I spent the weekend being a tourist, twice in my home town of York. York is a city that, since I no longer live there, I have actually come to appreciate more. Whilst growing up there you took the historic buildings for granted, and the hordes of guided tours just got in your way. But now I see the city in a very different light.
On Friday afternoon, we spent a bit of time at the National Railway Museum – one of my favourite museums as a child, but my last visit was in 2007 (although I blogged about it last year). The main attraction is the return of Mallard, which spent many years in the main hall at the museum but was recently sent to the Shildon Locomotion Museum in County Durham; however, it’s in York on a brief visit and presently takes pride of place on the main turntable. The museum is undergoing a lot of renovation at present, which includes a new entrance hall, so there are fewer attractions than normal – the station hall in particular was rather sparse, which was a shame.
On Saturday, we eschewed York and headed up to the small market town of Helmsley, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park. In particular, we visited Helmsley Castle, parts of which date from the 12th century but has been mostly ruined since the British Civil War in the 1600s. It’s now looked after by English Heritage, and for a little under a fiver each for adults you can spend a couple of hours wandering around. There’s also a museum section, which shows some of the finds that have been excavated as well as information about the castle’s history and how it would have looked over various key periods in its history.
Finally on Sunday we went back into York city centre, partly for some sightseeing but mostly for shopping, for which York is very good. Whilst there aren’t many large branches of chain stores (with the exception of a large Marks & Spencer, split across two sites), there are plenty of smaller shops and thankfully most don’t sell tourist tat. There’s now a sausage shop on The Shambles, and we also called in at Betty’s for some of their fondant cakes which change regularly. We were hoping to go to the Jorvik Viking Centre – again, despite living in York I haven’t visited this in nearly 20 years – but it’s rather expensive unless you make a day of it and go to the other museums (DIG, Barley Hall and Micklegate Bar Museum) – a £16 ticket lets you into all four.
In a way, it’s refreshing to be a tourist in your home town. You can take time to go to the places that you walk past every day, and maybe discover things that you never knew existed. At the same time, you have the advantage of knowing your way around and knowing the best places to eat, or what to avoid. Whilst not every town is set up for tourism, if yours is, give it a try. You can even do it in places like Bradford.