I left Edinburgh late in the morning and arrived in York late in the afternoon. I had a little less than a day to explore as the bus I was taking to Oxford the next day was leaving around 3pm. The hostel wasn’t far from the bus station; it was maybe a half a mile up the hill, through the gate and into the city. York is a really awesome place to visit, especially if you’re a medieval history junkie like I am. The entire city is still surrounded by a very impressive wall that dates to the 12th to 14th centuries and you have to go through a gate to get into the city.
I grabbed a bite to eat and decided to go to bed early so that I could get up early in the morning and see the city. I didn’t like being out after dark by myself in a strange place. I think, however, that I chose to go to bed a little too early. It was still daylight outside and I wasn’t very sleepy. I lay there for a long time trying to make myself go to sleep. I got up at about five in the morning and the sun was already up. I was going to go to York Minster first, but it wasn’t open yet.
I wandered through the narrow streets and came across a part of the city called The Shambles. The Shambles is a section of York comprised of a street and some surrounding alley ways. The street has been in use for at least nine hundred years and is one of the best examples left in the world of a medieval street. The street takes its name from the Saxon word for ‘butcher.’ There are no butcher shops there now, instead there are shops catering to travelers and tourists. It was so early in the morning that the street was open to a few delivery trucks. The delivery trucks were the small kind that you often find in the UK and they barely fit in the small street. The houses are so close together that at some points you could almost reach out and touch the buildings on both sides.
Nothing was really open and I had heard that you could actually walk on the walls of the city so I decided to head over and see if I could. I walked to one of the gates and sure enough there was an open doorway leading up to the walls. I walked up the narrow steps, barely wide enough for one person and found myself looking at a path on the walls. Behind me was the tower at the gate, but it didn’t appear to be open to the public. I didn’t try the door and instead walked away from it. The walkway on the walls of York had a high wall on the side facing out and a low wall on the side facing the city. Sometimes the low wall was little more than a lip and other times, there were roofs that ran right up to the wall that you could theoretically step onto if you dared to risk getting into a ton of trouble. Every so often there was a mini tower where you could climb up on it and peer through the arrow loops, which are the little slits in the wall where defenders could fire arrows through at their enemies. I walked about half way around the city on the walls without meeting a single person.
It was finally late enough for York Minster to be open and so I wandered over in that direction. I think it was free to get in, but that may have been because I was a student. I do know that I paid £2 to be able to take pictures. I was a little disappointed in how the pictures turned out though. It was a cloudy day outside and so it was dark in the cathedral. I had a flash on my camera but it wasn’t strong enough to light up the whole place, so some of the pictures that I had taken of the general space turned out very dark. York Minster is one of the largest cathedrals in northern Europe, so if you’re going to go and pay to take pictures make sure you have a strong enough flash incase it’s a cloudy day. Some of my pictures did turn out okay, like the ones that I took of some of the statues. Like most other cathedrals, it has a lot of statues and graves inside of it. York Minster was overwhelming to say the least. It was so big; it was really hard to take it all in.
I had noticed that outside on the exterior of York Minster there were niches where I assumed there were supposed to be statues, but there were none. I wondered if they had been stolen or something and so I stopped and asked the lady at the information desk what they were for. She told me that they had been intended for statues as I had guessed, but that the money had run out when they were building the place. I was already overwhelmed by the building itself, I can’t imagine how much more impressive it would be if there had been statutes all over the outside of it as well.
I left York Minster and walked back by The Shambles. It was later in the morning and the street was no closed to vehicular traffic and there was a veritable throng of people on it. I decided to skip going back down it and walked back toward the hostel instead. I came across a Salvation Army store and decided to stop in and see if I could find a book for the flight home. I picked up a paperback copy of Charles Dickens ‘A Tale of Two Cities.’ Books from a thrift store can serve as cheap mementos of your trip. And if you have a book fetish like I do, you will definitely want to pick up some books while you’re traveling. I also like to keep the receipt as a book mark, because it has where it was bought on it. They also serve as entertainment on long international flights and while waiting in airports for your connection.
I had already checked out of the hostel but they were holding my bags for me. I went back to the hostel and picked up my bags and went back down the hill to the bus station. My bus was supposed to leave at three but there were multiple buses that came by also going to Oxford. Having lived my entire life in the states, I wasn’t used to having a bus come by, that was going a long distance, to the same place more than once a day, and it unnerved me because I kept thinking that I had missed my bus. At 2:15 a bus pulled up and the driver asked me if I was waiting for the bus to Oxford. I told him I was but that it wasn’t suppose to leave until three. He told me to go ahead and get on his bus and that I would be fine. Now you know that this would never happen in the States! I got on the bus and went up to the upper deck. It was a double decker bus and I picked a seat in the very front. This was both exhilarating and frightening. I kept thinking that a massive tree might come crashing through the window and to compound the problem, I was still slightly jittery about the traffic coming at me from the opposite direction.
I arrived in Oxford just fine, without any stray trees or vehicles crashing into the bus. It was nearly sunset and I hurried to the Backpackers Hostel, slightly worried that there wouldn’t be any room. I had worried for nothing and got a bed in the largest room I had stayed in so far. There were somewhere in the neighborhood of twenty bunks in the room and it was kind of weird sleeping around that many people. I didn’t care that much though because I was just staying one night here. My bus for London was leaving really early in the morning so that I could spend my last full day in London.
I had been in Oxford at the beginning of my trip and thought I remembered my way around. It turned out that I didn’t. I went to find food and got completely lost. It was dark out by now and I have to admit that I nearly panicked. I did not like being out after dark by myself. There were a lot of other tourists out on the streets, so I was probably safe enough. Finally though, I got my sense of direction turned around and managed to find my way back to the hostel. Speaking of safety, I really liked the hostel in Oxford because they had a buzzer at the door so that random people couldn’t just waltz in off of the street. You had to be buzzed in by the desk clerk.
I woke up at the crack of dawn, got dressed in the dark while trying to be quiet and not wake up all the people that were sleeping in the room. I went and checked out of the hostel and headed to the bus station. The other great thing about the Backpackers Hostel in Oxford is that they are only a five minute walk to the bus station. I got on the bus to London in the fading darkness and looked forward to having some great fun on my last day in the United Kingdom.