After a short jaunt in South Wales, I took a train up to Yorkshire in the north of England. The city of York has a very old and fascinating history, dating back to pre-Roman times. Among other things, it was the place where Constantine the Great was proclaimed emperor of Rome in the 4th century, as well as a bloody massacre of several hundred Jews in the 12th century.
The entire city is surrounded by a wall that was first built by the Romans and then rebuilt in the Middle Ages. This is one of the best preserved walls in all of England, and you shouldn’t miss walking along it during your visit. Another can’t miss sight is the York Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe. Built on the site of an ancient Roman fortress, you can climb up to the tower for great views of the city, or visit the undercroft for a fascinating exhibit of the site’s history, including remains of the original Roman fortress. Plan to spend a good couple of hours to see everything in this massive cathedral.
York is one of those cities where history is everywhere you look. Many of the buildings date back over 700 years, and it’s immediately obvious by the way they lean. Stop into the Golden Fleece, one of York’s oldest pubs, for a pint. If you find yourself stumbling while going up the stairs, it’s not because you’re drunk (or maybe you are), but because the stairs are so crooked due to the age of the building.
Right outside the pub you can embark on the Terror Trail, an evening walk filled with true gruesome stories about the city’s dark history. Because York has a reputation as England’s most haunted city, it is flooded with various ghost walks. However, while the stories on most of these walks are mythical (e.g., supernatural hauntings), the Terror Trail recounts actual true stories of murders, torturing, and the like. So if you’re into real scary stories (instead of made-up ones), I would recommend this one. Also, there is supposed to be an excellent free walking tour of York offered during the day, although I didn’t have enough time to go on that one.
If you’re looking to get out of the city for a bit and explore other parts of Yorkshire, consider visiting the stately Castle Howard, taking a trip to Whitby with its haunting abbey and ties to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, or checking out the rolling hills of the nearby North York Moors National Park. Unfortunately, it’s tough to reach these sites using public transit, so it’s best to have your own wheels or sign up for a guided tour.
After several fascinating days in Yorkshire, I took another train west to visit the Lakes District. Possibly the most picturesque area in all of England, the Lakes District is home to some spectacular scenery, including jagged peaks, ancient archaeological sites, and of course, beautiful lakes. There’s plenty of great hikes around the area, including one to the summit of Scafell Pike, England’s tallest mountain. Be sure to check the weather before taking on this one though, because the Lakes District is one of England’s rainiest regions.
If you’re in the area, it’s definitely worth taking a day trip to visit Hadrian’s Wall. Built in the 2nd century by the Roman emperor Hadrian, it was intended to delimit the northernmost boundary of the Roman empire and to defend against the “barbarians” (i.e., the Scots). Hadrian’s wall stretches nearly 80 miles west to east, and is dotted with forts approximately every mile. There is a popular walking trail that runs the length of the entire wall, but given that I was only there for the day, I didn’t have time to walk the whole thing. When the wall was originally built, it was around 20 feet high and 10 feet wide. Unfortunately, its current height and width are considerably smaller, as much of the stone was taken and used to build houses, churches, and other buildings over the centuries. One can only imagine how imposing the wall must have been during the height of the Roman empire (pun intended).
The Lakes District was my final stop in England (but not in the UK). Following my visit I hopped on a train up to Glasgow to begin my two-week journey in the beautiful country of Scotland.