The final leg of our great north run saw us in England’s ‘second’ capital – variously called Eboracum by the Romans, Eoforwic by the Saxons, Yorvik by the Vikings, Everwic by the Normans, then on to Yerk, Yourke, Yarke and finally – York. The city has an ancient pedigree, medieval city walls to march round, a higgledy-piggledy heart and a gigantic Gothic minster dominating the skyline.
York has fascination around every corner – who knew that Constantine the Great was proclaimed Roman Emperor there in 306 AD? But, unsurprisingly, it’s also packed with tourists from just about everywhere. After an hour or two weaving through the international swarm, we were relieved to find a traditional Italian to fill our bellies and rest our tired old hides. Of course, the over-indulgence of the previous three days in Knaresborough might have had something to do with it.
The pasta was delicious as was the hair of the dog that washed it down.
The heatwave is just a distant memory and autumn is here. The mugging sun has given way to pearly skies and so, before we whack up the heat, roll out the winter duvet and drop into hibernation, we decided on another northern recce. Last year, we spent a few boozy days in Leeds with a whistle stop at Knaresborough thrown into the mix. We were so enamoured with the little town, this time we lodged there for a few days to get a fuller flavour. I was also on a mission to catch up with an old friend I hadn’t seen for more than a decade. She got hitched in nearby Harrogate in 2004 and I attended the nuptials. After our last jaunt, I discovered she now lives in Knaresborough with her beau and assorted kids. I kicked myself for not catching up at the time and I wasn’t about to make the same mistake.
Me in 2004 – I’ve not changed a bit! And yes, I was a little drunk!
And catch up we did with a vengeance – at a local hostelry when we arrived, for a slice of Victoria sponge down by the river Nidd the next day and a home-cooked lamb roast the evening after. We nattered, we drank, we laughed. The organised chaos of family life was pure joy.
Ramped to the rafters with independent shops and watering holes, Knaresborough has been little troubled by the relentless march of corporate chains dominating most high streets these days. Long may that be so. We also jumped on a bus to handsome Harrogate for a spot of lunch. The Victorian town is uber-elegant but a bit too coiffured for my liking – more set, blow and dry when compared to Knaresborough’s quirky curls.
And so to the snaps…
It rained a bit. Well that’s the north for you. When circumstances allow, we could be looking for somewhere new to lay our cloth caps. The little batty and tatty town is still at the top of the leader board. I might even get a whippet.
It’s my habit to pop out for a mid-morning coffee following the torture at the gym. One sunny day I parked myself outside a café to rest my weary bones, sip my americano, scan my newspaper and watch the ebb and flow of the eclectic crowd. A sallow-faced, reedy man plonked himself down in front of me. He was playing Rick Astley’s ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ on his phone – not too loud to cause a stir but loud enough to raise eyebrows.
A silver-haired old chap with a walking stick shuffled past.
‘Like the music?’ he asked.
‘It’s fine,’ I replied. ‘I don’t mind a bit of Rick.’
‘Some Pet Shop Boys would be nicer,’ he said with a wink.
I tend to agree. And so to the Pet Shop Boys anthem which was the soundtrack to many a young man’s coming out back in the day.
And what better place to have one than Brick Lane in London, the curry capital of the UK and popularly known as Banglatown? The area has seen successive waves of immigrants down the centuries – French Huguenots fleeing religious persecution, East European Jews escaping murderous pogroms and, more recently, Bangladeshis seeking work in the sweat shops of the rag trade. There’s no greater symbol of this evolution than the Brick Lane Jamme Masjid, a Grade II listed Georgian building which has gone from church to synagogue and now to mosque. Forget the messy Brexit, for me, it represents what London is all about.
The changes are still a-ringing. Brick Lane is rapidly becoming a magnet for creatives and fashionistas, trend-setters and tourists, and the streets provide a canvas for some stunning wall art. We added to the chaotic throng, day trippers on a mission for ‘authentic’ South Asian grub and a catch-up with two old friends. We nattered so much, I hardly took any photos but I did manage to snap this quirky sculpture near Spitalfields Market as we meandered back to Liverpool Street Station to catch our train home. What’s it about? Beats me but I love it.
Little ol’ Norwich has been voted as one of the top twelve places to live in the UK according to the Sunday Times (as reported in our local rag, The Norwich Evening News). And then Time Out London did a full page spread praising Norwich as one of the happiest cities in the realm. The magazine recommends a few places we know well – The Grosvenor Fish Bar (voted as one of the best chippies anywhere), Wild Thyme for the veggies (but sadly out of action right now due to an inconvenient fire), The Plough (prettiest beer garden in the city), The Playhouse Bar (for an arty student vibe) and Strangers Coffee House (they have their own roastery). I could’ve written the piece myself.
So why are we thinking about laying our cloth cap in God’s Own Country when the time is right? Well, we like it Oop North and, as we shuffle towards our twilight years, it pays to be on the right side of God. Just in case.
Time Out page courtesy of – you know who you are!
Last month’s prolonged heatwave, reminiscent of our Turkey days, drove us from the sticky city to the cute little towns of Bungay and Beccles, just across the county line. Norfolk and Suffolk (the north folk and the south folk) are sister shires of the old East Anglian Kingdom and a gentle rivalry still persists between them, most notably played out on the pitch when Norwich play Ipswich at the footie. Bungay is a handsome town where the pace of life is stationary. At its heart is a long-abandoned tumbledown castle. A finely-tuned imagination is needed to picture it in its former glory.
After a slow meander around the Georgian streets, we settled on a cream tea in the little café next to the Buttercross, where local farmers once displayed their produce. It was, as Liam put it,
A gay with a bun in Bungay.
Since all the town’s banks have shut down and there’s only one ATM left, Lloyds Bank have pitched a mobile branch in a car park. Given the relentless rise of internet banking, it’s anyone’s guess how long this will last. These days, I can even pay cheques into my account using my smarty pants phone.
Next on the mini tour was Beccles, five miles along the border – a more substantial town and strangely awash with banks and ATMs. Beccles is one of several riverports on the Broads, the network of rivers, streams and flooded medieval peat excavations so beloved by those who like to mess about in boats. Beccles Quay is where dedicated boating folk can pick up supplies, get a proper wash and empty the chemical loo.
In 1981, sleepy Beccles was rudely woken by a tornado, one of the 104 twisters waltzing across England and Wales and the largest recorded tornado outbreak in European history. But East Anglia isn’t Oklahoma. Hardly a roof tile was lifted and the town dropped back off to sleep. It’s been dozing ever since. After another slow wander, we found ourselves parked in a pretty beer garden to bask in the warmth and imbibe the tranquillity. I confess I got a little tiddly. Must’ve been heatstroke. Hiccup!
What better way to spend a steamy afternoon than at a traditional village fête? The community-minded folk of Poringland do it every year. The neat and tidy village, just a few miles south of Norwich, was first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086 as ‘Porringhelanda’, though you’d never know it was old from the modern sprawl built over the ancient roots. I’ve never been to a proper village fête before. It was everything I’d imagined – dancing kiddies, face-painting, bouncy castling, good causes, competitions, arts, crafts, pulled pork, candy floss and cakes, lots of cakes – and some things I hadn’t – a podgy spiderman with love handles and visible panty line, and the campest compere since Julian Clary. All that was missing was DI Barnaby from Midsomer Murders poring over a bell ringer done-in with a cake slice behind the hoopla.
Liam bought a couple of tickets for the tombola. His prize? A pink spaghetti-strap nightie for the fuller figure. How the ladies giggled as they handed it over. Keen to get in touch with his sexy feminine side, Liam slipped it on and gave me a twirl.