Our train from London got off on time and we sped north… for a while. Then we slowed. We were told the train ahead of us was on “reduced power”. Eventually we stopped and took on all the passengers from that train.
Fields and distant power plants – that’s most of what I recall from the ride.
We’d reserved a compact Mondeo with Hertz – it’s about the size of an Alero, which is good for the narrow UK roads. We were greeted at counter with “We have a saloon car for you.” Say what? We got the keys to a Vauxhall Omega, the British Buick. At least the trunk hid all the luggage.
We hadn’t driven on the left since New Zealand. I think I ran up onto two sidewalks in the five minutes it took us to get to the hotel.
In York we stayed at the Alexander House, a nicely updated rowhouse a short walk from the city walls. Dave and Jillian are cheerful hosts, Dave wisely offering to navigate our saloon car into the alley lot behind the inn.
It’s free to enter but two pounds if you want to take pictures. It’s a church, so don’t forget to take off your hat. They’ll remind you if you don’t. Three pounds to tour the Undercroft, where you can see the original Roman foundations and watch water still flow though the ancient wells. Interesting artifacts down there.
It’s another couple of pounds to take the stairs to the roof. Be warned that the spiral staircase is wound tight and I found it claustrophobic – 250 steps to the top and it gets Phantom of the Opera weird in there if the church pipe organ kicks in like it did for us. It’s a relief to burst out into the chicken-wire safety cage at the top, even if it’s pouring rain when you get there.
York is where we learned you can’t get a meal between about 2 and 7 PM in Great Britain. Restaurant lights are on but the doors are locked. It’s much worse when it’s raining. We contented ourselves with ale at the Three-Legged Mare until Guy Fawkes’ House opened for dinner.
Nothing like heavy skies on a quiet Sunday evening to remind you that you’re in England. We stopped at the Swan on the way back to the hotel to down some Tetley’s – at 9:30 PM light still poured through the windows. The UK is much farther north than Washington, DC and in summer the days last a good bit longer.
Don’t waste too much film on that first peacock that greets you by the entrance. There are plenty more on the grounds, and they’ll probably do the plumage thing for you.
It’s a good place to start the day. More info on the estate can be found here. Never knew the rhododenron came in so many varieties. We overheard the gardeners grumbling about all the bloody roses.
West of Castle Howard is Abbey Territory. The guidebook mentions a hiking trail that starts in Helmsley leading to Rievaulx Abbey, but we recommend you just drive there. Especially if it’s raining again.
There’s a good indoor exhibit which details the history of the abbey movement and Rievaulx in particular. The hills are alive with loud sheep.
Somebody needs to trim the roadside hedges in northern England. Those roads are impossibly narrow as it is.
Fountains Abbey, on the way out of York toward the Lake District, is more functional that Rievaulx – they’ll host concerts, weddings, etc. Much bigger grounds, including a lovely view from Anne Boleyn’s favorite spot (though that’s maybe not as majestic as the guidebook would suggest).
In London I’d purchased the Roads and Recreation Europe data pack for my handheld GPS unit, hoping it would give us point-to-point directions for navigating these back roads. No dice. There’s plenty of road map information in there, but not quite enough for turn-by-turn directions. Still, it’s really handy to know when you’re near one of the A roads.
Then there’s the guidebook. A word about the Yorkshire Dales map on page 784 of the Lonely Planet England guide (2001) – the unmarked road between Conistone and Malham doesn’t exist. And that lady at the hotel in Kilnsey isn’t any help. Buy an ice cream bar at the restaurant on B6160 and somebody there will straighten you out.
At the western edge of the Dales near Malham is the Gordale Scar. It’s not well-marked – we suspected we’d passed it when the blacktop ran out and a farmer looked at us like we were jerks. There’s a little stream with a little bridge where the road splits – that’s a good spot to park. Back in the day that little stream gouged out about a hundred feet of limestone to make the scar, which is worth the 15-minute walk to visit.