York is one of Britain’s most historically significant cities and can trace its roots back to the arrival of the Roman legions in 71 AD when they erected a garrison at the confluence of the Ouse and the Foss. Such was its importance that it attracted all the big names of the time including the emperors Hadrian, Septimus Severus and Constantine. The Saxons took over for a while when the Romans went home but it later fell to the Vikings who knocked the lot down, threw everything out and decided to refurbish in the style of Ikea. The changes were obviously not to the taste of William the Conqueror because he burned the lot down a couple of hundred years later. There was a small period of architectural stability of 900 years before it was the turn of the Germans to try and flatten the place in World War 11. In between York had been regenerated by the railways in the early 19th century which allowed it to regain much of its former glory and by industry both heavy and light. The latter notably included confectionery, particularly the firms of Rowntree and Terry’s.
York has been the undisputed capital of the North for 2000 years and today enjoys the fruits of its historic labours as tourism is far and away the biggest earner. In July and August you will barely be able to inhale for the squadrons of demented tourists cooing at the grandeur of the Minster or wittering at the tangle of narrow streets that make up its medieval heart. If you are American, a lover of history or have a fondness for tat then York is the place for you.
Where To Eat
Lancashire. Derbyshire. Lincolnshire. Indeed any surrounding county offers greater culinary alternatives. Mind you so does starvation. If you are, by any chance, a political activist seeking to prove your point by going on hunger strike then we can think of no better place to do such a thing than York. Not eating here would be so much more enjoyable than not eating somewhere else. That is of course unless you have a liking for the cold and the over-cooked, the fatty and the bland, the cholesterol-laden and the plain inedible. All of the above can readily be found within York’s ancient walls – and all served in a great big foxtrot-oscar Yorkshire pudding. If you learn nothing else from this website (and let’s face it, that is more than probable) then learn this:
Pub grub in York and all three Ridings of Yorkshire is crap
Lasagne, haddock with or without batter, Cumberland sausage, steak pie and chilli con carne, that’s your lot. If anyone finds a pub menu with anything else as a standard meal then we will award you a prize (not really). Here’s a simple rule of thumb which your stomach will be eternally grateful to you for following, it should be followed in general but particularly in York. Pubs are for drinking in, restaurants are for eating in. Of the latter, the Lime House did look as if it offered something a bit above the less than ordinary (i.e. it didn’t seem to serve things in Yorkshire pudding) but sadly we didn’t have the opportunity to indulge owing to a prior engagement (drinking beer). The seabass on seafood paella looked the business. The Tasting Room and Rish both looked the kind of place your stomach might enjoy. Finally the Plumbers can firmly recommend Victor J’s in Finkle Street off St Sampson’s Square. Run by the delightful and eye-pleasing Victoria and Jennifer from Hamilton, it is the best art bar in York bar none. Chic, laid back and trendy but none the worse for that. Try some of the excellent food, enjoy a cold beer or a Baileys latte, buy a painting or just look at Victoria and Jennifer.
Where To Drink
Well not in the bars because they aren’t pubs but are actually gateways to different parts of the city. Ask a local to recommend a good bar and you’ll undoubtedly get the Tennent’s lager taken out of you. York has a huge selection of pubs ranging from Ye Olde Pubbe to designer chic with stopping off points at bland chain pubs and good old spit and sawdust. First up we’d recommend The Maltings on Tanners Moat, just two minutes from the railway station. It’s a fine pub with an overwhelming selection of real ales but its award-winning rep means it is usually packed to the gunnels. A Plumbers’ thumbs up. If you want to go to a pub with Swan it its name then definitely go Black rather than White. The Black Swan in Peasholm Green is a fine 16th century hostelry replete with oak beams, stone floors and proper beers. The Old White Swan is a strange mish-mash of Australia meets York meets smoke. The Hole in the Wall on High Petergate is worth a visit. It smelled a bit of paint but we’re sure that’s gone by now. Good selection of beers and a rigged quiz on Thursday nights. On Stonegate you can choose between Ye Olde Starre Inn (get over the name) or The Punchbowl (get over the food). The former is said to be York’s oldest pub and has various nooks and crannies to enjoy some good beer. The latter is haunted by two ghosts and its bar meals menu.
We have to give a big Plumbers’ thumbs down to The Lowther mainly because it is huge, manky, serves rotten food, and suffers from peeling furniture, a surfeit of ash and students. There are said to 365 pubs in the city of York and hard as we tried to drink in all of them in order to give you a full and proper recommendation, we sadly failed. For a full list you could try the online York Pub Guide
Where To Stay
The Plumbers stayed in the Orchard Court Hotel in St Peter’s Grove in Bootham, not far from York City’s football ground. Perhaps the management misheard us when we booked and thought we said five single rooms for midgets instead of five rooms for fully-grown (in some cases overgrown) adults. That is the only thing to explain the teeny rooms in which it would be quite impossible to swing a cat unless you dangled it out the window. One advantage is that while lying in bed it is possible to touch all four walls and turn off the light without leaving the confines of your duvet. You can’t do that in the Dorchester unless you get a really big bed. Or have really long arms. At just £40 a night for a room it is decent value for money and the cooked breakfasts make up in part for the small rooms (we mean really small – call Norris McWhirter now unless he is the one that’s dead). Ideal for jockeys. No offence is meant to midgets or other people of restricted growth.
What To Avoid
Apart from the aforementioned pub grub, the top of any avoidance list would be the Mickelgate Run. This charming peace of York custom involves being on said Micklegate of a weekend and getting duffed up by the local youth who have tried to in drink every hostelry in the vicinity. It’s like a pub crawl along Edinburgh’s Rose Street but with added violence. If you can make it from one end of the street to the other without getting kicked or punched then you are most probably a policeman. In fact you are probably three policemen. Our second suggestion may be a controversial choice but you could also do worse than avoid Betty’s Tearooms. The reasons are too many to list but principal amongst them are old people, rip-off prices and scones. In fact scones would be reason enough.
York is full of it. This city has almost as many museums as it has terrible meals. Take your pick between the National Railway Museum, the Jorvik Viking Centre, the Castle Museum or the Yorkshire Museum. The open top bus tour – a must on any Plumbers’ outing and the perfect cure for a serious hangover – is worth going on if only for the entertainment provided by the barely live guides. York may have possibly the oldest tour guides in the world and you can amuse yourself by talking bets on whether yours will still be alive by the end of the journey. If that isn’t culture enough for you then there is York Minster (big church), the Shambles (narrow street) and the York Dungeon (a dungeon). Clifford’s Tower, perched on a mound built by William the Conqueror, is where half of the city’s Jewish population were burned to death in 1190. There’s lots of other stuff about it but get on a bus and if you get stuck at the traffic lights then the barely live guide will tell you more than you need to know.
York is well served by motorway and rail links. It’s a four-hour drive from London or Edinburgh but 25 trains a day stop en route between the two capitals so why bother? The nearest airport is Leeds, an hour’s drive away.
Getting To The Course
York Racecourse is about two miles from the train station and you can get shuttle buses or taxis there if you don’t fancy the walk. And let’s face it, who would?
About The Course
Racing has taken place on this site since 1731, with the first grandstand overlooking the Knavesmire completed in 1754. York is one of the premier racecourses in Europe and always offers a high standard of racing. Today you can choose between the Grandstand or County Stand and 20 different food outlets. However when considering eating you must remember that you are in Yorkshire. It’s worth shelling out for the reservation-only Ebor or Voltigeur Restuarants or the Gymcrack Room and therefore ensure avoiding the horrors of the pub grub. Entrance prices range from £9 for the Grandstand or paddock up to £42 for the County Stand during the excellent Ebor festival The course itself is left-handed and U-shaped, and is well suited to powerful gallopers.
What To Wear
Gentlemen are expected to wear a jacket and tie in the County Stand but it is usually more informal elsewhere.
The Travel Guide recommends: Fred Dodds, 116 Hamilton Drive, York. Tel: 01904 792382.