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.
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.
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.
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.
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.