I’ve so far used up the first two days of my three day holiday. Half of the first day was spent trying to get to York and the second was half spent trying to deal with a dodgy leg problem and half sitting in the pub. But now the final day of my holiday has arrived and very soon it will be time to say goodbye to dear old Jorvik. I know that one day I’ll be coming back; it is, after all, where I was born, but it’s still sad to leave. This is my kind of place… History around every corner and so full of life and death. Oh yeah… I’m also an inexplicable sex god whilst here. Don’t ask how this happened because I don’t know. That sexiness is bound to disappear once I leave but for now there’s still a few hours left here so let’s enjoy it whilst we can…
Nine a.m, my stuff is all packed and the bed I’ve been sleeping on for the past two nights has been stripped. As I leave the room for the last time I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and it really does strike me as to how different I look… Not in physical terms but in terms of allure. The man in the mirror just exudes charm, charisma and an enigmatic appeal… I would if I could, if you get my meaning. It’s a far cry from what I normally see in the mirror; some half formed looking creature whom no one would bat an eyelid to, just a shadow passing by on the pavement. Unassuming, I think is the word. But the guy in the mirror (despite me having done nothing to change anything) is noticeable. He stands out and you do notice him. I soon inevitably start to wonder about what might happen to me if I stay here for longer than a few days… Would I retain that sexiness or would it turn out to be a temporary thing? The only way to truly find out, I suppose, is to move here permanently. There are those nice houses on Dame Judi Dench and I can quite see myself living in one with a front facing study that looks out of the river with the little yard by the walk full of vegetables and fruits, little children sneaking inside to steal my strawberries and fleeing as I come out and rail at them, Victor Meldrew style. Oh god… I like the sound of this! Let’s make it happen… LET’S MAKE IT HAPPEN! (List of released books is above. Take your pick 😉 )
Leaving my sexually appealing reflection behind (should have taken a picture!) I head down towards reception in order to check out. The lady who helped me the day before is there and she just has to remind me of that incident… Thanks for that, as if I really wanted to relive the sheer embarrassment of asking for help rescuing a drink from a vending machine I shouldn’t have even been near! I wave it off, hiding my seething rage, and hitch my heavy bag onto my back. It’s time to be going and it’s something of a poignant moment. This is probably the last time I’ll set foot in a youth hostel… I know they’re cheap and staying in them has been a blast (and a little bit eyebrow raising at times) but there comes a time in a man’s life when a youth hostel just doesn’t cut it anymore. He has to move on and grow up a little, move on to establishments that are more befitting of his age and stature… Would it really do for the greatest writer of the 21st century to be staying in youth hostels? When I eventually die the BBC’s Lizo Mzimba equivalent (the real Lizo Mzimba either being incredibly aged or dead) will inevitably talk about my travel writings and it would sound incredibly odd if they turned around at the end of the piece and said I did it all from youth hostels, even at seventy. In reality I should be starting to stay in much classier establishments more befitting of my status, places that have mini bars and their own restaurant with a terribly pretentious name, somewhere with a massive king sized bed which I can spread myself out on and relax. (Yeah… ‘Relax.’) So this time it really is a goodbye…
I head into the city along the river walk for the last time, as with the day before eating a leftover chocolate donut which I find in the bottom of my bag… I should really stay in places that include breakfast… Add that to the list! It tastes good but as I walk along and eat it I find that I’m being followed… Not by anyone human but by a shaggy black dog. Clearly he’s after the donut so I switch hands and carry on, hoping it won’t notice. But he does notice and he switches side too. This happens another few times and eventually I contemplate breaking into a run just to escape it… Alas, the dog looks as though it might start chasing me if I run (I also can’t run very fast as I have a heavy bag on my back) so I just have to bide my time and finish the donut… Though the temptation to run is constantly on my mind. I don’t think the dog meant any harm, it was only after the donut, but let it be said that by not giving in I did the right thing. Firstly you should never feed strange dogs and secondly you should never feed any dog chocolate because it poisons them… So I did the right thing, even though the dog went away fuming over the fact that it didn’t get the donut, calling me a bastard under its breath (presumably.)
Away from the dog and on the other side of Dame Judi Dench and those loverly houses I take one last wander around the city, trying to find a few more places I haven’t yet seen. I end up briefly wandering through the Minster Gardens where I ate lunch on that first day and then afterwards I find myself outside a church that was mentioned during that ghost walk a few nights before, the secluded Holy Trinity of Goodramgate. It’s no longer a working church as it was declared redundant in the seventies and (as far as I remember reading) was burnt down in the eighties. It’s in good nick though all things considered and as I go in I get handed a laminated piece of paper with all information on what there is to see. It doesn’t take long to look around and before I know it I’m back outside wondering where to go next.
And that’s when I’m struck by an idea… I’ve been reading a book on engineering and machines whilst I’ve been here and one of the machines mentioned is the world famous Flying Scotsman. Having once been an important staging post on the route between London and Edinburgh, York has ended up becoming home to the National Railway Museum and, being one of the most famous trains in the world, I make the assumption that the Flying Scotsman must be here. Originally I was going to give the place a miss, it is the National Railway Museum and there’s a god damned limit to how geeky you can actually go before you’ve sank into an interminable black of abyss of uncoolness. Once over that line you’re no longer a geek… You’re just uncool. BUT having just read about the Scotsman and with it being nearby it really would be a shame not to just go and have a quick look… It’s acceptable to visit in that sense so it’s not going to affect my street cred by much. And it’ll kill time too.
So I head over that way. It’s located just behind the railway station but to get there I have to go through a dank, dark and quite frankly repulsive underpass. It’s dripping with water and at one point I get splashed from above and freak out, thinking I’ve just been shat on by a pigeon. I haven’t and it’s just water, thank god… The museum is just the other side and as I walk inside and up to the reception desk to get some more information the woman behind it gets a bit too excited and nearly wets herself… It’s either the sexiness thing again or she actually recognizes me (doesn’t say anything to indicate the latter though). Whichever it was she probably went home and told all her friends and family about the person who’d walked through the door that day… She’ll probably tell her grandkids one day (and by then my face will be everywhere so they’ll definitely be impressed!) I get handed a leaflet about the museum and all the stuff that is happening that day and then get on my way into the museum, not even realizing that I forgot to ask about the Scotsman. Never mind… I’m sure I’ll find it. And who knows, the rest of the place might be interesting.
My first stop is the exhibition gallery where they have a nice display of photographs of working class types but very little, from what I can tell, to do with railways. I like what they’re showing though. Moving on I find myself in ‘Station hall,’ a place bedecked out like an old railway station with ancient luggage trolleys, old posters and the sorts of luxurious, old fashioned carriages that made rail travel exciting (including some Royal ones). It’s all rather beautiful and very satisfyingly done, although it probably would be more fun with a few volunteers in period dress wandering up and down and asking the way to the Yarmouth train or whatever, maybe have some little girl running up to random visitors whilst screaming ‘Daddy, my Daddy!’ at them… But you know, I’m not complaining. It’s still good the way that it is though and my suggestions are probably a bit too tacky to work… And sometimes a simple, traditional museum can be better than a modern, interactive one so perhaps that would also ruin things.
Beyond this, outside in the yard, is ‘The Depot’ and it’s here that I have one of those moments, one of those times when you come face to face with a true piece of history and just have to stop and stare. I recognize it instantly, coloured in mustard yellow with its tall chimney and its big wheels-George Stephenson’s Rocket! As it turns out it isn’t the real one (it’s a replica built in 1935) as the real one is in London but it’s still quite cool. Rocket is just one of those icons of history and to come face to face with it (or a replica) is like meeting a celebrity… Ok, so it’s not exactly waking up to find Stephen Fry sat smoking a pipe in the corner of your bedroom and some people wouldn’t be impressed by the sight of it, to them it would be just another old train, but when you spend your days seeing and reading of these things it is quite the amazing feeling. And it’s just as good as waking up to find Stephen Fry sat smoking a pipe in the corner of your bedroom.
Next I have a date with some of the big guns of world railway history, in the main exhibition space, the great hall so it’s called. Here they have a Eurostar (or the front of one at least), A bullet train (which I’ve wanted to ride ever since watching Digimon as a kid) another Rocket replica (not as good seeing it this time, having just met it in the Depot) and the fastest steam loco ever built, Mallard. There are quite a number of big, magnificent engines here and most of them I don’t know (though I’m sure more anoraky types could name them all and tell you what they did and when and why they’re there) but they all, without exception, have a certain class and a certain character that your average inter-city commuter train just lacks. The only trains that even come close to looking as good as these (on British Railways) are the Virgin Pendolinos and the Eurostar. Why can’t we have something as cool as that Bullet train I wonder? Why must we have crummy, ancient boxes that are falling apart at the seams? Something more like these ones in here… These are trains that you can’t help admire. They weren’t just thrown together to do a job, they were designed to look good.
As nice as it is looking around the main exhibition space at the quite frankly beautiful machines, the Scotsman ain’t here. Just next to the main space is another room and above the door, in big writing, it advertises ‘The Flying Scotsman story.’ This then is where it will be and I head through the doors, catching a slight glimpse of something green and shiny hidden just behind an exhibition wall. Could that really be it? Could it be… I make my way through the exhibition, catching tantalizing hints of the train, and then turn the corner… And it’s not the Scotsman. Nowhere near… It’s a train called The Green Arrow, sitting right where the Scotsman should be. The Scotsman, that machine I came here to see, isn’t here. It isn’t in the building. Turns out (I discovered later) it was in Bury being overhauled and restored. It’s disappointing… I wanted to see the Scotsman and now I find it isn’t here. So I leave the exhibition space, brokenhearted. On the plus side, however, what is in the museum I find quite enjoyable. Railway history is not my thing and if it weren’t for that book on engineering I wouldn’t have come but I have found it to be one of the best museums I have visited. Even if you’d rather laugh the place off than visit, I’d still encourage you to go because despite the fact that it is a museum stuffed full of trains and railway memorabilia a visit is very worthwhile.
But as I sit in a toilet cubicle before leaving to catch my train from the station next door, I almost break down… These last few days have been brilliant and a lot of fun. This city is one of the greatest in the world, packed full of history and with something new or wonderful to discover around every corner. And I’ve only scratched the surface of this beautiful place… And suddenly I’m like David Tennant before he regenerated, I don’t want to go. I want to stay here and be sexy and live out my days in the winding, maze like streets. I want to know every secret and I want to be here forever… I was born here. I should have grown up here and were it not for a cruel twist of fate I would have done. This, more than any other place, is where I belong. Yeah, Bangor may have actually earned the right to be my home city (and it shall always be home, no matter where I am or where I live) and Bristol could be a place where I could be happy… But York is my city. We were meant to be together but through all the years fate has continually decreed it not to be. I’ll be back though… One day. Then we’ll be together again.
And true to form, as I make my way back to hell and the dark side of Manchester, that sexy adonis returns from whence he came. I don’t know where it happens exactly but I see my reflection in the window whilst passing through a tunnel near Huddersfield. He’s gone and the shadowy, unnoticeable thing has returned. But he isn’t gone forever… When I inevitably head back to York I’ll find him again and we’ll embrace like old friends. I don’t know what brought him out and I probably never will. But he did come out and that is what matters. And then, as I get off the train I see this rather cute girl smile at me, as if she’s seen something she likes… She’s gone with the train to lord knows where now but her smile tells me one thing. He’s still with me, somewhere, just waiting for the day he can come back!
IF YOU MISSED PART 1 AND 2 OF THIS TRIP YOU CAN FIND BOTH, AND ALL PREVIOUS TRIPS, ON MY TRAVELOGUE PAGE.