Date: 20 December
Location: feeling quintessentially British, waiting for a train in York, sipping a pint of ale in an old railway station pub surrounded by a dozen others doing the same thing on this lazy Sunday.
I'm taking a course of Britishness: getting out of London, getting some sleep and riding some trains through Yorkshire. I love trains.
On Friday I worked from our Leeds office. It reminded me that London is basically it's own country. For every similarity London shares with the rest of Great Britiain it boasts at least two differences. Generalising shamelessly, the people are gentler — and look you in the eye — the food is much less diverse and much more traditional and all matters move at a slightly slower pace.
On Saturday morning I took the train to Harrogate, the original English 'spa' town and the home of Taylor's of Harrogate, makers of 'proper brew' Yorkshire tea. It's lovely in so many ways, especially this time of year. It's a tiny little town navigated best on foot. However, it's evidentially a posh one for it boasts excellent shopping and all the best London brands are in attendance (one of my 'souvenirs' would prove to be a leather skirt from Hobbs that I'd eyed off on Regent Street a few weeks previously). However, these stores are nestled in between polished little treasures like Betty's Tea Rooms. Betty's is an institution where one goes to drink tea and eat scones and rascal cakes (basically, fruity scones.) I cheerfully succumbed to tradition and had lovely tea and scones and it was (a) a little mortifying when my two scones with jam and cream came out on a multi-tiered cake try and it was suddenly obvious that it was meant to be shared between two people and (b) prettily nostalgic when the old dear who sat next to me clutched the waitress arm as she cleared the table and said, “My dear, there really is no cup of tea in the world like Betty's tea, is there?” (A tin of Betty's breakfast tea proved to be my second souvenir.)
On Sunday the day started with a full Yorkshire breakfast. That's essentially a lot of meat (bacon, black pudding, sausages) and, of course, tea. I'm staying at an utterly perfect British pub hotel, the White Hart. The building is a sprawling stone affair in the little town's tiny Montpellier quarter. Inside it's all Farrow & Ball muted grey paintwork, little alcoves and pretty white rooms. The water pressure is rubbish and there's no view to speak of, but the rooms are cozy and there's an unlimited supply of tea. Best of all there is the Fat Badger pub. First, brava, that is a great pub name and competes with some of the best I've seen so far (Ye Olde Cock, you always make me snicker when I come out of Hoghbury & Islington station). Second, it is a gastropub with properly delicious food — including that heart-stopping 'full Yorkshire' breakfast. Before mauling aforementioned I must have been been blinded by hunger for it was only once I stepped out the front door on Sunday that I realised that Yorkshire was putting on a show: Harrogate gleamed, still slick with last night's rain, under a cornflower blue sky. On the train to York green fields whipped by, complete with fluffy white sheet with black faces. It was bucolic prettiness at its best.
Things I'd known about York before today: there was a duke, he had 10,000 men.
Things I can add now include the fact that York is a walled city. The walk from the station into town takes you along the wall and gives you your first glimpse of the city's imposing Minster. Also, I know now that the York Minster is a tall cathedral built in the gothic style by a jealous little archbishop to show up his counterpart in Canterbury. It took 220 years to build. It strongly reminded me of the architecture in Florence — something about which I'm sadly unable to sensibly comment for I spent the months I lived there drunk on cheap Chianti / in a pasta-induced stupor (pasta being a cheap energy source) / getting to or waiting for or onboard very cheap Ryanair flights. (You probably see the pattern here, I was cheerfully poor.) York has a charming old quarter, bursting with fudge stores and tea houses, where all of the streets bear quaint names like Coppergate, The Shambles or Little Shambles. I spent the day wandering this incredibly beautiful city, shown to advantage by the December sun and bright blue sky, delighting in discovering things like the ruined abbey in the Museum Gardens and the Christmas market and how well brandy tastes in mulled wine!
And then I took the train back to Harrogate just in time for my dinner for one booking at The Fat Badger.
A few words on spending weekends alone: in short, I freaking love it. The thought of a pristine day free from a commitment to speak to, or account to, another human soul is cleansing and exciting.
Of course, it can also be very lonely. In 2013 Harrogate was voted the third most romantic city in the world, beating out Paris. I can see why. And that side of this idyllic town was completely wasted on me. It would also have been fun to explore York in a gang and get drunk at The Judge's Rest in the fading sunshine. More fun than alone? I personally don't think so, but both have their merits. And, sometimes, you do wonder why you're alone.
I have two strident inner voices: my inner yogi — a calm, even-tempered woman who likes to remind me to breathe and reflect and who sends me out on jogs; and my inner mean girl — a funny little things who likes lipstick and short skirts who possesses all the maturity of a seventeen year old at an all girls grammar school and just wants me to be popular.
The former tells its my choice. The other wonders what the heck is wrong with me if that's my choice.