dessert and yes, include that scoop of ice cream.       

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Until next time….
IMG_0903

One Step Leads to Another: June 1

 

    The Crone’s Way continues…on terra firma, the first day of my time in the United Kingdom begins. I have had little sleep but I am well fortified with caffeine.

     Gatwick Airport has clear directions to the Rail Station and clear signage for Platform 4, the train to Kings Cross. I quickly learn some mundane lessons as I begin my journey: using a rail pass is both quick and convenient, its use requires a very short learning curve. Part of that curve includes the ability to reserve a seat of your choice on most trains without cost. This reservation will assure you of the location of your seat as well as the direction the seat faces. Forward facing seats are usually preferable, unless, of course, you are the sort of person who is more comfortable viewing the path already taken. The use of a back pack was further validated. A backpack expedites a rush from airport to train station to crowded platforms. Something carried on your back is easier to maneuver onto the train and infinitely easier to stash in the luggage areas provided on each passenger car. These lessons I learned having settled into my rear facing seat having been ejected from my front facing seat by a fellow traveler who patiently described the reservation process to me while pointing out the tags on the various seats throughout the coach. Once settled into my seat I also learned that legible journal are not possible when travelling by rail.

     Gatwick is  about 20 miles South of London and the trip to Kings Cross lasts just over an hour, so I watched as the view outside my window emerged from airport to country and bit by bit became an urban landscape.  How long had it been since I had been to London? I leaned into the window and marveled at the skyline, new buildings, bridges, a weaving of affluent and working class neighborhoods.

     I was bound for Kings Cross and a train that would bring me to York. Kings Cross Station is situated on northern edge of London. A merging point of local and long distance rail, the station is the busiest train station in all of the United Kingdom. As I enter the main station I am surrounded by a sea of travelers, travelers with maps and questioning faces, travelers with brief cases and faces of deliberate purpose as they thread through the throng. I find the energy of this place exhilarating as I make my way to the long distance train section of the terminal.

Kings Cross Station, London

 

    Entering this part of the terminal, I am struck by how familiar it looks. Clearly I have been here several times before, but it has been many years, and there is something else about it…I smile as my eyes fall on Platform 9. For an instant I almost expect to see Platform 9 ¾ emerge from the center area. As I look at the listings of departures for my particular train, it does seem only fitting that at some point this train should take me not to York, but to Hogwarts.

     Have I mentioned that I am a big believer in magick? The power of intention. So I am not surprised that my seat to York –even without a reservation – is forward facing and boast a large window with an unobstructed view of the landscape. The passenger car itself is brimming with excited and joyful chatter; warm smiles and a cheery hello great me at every glance. The back of the car is hosting a group of women bound for York and a bachelorette weekend. I know this because they share their plans as freely as they share the plates of goodies they have brought on board, as well as the bottles of champagne that appear out of nowhere and travel throughout the car. One young woman is adorned with a short veil and its label reveals that she is the bride to be.  

     New beginnings, it is a fitting theme for my own travels and the excited chatter of the passenger car becomes a fitting sound track to my thoughts and my own expectations. I feel the magick of my own new beginnings swirl around me, tempting me to explore the possibilities, daring me to dream,  teasing me to open the gate, the magick is whirling and glittering and giggling, it sings to me, dancing and laughing, all I need do is flick my wand.

     My moment is interrupted by the arrival of the snack trolley. Lost in my own thoughts I half expect the trolley to be selling Bert’s Botts, Pumpkin Pasties or even Chocolate Frogs. But alas, the spell dissipates and I purchase a package of nuts, a small bottle of wine and a bottle of water. It is almost a two hour ride to York, so I settle in with guidebooks and itineraries.

The Train Station at York
An internal view of the York Station…note the stairs!
.

     York Railway Station is also a bustling station, especially since it is the station midway between London and Edinburgh.  Built in the 19th Century, it is functional and picturesque, but it is here that I have my first experience of stranger in a strange land. My sense of direction abandons me and I see no signs that clearly point me in the direction of my B and B. I have a map, and the directions to the B and B…are they written in English?  I sit on a bench to regroup and look around. Having developed a plan, I head for the crossover to get to the other side of the tracks. That seems to be my best bet.  The cross overs involve stairs and carrying your luggage. There are elevators (lifts) but the lines are long and stair climbing is certainly part of my future. All stairs at the station clearly remind travelers that this is the U.K. and the rule is PLEASE KEEP LEFT. I smile as I find my forward process impeded by a small group of travelers struggling with their luggage and clogging the staircase insisting on being to the right.

     As I leave the train station, I am surprised to find that nothing in the real world seems to match my maps and directions. I ask several people only to discover that I have somehow chosen folks even worse at map reading than I. I finally find the correct car park, but not the designated path, I wander looking like the lost tourist that I am. My not quite 16 pound back pack feels much heavier and the map appears even more obtuse. A gentleman stops me. “May I help you?” Gratefully I detail my plight. He smiles and tells me that I am very close, simply missing the turn onto the path. He also shows me how very close to the train station Grosvenor Terrace is once you know the way.

     Grosvenor Terrace is a quiet street lined with trees and large Victorian styled homes, many of which have been converted to B and Bs.  The Arnot House, owned by Kim Slater-Robbins and her mother Ann is a large brick home adorned with roses and resting in the middle of the street. The home was built in 1885 and has three floors, the upper two being devoted to its work as a guest house.

Arnot House
17 Grosvenor Terrace, York

     Kim greeted me with a huge smile and listened to the tale of my adventure from train to Arnot House with empathy…I removed my three ton back pack and she insisted on carrying it up the one flight of stairs and into my room. The room was sparkling and spotless with  those extra touches that were to set a very high bar for the rest of my travels: little necessities like band aids and a sewing kit to the canister of baked goods, pot for tea and coffee and a decanter of the most lovely sherry. Kim gave me the grand tour, explained about breakfast and options for my visit in York.  Although I was tired, I was also hungry, so after Kim left, I washed my face, brushed my teeth and headed downstairs to ask Kim about the nearest place where a hungry traveler might find food and a pint.

    

     Suggestion and directions in hand, I turn left off Grosvenor Terrace and head toward Bootham Bar. I have learned that Bootham Bar is not a bar in the American sense, but rather an opening, a gate through the city wall. York’s City Wall is impressive. It is the most complete example of a medieval wall in all of England, and stands on the ruins of the Roman Wall built before it. I enter Bootham Bar, leaving all motorized vehicles behind and I am in the midst of a river of pedestrian traffic. A narrow street lined with shops and eateries, High Petergate is closed to both bicycle and vehicle traffic from 10:30 to 5:00 daily.  Kim has recommended Hole in the Wall Pub which is not far within the gate, on my left. I enter and am relieved to find an open table close to the large window that opens onto the street. As I sit I can see the passersby and I notice a large table of locals to my left. I know they are locals because even though they smile at me, they have been complaining about the early influx of tourists.

Bootham Bar, York,

     If you were asked to describe a typical English pub, you would describe Hole in the Wall. As you enter, the brick façade gives way to warm woods, brass the hint of music under laughter and serious conversation, a well-stocked bar and the smells of chips and ale. The pub at first seems small and intimate, but further exploration reveals twists and turns and the promise of a larger gathering place.

     One of the women at the large table catches my eye and leans toward me, she explains that food needs to be ordered at the kitchen, and drinks at the bar. I laugh and thank her saying that without her help I would have waited quite a long time for my first meal in York! The group is friendly and I easily get directions to the kitchen and suggestions on the menu, as well as other information on how the entire process works.

     Of course, I opt for fish and chips as my first official meal in the U.K..  The woman at the kitchen window asks if I want mushy peas with my fish. Mushy peas?  How could I have forgotten about mushy peas? Yes, of course, mushy peas…then to the bar for my pint of Guinness…double poured. I arrive with my drink at my table, hoist my glass to the helpers on my left, they approved…my dinner arrives…life is good.

    

     I step outside the pub and decide not to go back to the Arnot House, but rather turn left and head up High Petergate to the Minster. York Minster dominates the city, I step through the garden gate and my eyes reach skyward. It is impressive, majestic, beautiful, breath taking. The bells are tolling and I hear the organ drifting through the garden. It is Evensong. There are no words. Regardless of your beliefs, no matter what your religion, no matter your history, sometimes your soul just knows, this is a sacred time, this is sacred space in a sacred land.