Wednesday, 31 August 2016

A week up North

Sometimes you win £300 on a couples game show and you impulse book a trip to Yorkshire. 

When you time that trip with a birthday, and a long weekend in Middlesborough with your pals, it becomes the staycation that dreams are made of. I am, well I was, painfully unfamiliar with the North - by which I mean anywhere north of London. I've been to Liverpool once, and Yorkshire twice, and I think that's pretty much my claim to Northern fame. Until now. With our winnings, we booked to stay in Appleton-le-Street, a tiny village neatly positioned between York and the North York Moors, for 3 nights before heading up to Middlesborough for another few nights. It was a relaxing, but fun-packed week of sightseeing and wandering and boat tripping, and the greatest introduction to North that I could have wanted. 

One of the main reasons we decided to go to Yorkshire was to go to York. I had fond memories of vikings and forts from going as a child, and Simon had only been once before and spent it caught in torrential rain. So, our first day was spent in York, in beautiful sunshine. It's a lovely city just to be in, wandering the streets, sitting in the Museum Gardens, popping in the shops to buy emergency socks. We kicked off our day with York Minster which, to me, what surprisingly huge and set up as a really impressive tourist attraction. We paid to go round the cathedral and the crypts, and I'm so glad we did because there was so much to see and learn. The stained glass windows were incredibly impressive, but the crypts were one of the real highlights. We discovered one of the coolest, most Gothic artefacts I've ever seen: the Doomstone - which depicts damned souls being pushed into a cauldron by creepy goblins. The 'educational' aspect of the tour was really great, with some of the undercroft having been turned into a kind of exhibition, about the construction of York Minster and the redesign and rebuilding which has taken place over the years. It's a definite must-see if you're in York. After a picnic lunch in the Museum Gardens, we headed down to the river for a boat trip. York Boat had an open top, so we could cruise along the river in the sun, seeing the scenery and learning about some local history. It was a really relaxing way to spend 45 minutes, and a great way to see another side of the city. We couldn't leave York without visiting the fort, and walking the city walls - and did so just as it was cooling down, and the sun was beginning to set. The city walls are such an iconic and novel thing in York, and walking along them feels a bit like being in an ancient adventure playground. From the walls we had amazing views of the city, especially the cathedral, and it was the perfect way to end a really lovely day. We made a GBK pit stop before heading back, because burgers and student discount and the skinniest, tastiest fries, and headed for the Park & Ride. 

Our second day was rainy. Classic the North. Since we were staying just down the road from Castle Howard, and we love a castle, we decided we'd head there for a day of giant houses, impressive gardens and hanging out with pensioners. And that's exactly what we did. We enjoyed wandering round the house, seeing both the authentic bits and, later, unauthentic rooms which had been destroyed by a fire - and learning about it's famed reputation for being the location for the filming of Brideshead Revisited. In a short gap in the rain, we headed into the forest, to the reservoir and the Temple of the Winds - and I wish the weather had held out for longer so we could have done some more exploring of the lake! However, a wet afternoon provided the perfect setting to go and explore the Moors. So we headed off, into the mist, and the grey, and the wind (in the car) for a drive. I love the Moors because there's something so simultaneously enthralling and bleak about them. I feel like I'm being sucked right back in to Wuthering Heights, and always on the lookout for Heathcliff...or a ghost. Instead, we discovered some nice sheep, heather, and a really cool little ford. 

Gradually making our way further north, we spent our next day in Whitby, which was buzzing on its Regatta Weekend. I had quite a distinctive image in my mind about what Whitby was going to be like (think tacky seaside town), but it was anything but. It was a cross between a quaint coastal town and an actual real life place, where people, not just tourists, can spend time. We ventured up the steps, on to the cliff, to Whitby Abbey - the Gothic ruins which inspired Bram Stoker's Dracula. We walked around in bright sunshine, but you can imagine on a darker, stormier and quieter night, it would be really eerie and you'd find yourself looking over your shoulder...for Dracula. There was so much going on in Whitby: from fun fairs, to outdoor theatre, to dog shows - and there was a brilliant, welcoming, family atmosphere. Although it was busy, it was a cosy kind of busy, far away from London, where you felt like everyone wanted to be there, despite the rain, and everyone was having fun. 

Our penultimate day took us to the Farne Islands, a group of islands located 3 miles off the coast of Northumberland. We took a 3 hour boat trip from Seahouses, around the islands, stopping on the main island for a nosey round, before returning back to shore. The Farne Islands are renowned for their wildlife, and we were lucky enough to see so many seals, as well as many different kinds of sea bird. It was so great, and I'd 100% recommend it. Then, what better way to spend our last day than in Newcastle. A delicious lunch at The Botanist was followed by a wander around the city in the sun. It was the first time I'd ever been to Newcastle, and I hope it's not the last. It was really cool to see the Tyne Bridge, and pop into the Baltic art gallery quickly before it closed. We made a quick pit stop to see The Angel of the North up close and personal on our way back, which was a real highlight. It's such an enormous, iconic and impressive structure - and made me feel like I'd truly been in the North! 

It was such a chilled, fun week of visiting new places, experiencing some of the wonders of the North, and spending quality time in lovely company. It's made me want to go on some sort of staycation every year; there's so much of the UK that I've not seen, and so many amazing places to visit. Next on my list is the Lake District, and Wales, and Cornwall. Oh and Edinburgh! It was a much needed reminder that you don't have to leave the country to have time away, to see new places, and to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Plus, I got a hair braid whilst in York - and that's a sign if there ever was one that you're truly on holiday! 

Big up the staycation, and big up the North. 


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