York: To the glorious and unknown

At the moment I am on the train home from York, edging slowly past Prestonpans and Wallyford, soon arriving at Waverley. I have probably missed my connection to Glasgow so will have to wait for the next one, which will take longer and go via Bathgate and Airdrie. I’ll get home eventually. In the meantime, there’s a gorgeous sky tonight, orange and casting Leith into silhouette, the clouds rough brushstrokes and many colours being cast across the broad East Lothian sky. There’s gold and blue, dark blue clouds, white clouds, slate grey clouds, oranges and yellows in the sky, the hills purple, trees shorn of colour as silhouettes as the last of the light drains away.

This is probably the first day trip I’ve had in April with snow. I’ve had a day trip in March when I was able to wear shorts due to the unseasonal heat but snow right at the end of April is a new one on me. It was very snowy as the train passed through Lanarkshire this morning, at first dry then it started snowing again with a wee flurry. It was proper Christmas card snow, the kind that lines tree branches and is untouched by footprints. As the train got closer to Edinburgh, though, the snow turned to rain, which was largely as it continued as the train crossed the border. There appears to be some snow still on the Pentlands as the train home passes Murrayfield, incidentally. This morning the last snow I encountered was at Innerwick, near Dunbar, where it lay on the hills behind towards Johncleugh.

I was sat on the right on the train down, the wrong side if you want to see the sea, as I tend to. Being a generally awkward bugger has its drawbacks especially when there is the added complication of someone sitting in the way of the opposite window, especially if that someone is young and female. This happens more often than you would think and add to that a train guard getting in the road at the best bit, this morning as the train passed Belhaven Bay, then it only gets better. What little I saw of the sea was that it was slate grey, lighter near the horizon.

As the train neared York, the scenery got interesting again. There was an abandoned caravan near the edge of a wooded grove near Northallerton, which conjured up lots of ideas for stories. Not long before that, there were signs beside the railway, not one but two, marking that County Durham was that way and I was now entering Yorkshire. It reminded me of one of the Wallace and Gromit films where they can see the Yorkshire border from their house.

Those who know me will tell you I have few prejudices. I am generally averse only to Hearts fans and white people with dreadlocks. Dreads should be left to the Rastafarians. Anyway, as of today, I am now only against Hearts fans and that’s not changing. I was taking photos of the curved station roof at York when a young guy with dreadlocks very kindly pointed out a better place to get photos of the station.

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I love York. It is a historically fascinating place and it has good memories for me of many visits. This time I came armed with a copy of a travel guide called ‘The Snickelways of York’, directing the reader through what I would call the vennels and closes of York. I decided to go for a walk around the Walls first then go for a wander around from there. I had walked the Walls before and decided to walk anti-clockwise, ending up near the Minster. Some of the surroundings were nice, some a bit less so. There were lots of ducks near the Ouse and the court. What kind of ducks they were, please do let me know. Nearby there was an example of quite sympathetic modern architecture, blending in quite well with the court buildings and the Walls, which was a Wetherspoons, of all things. It was the kind of thing Prince Charles would approve of, I think, except I doubt he’ll be popping in for a Jagerbomb any time soon. Me agreeing with the Duke of Rothesay on architecture (or anything) is quite radical.

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The Snickelways of York with a cameo from my legs and my story notebook

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As the rain started, I was thankfully near the end of the Walls. I nipped across the river to the National Railway Museum. I call the NRM the most autistic place on earth, purely because a lot of the visitors seem to be fellow spectrum dwellers. For a lot of us, it’s like Disneyland but without the bright lights and sugar. I am not a train geek, really. I have a casual interest. But NRM is braw, though, with some great old signs, the open museum store where you can walk in the midst of objects (including old Glasgow Subway signs) and the Mallard as well as the Flying Scotsman that’s been in the news a lot recently because of its recent restoration. The best bit, though, is the NRM’s library, which is called…Search Engine. Class. I tried to get a selfie next to the sign but alas was unsuccessful.

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If these rules applied today, I would have a rap sheet as long as my arm.
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Museum Store
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Glasgow Subway signs
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Flying Scotsman

To York Minster and I got a student ticket, saving the princely sum of £1 on the standard punter price. It is a fine church but not my favourite in England: that is the mighty Durham Cathedral which I had passed earlier (and is free to get into, incidentally). I am a heathen but I like churches as places to think. Luckily the management at York Minster thinks the same – despite the construction work – with one of the clergymen standing up to invite visitors to take a moment in quiet contemplation. Evidently it was a regular thing and I think it should be expanded to the rest of the world too. I sat for a while in the Chapter House, possibly the nicest place in the whole city, with my thoughts and just absorbing the architecture.

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After tea, I headed for Museum Gardens, which has a bit of the City Walls in it, as well as the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. The Gardens went on forever with a mosaic showing an 18th century map of the local geology and then behind a wall there was an edible vegetable garden for the benefit of local folk. Yorkshire Museum is fine but it’s £7.50 to get in, gey steep when there’s real life history, for nowt, right outside the door. The Abbey ruins, coupled with the city buildings around, were more than enough for me. Sometimes just stepping out into the world is what you need, rather than just glancing at a screen or a museum’s exhibition panel.

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St. Mary’s Abbey

It’s dark now, the train’s just pulling into Airdrie. Thankfully there aren’t any bams floating about to disturb my happiness tonight. The last bit of tonight’s adventure is to make a tight connection, crossing town from Queen Street to Central at a rate of knots. Chronicling today’s day trip has reminded me of all the plans and tangents and discoveries of today, leading on, as a signpost in the NRM put it, to the glorious and unknown.

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