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2003 Discovering Britain & Ireland – Day 5

STRATFORD to YORK – start of the spending spree

Thursday – after a very restful night in this Elizabethan town it is time to rise and shine and prepare for another day.

Going downstairs for breakfast I am looking forward to the ‘full English breakfast’ as promised in the tour book, but there is a small problem – cereal, juice and toast – OK so far – and then after telling them not to serve me eggs – yep they served me eggs.  That went back quick smart and got a double serve of bacon and tomato with some nice mushrooms. I wonder if all our breakfasts are going to be exciting like this?

As was my plan from yesterday I get on the coach first and grab the window.  When my seating partner she gets on I suggest to her that we will take it in turns to sit near the window and she is OK with that and says it is a good idea.  Our Tour Director Paul – has given us a huge Insight map of Britain & Ireland so that we can mark out where we are going.  He hands around his ‘highlighted and marked out map of where we are going today’ and we copy from it. What a great idea although it is a bit awkward at times folding a map that is about 1 metre square to a writeable size. It definitely is some sort of initiative test and I think maybe I passed but there were a few that maybe got a D or even an F.

Today we start by heading off to the Wedgwood factory. Now Wedgwood doesn’t really excite me all that much. It is very pretty and the tourist in me says you’ve got to have some Wedgwood from Wedgwood, so some pressies for those at home and me. Now I realise that I’ve got to carry the extremely fragile pieces around for the next 25 days and make sure it doesn’t break. Stop and have a chat with a few workers on how they put the decorations on the pieces by hand and this is very interesting. I must admit this is the only place I didn’t take any photos and I am sure that the camera breathes a sigh of relief.

Back on the coach – heading east and my seating partner comments on how my Wedgwood bag is bigger than hers. I keep my composure and smile and say I most probably spent more. Maybe sitting near the window was not a good idea as by the time she is in her seat I am squashed up near the window. At least on the aisle I could put my legs out into the walkway and spread out.  Oh well, the trip goes on.  Insight really should look at this problem of ‘overweight’ customers who cannot fit into their own seat and must take up about 25% of the seat beside them.

We head north through Nottingham – I would like to stop here, but we go straight through. Looking, looking I don’t see Robin Hood or the Sheriff – and we have a lunch stop for half an hour at some cafeteria type place and then head off to York.  On the way to York the book says ‘We view Warwick Castle’.

This was a quick zip past so if you go on this tour make sure you have the camera ready at a fast shutter speed.  However, our driver Kenny, ever thoughtful of his customers does turn the bus around and we go for a ‘slow’ pass by. You still can’t see much – see photo left – but at least I can say I saw Warwick Castle.  And if I read about it – I will know what it looks like.

We arrive in York and head to our hotel for the night, the Quality Hotel. Get my key and head off to the room but the lift is so slow.  Nice room, clean and the bed comfortable but overall very sparse.  After we get organised we meet back downstairs and then Paul takes us on a walking tour of York and we see The Shambles.

HISTORY LESSON:  The Shambles is an old street with overhanging timber framed buildings, some dating back as far as the fourteenth century.

It was once known as The Great Flesh Shambles probably from the Anglo-Saxon Fleshammels (literally ‘flesh-shelves’), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their wares. As recently as 1872 there were twenty-five butchers’ shops in the street but now there are none.

There is still a butcher in the adjacent Little Shambles which leads to York’s open-air Newgate Market. Among the buildings of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who owned and lived in a shop there. Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside and, below them, shelves on which meat would have been displayed.

The shops currently comprise a mixture of eateries and souvenir shops, but there is also a bookshop and a baker.  Really narrow streets with the lovely little shops so close together you could just about leap from the roof of one side to the roof on the other side.

This town is really full of interesting nooks and crannies and I would love to have the time to just meander around all the shops but we must press on and head for York Minster.What an incredible place. A huge statue of Constantine the Great, who was proclaimed Emperor here in 306 AD, out the front and after another little chat Paul leaves us to discover The Minster and York by ourselves.

The carvings on the outside are unbelievable and you can take photos inside – so here we go again. So full of history – it’s hard to imagine anyone being able to build something like this all those years ago.

HISTORY LESSON:  The first recorded church on the site was a wooden structure built hurriedly in 627 to provide a place to baptise Edwin, King of Northumbria. Moves toward a more substantial building began in the 630s. A stone structure was completed in 637 by Oswald and was dedicated to Saint Peter. The church soon fell into disrepair and was dilapidated by 670 when Saint Wilfrid ascended to the see of York. He repaired and renewed the structure. The attached school and library were established and by the 8th century were some of the most substantial in northern Europe.

In 741 the church was destroyed in a fire. It was rebuilt as a more impressive structure containing thirty altars. The church and the entire area then passed through the hands of numerous invaders, and its history is obscure until the 10th century. There was a series of Benedictine archbishops, including Saint Oswald, Wulfstan, and Ealdred, who travelled to Westminster to crown William in 1066. Ealdred died in 1069 and was buried in the church.

After visiting this incredible building we can make our own way back to the hotel. I decide to visit the Norman Keep – Clifford’s Tower built circa 1090 AD.  This is a fortress on the top of a hill – more steps but well worth the climb.  So much history I just don’t know where to look next.

Heading back to the hotel there are buskers in the streets as it is school Summer holidays – a group of music students are playing Bolero and they are doing a great job so I throw a couple of coins into the case.

Dinner is not included tonight so we have to fend for ourselves. I find a nice ‘Pye Shoppe’ and buy a humungous chicken pastie and an apple & raspberry tart – that should keep me going for a while.

When I get back to my room I devour the food and fall into bed for an early night – sleep, sleep.

Highlight of the day : the history of York Minster

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