We’re big fans of the British staycation – but with the weather being pretty disappointing in July and early August, we weren’t sure we’d made the right choice for our 2017 summer holiday, thinking the Mediterranean would have been pretty appealing instead! But my parents had booked a house in the Scottish borders for a family celebration for their 65th birthday – and we couldn’t miss out on that! So we packed lots of layers, and kept our fingers crossed…
We decided to take a week to get up there to explore more of the UK with the kids – and our first stop was the city of York. I’m ashamed to admit that, apart from a couple of flying visits to the university campus for work, I’ve never seen the city. We booked a lovely little Airbnb cottage just outside York for a couple of nights but with only a short stop on our itinerary, we headed straight into the city to start exploring.
First stop – a wander around the old town and a stop at the stunning York Minster.
Sadly the Minster was closed for a private event, although the children tried pretty hard to get in (roping in a little friend to help!)
Sophie was very impressed with the enormous arches!
The Minster was so impressive, but also offered nice little areas for snuggling with the kids. I’m grinning so much at the prospect of an entire two weeks with this duo!
We wandered around the old town until dusk, stopping for fish and chips before taking two sleepy children back to the cottage for bed.
The next day dawned bright and sunny, and we headed straight to the National Railway Museum – somewhere that loads of people have recommended. I figured we’d wander around the free museum for an hour or so, before seeing more of the city – but incredibly, 3 hours later we were still exploring!
I still can’t get over the scale of the place and the huge engines on display. As engineering nerds, we adored the place and loved seeing so many icons. Here are my boys with the world’s fastest steam locomotive – the Mallard.
And there were so many other stunning engines.
Not only could you see and touch the trains, but in an inspired display, you could even go underneath one to see a completely different perspective! The kids loved seeing how it all worked (as did we!).
It wasn’t just the trains that were interesting, the sheer amount of railway memorabilia was outstanding. Here’s Alex pouring over a rail network map planning his next adventure. I love the station signs on the wall.
And here he is again, this time engrossed in the mystery of the missing passenger – a holiday challenge for visitors. We had to solve a complicated murder mystery set in some of the beautiful old carriages. It was pretty difficult, but we tried our best and eventually figured out the crime!
Last stop at the museum for us was – of course – a real life train ride!
The kids loved chuffing around the pretty track, and were delighted to get seats right up front so they could watch the driver up close!
It was a fantastic museum. We were there for ages, and only saw a fraction of what was on display. I’d highly recommend it if you’re in York with kids (or indeed without). Also – the cakes in the cafe there were DELICIOUS!
Because we spent so long in the museum, we had to quick march the children across the city to our next attraction – the newly refurbished Jorvik Viking Centre. Unlike the free railway museum, this was pretty expensive and with long queues to get in, I was relieved I’d booked in advance. I had no idea what to expect, apart from an insight into York’s Viking history (the clue is in the name!).
We were ushered into a busy waiting area when our time slot came, and Sophie enjoyed gingerly walking over the raised glass floor above replica archeological digs!
Once we’ve finally shuffled to the front of the queue, I was quite surprised to be guided to an automatic ride. We had a carriage to ourselves, and slowly moved along a track to enter the main exhibition – a detailed, life size reconstruction of the Viking city. We were guided through various streets and homes, with a really interesting commentary about what society was like. It was really impressive, with nice touches like some real actors amongst the many automatons which the kids thought were hilarious. It was all over pretty quickly, and after a quick look at some real Viking artefacts, we found ourselves back outside. It was an expensive 45 minutes – but genuinely interesting.
Next, we had a bit of a wander to squeeze in a little bit more of the city. We found ourselves at Clifford’s Tower – and made use of our English Heritage membership to find out more. It turns out it has a really sad story. The original 11th century tower on this spot was the site of a mass suicide within the Jewish community of York who were besieged there by a mob. The tower there today is from the 13th century and is considerably more peaceful today. As usual, the kids raced to the highest point enjoying the 360 degree views of York.
Not content with just one gory York story, Matt and Alex decided to stay in York for the evening to go on a horror walking tour of the city! (Don’t worry – it was advertised for families!)
They both enjoyed exploring the narrow old lanes and hearing horrible stories of torture and mystery (stories which Alex enjoyed sharing with me during the following fortnight!).
Sophie and I enjoyed a quieter time at the cottage – it was a glorious evening and we made the most of the amazing gardens.
As a side note, I’d really recommend the cottage to families visiting the area – it was so peaceful, with beautiful gardens, fruit trees and woodland to roam in.
We had such a short time in York, but we thoroughly enjoyed it and I know we’ll be back. But we had to keep on with our journey north – next stop the Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors…