Fed up with paying the equivalent of $170 a day for a clean but uninspiring room, I was glad to forsake London's Bloomsbury district for part two of my travel plan for one: following my ancestral trail in Yorkshire.
As a solo traveler who must keep a tight rein on spending, I wander the world ever hopeful of finding accommodation that not only fits my budget but also suits me well enough to stay awhile.
A B&B I had booked in Hull Yorkshire was less appealing than its website description had implied, and I soon felt like moving on. My hostess graciously recommended a place about 30 minutes north, in Beverley; then she telephoned and reserved a room for me. Some B&B owners are good that way.
My ideals of cleanliness, comfort, convenience, and cost are seldom met all in one place, but once in a while my wish is granted. Beverley yes! – I thought as I followed a diminutive elderly lady who befriended me on the bus ride from Hull. She kindly insisted on showing me the way to my new digs. At first glance, Beverley exuded that higgledy-piggledy, quintessentially English look I find so charming. We hadn't walked far, just a matter of two or three minutes from the bus depot, when my guide stopped and said, "Here we are then, Number One Bed and Breakfast."
We stood before a vine-covered brick house with bay windows and a small, slightly rambunctious front garden. Similarly solid, middle-class dwellings and billowing shade trees lined the gently inclining street. Very English, very English indeed, I thought. So far, Beverley fit my ideal perfectly; even the name intrigued me. Such a pretty, feminine, welcoming sort of name; I felt as if I were finally getting to meet a distant relative. Actually, I later learned, the name more mundanely refers to the Anglo-Saxon meaning for beaver-lake or clearing.
I had yet to set foot inside the house, and I was already thinking that I might just stay there for the duration of my Yorkshire holiday despite being greeted with rather chilly, blustery weather.
Thankfully, the room felt warm and cosy; the bathroom was well-equipped with toiletries and a lovely deep tub with ready hot water. Being a party of one, I would have preferred a desk in the space allotted to a second bed, but that's quibbling the price was well within budget (£35; C$54; US$56), and I was happy.
I met the family dog, had a word with my hosts, Sarah and Neil, then went looking for lunch, which I easily found two minutes away, around the corner at the Poppy Seed Cafe. The delicious onion soup and hot bread (£4.00) was just the warming start-up I wanted for exploring on foot.
My hosts had supplied me with a basic tourist map, and that was all I needed to find the Tourist Information office on Butcher Row where I picked up information pamphlets about the town and nearby attractions.
In a town like Beverley you fill your time poking around. I acquired a little local and family history at the Treasure House, home of the library, museum, and archives. When traveling, I always check at libraries and such places to see if I might be lucky enough to catch an interesting lecture or special event.
On fine days, I might walk as far and in any direction my legs would take me. Beverley has a wonderful green belt Westwood Commons it's rural England just as it was in bygone centuries.
Beverley Minster, the town's most notable site, was founded by Saint John of Beverley during the time of the Angle kingdom of Northumbria (circa 700). Having been around since 1220, the present building has endured through centuries of feudal battles, reformation strife, and England's 17th century civil war. Although nearby Hull suffered attack during World War II, Beverley and its minster luckily remained unscathed.
I would have lunch at one of numerous tea shops and follow that with checking out the shops and galleries. Evening meals were a bit challenging. With tea shops closed and most restaurants open at set times, I could not always match my appetite with convenient hours. Dinner with wine averaged about £20, unless I didn't feel like restaurant food and instead picked up a sandwich and soft drink at the local Tesco supermarket.
There are endless small towns, villages, and museums in the vicinity. From Beverley I could easily make day trips by bus to the larger cities of York or Hull.
One Sunday I took advantage of an excellent excursion opportunity offered by a network of local bus companies. Taking a Moorsbus instead of driving is touted as the green way to explore North York Moors National Park. A Day-Rover ticket (£7) allows you to hop on and off at so many places within the region, the hardest choice is figuring out a suitable route and matching schedule.
I wanted to get a feel for the lifestyle of my 17th and 18th century ancestors who lived in this area, so I chose a visit to Ryedale Folk Museum. This excursion coincidentally gave me memorable views of rolling countryside painted in multi-greens and vividly splashed with flashy red poppies. I wandered among sheep and ate ice cream in the picturesque village of Hutton le Hole, had a close and friendly encounter with a horse at Danby, and a pub dinner in Thornton-le-Dale. It was a full and most pleasant day, and the weather was perfect, too.
Alas, after a few days, my Number One B&B hosts went on vacation themselves, and I was stuck finding another place to stay. Eastgate Guesthouse turned out to be less to my liking, and again I felt the urge to move on. This time I chose Riccall, a village mostly unheard of except by the folks who live there.
Riccall itself attracted me because I had previously traced my yeoman and weaver relatives living there in the 1700s. To get there from Beverley, I backtracked by train to Hull, connected to the Hull-Leeds line, got off at Selby and caught the Arriva 415 bus to York. Within an hour, I was knocking at the door of the Park View Riccall, the local bed and breakfast inn.
Much to my delight, the Park View delivered a touch of big city elegance at small town prices. My spotlessly clean room had been refurbished in pastel shades. I had a firm mattress, plenty of pillows, self-adjusting heat, TV, an excellent bathroom, and breakfast tastefully served in a bright room overlooking gardens.
At £52 (C$80; US$83) it was under the $100-a-day lodging budget I'd set for England. And, best of all, it was only a 20-minute bus ride north to the city of York where I intended to spend a day or two exploring.
Riccall may not be quite as quaint or have as many amenities as Beverley, but it can claim a significant place in the dramatic events that changed the course of British history. In Riccall, in 1066, nine thousand Viking invaders under the Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, disembarked on the River Ouse, thus forcing the English King Harold to rush north to do battle at Stamford Bridge.
Having won that war, King Harold marched his worn and weary army back south, not to the comforts of hearth and home but rather to face Norman invaders under William the Conqueror who were fresh, ready, and able to defeat the English at the Battle of Hastings.
Riccall takes hardly any notice of its important role in Britain's past; it seems content in its sleepy rural existence with its few shops, its ancient church, and one or two pubs. I went on a ramble looking for the fateful Viking landing-place and only found it by asking at a small industrial operation I happened across. I found the spot at the bottom of a farmer's field, overgrown and marked only by a small sign posted on the fence.
Both Riccall and York are located in the Vale of York, a fertile plain situated between rolling Wold country to the east, the hills of the North York Moors, and the Yorkshire Dales to the west.
Visitors may choose to stay in or visit dozens, maybe hundreds of small towns and villages in this region, each with its homey pub and some nearby point of interest, maybe a battle site, a castle, a working mill, a medieval church, mansion or country estate. So, there is no end to the number of possible day-trips and excursions. Riccall, for example, is quite close to Skipwith Common Nature Reserve.
Cyclists and walkers have an abundance of short and long-distance trails to follow throughout this region. From Riccall, I might have walked all the way to York (about 2 hours) along an old railway line cum cycle path – if I had found it and if I were so inclined, but I didn't find it with a query or two, and as the weather had once again turned gloomy, I was more inclined to take the bus and save walking for exploring the city.
Arriva Route 415 goes through Riccall every 15 minutes and picks up at either of two stops just up or down the road from the Park View.
At the drop-off point in city center, I took note of my location on Piccadilly and started wandering. I immediately spotted a sign pointing to the Jorvík Viking Centre and thought this would be a fascinating introduction to York's 10th century inhabitants who quite likely figured somehow in my hidden ancestry.
Jorvík, I learned, is the name Viking raiders gave to the town at the confluence of the rivers Ouse and Foss, which they had won from the Angles who, in their time, had called the place Eoforwic. Prior to the Angles, Romans had arrived, about 71 AD, bringing their rules of civilization to the native Brigantes, and building a fort they called Eboracum, the original meaning of which is now the subject of scholarly debate.
Obviously, York has a long story to tell, and the telling of it is the mainstay of a vibrant tourist industry. The city's well-preserved fortifications and historic core delight visitors on foot, but navigating the medieval maze without a map would be quite bewildering if it weren't for the constant direction of signposts.
On leaving the Viking saga, I saw another sign pointing along Castlegate to York Castle Museum, and in a minute or two came in sight of Clifford's Tower, the remains of a 12th century fortification built after the Norman conquest. It's named for Roger de Clifford who was hung in chains from the walls in 1322 for some treasonable offence. Hangings, beheadings, drawings, quarterings, burnings, and every imaginable sort of mayhem went on routinely in these parts over the centuries as kings, nobles, and even clergy found retaliation and revenge the only way of settling differences.
Housed in a former female prison, the adjacent Castle Museum features daily life in Georgian, Victorian, and Edwardian times, including the cell where the famous highwayman Dick Turpin spent his last night before execution.
Still relying on those ubiquitous signposts for direction, I emerged from the museum after a forgettable lunch at the cafeteria, and followed a series of them pointing to tourist information. That led me on a ten-minute meander along Clifford Street and across Ousegate Bridge. It was astonishing to see how the same sleepy, insignificant river at Riccall had broadened and deepened into a powerful flow of formidable proportions. After a few right and left turns, the signs led me to a heavy stream of traffic merging under picturesquely landscaped, ancient city walls.
Outside the wall to the left, on Station Road, was my destination, the Tourist Information office located in the York Railway Station. [Editor's note, 2011: York Tourist Information Centre has moved.] Bonus! Besides getting hold of a tourist map and other sightseeing pamphlets, I could also get help planning my onward train schedule to London's Gatwick Airport where I'd board my homeward flight.
With travel business sorted out, map in hand, and energy to spare, I left the rail station. My eye caught a sign pointing to the National Railway Museum, which I knew to be one of the best in Europe. But I had had enough of museums for one day and decided, instead, to explore outdoors, hopeful that the weather would hold as it was gray but dry.
I could see, ahead and to my left as I departed the rail station, the spires of York Minster poking above rooftops and medieval walls. You can't say you've visited York without at least taking a photo of this famous cathedral, so off I went in that direction.
In a land where every village has its ancient church, York Minster stands high as the 7th century site selected for the baptism of the Anglo-Saxon King Edwin of Northumbria. Constructed between the 1220s and the 1470s, the present cathedral is York's most esteemed attraction. Guided tours, concerts, and special events go on here, but I got a bit waylaid dilly-dallying in the botanical park at the Yorkshire Museum. By the time I got to the cathedral about 5pm, I had missed the last tour, and raindrops had begun falling in earnest. There is nothing like rain to put a damper on sightseeing; I called it a day, put up the umbrella (never leave home without it), and made my way cross town, back toward my arrival point.
It's not easy or much fun dodging puddles, balancing an umbrella and handbag while matching street signs to a map. But you do get the thrill of accomplishment and relief when you actually get where you intended, in this case to familiar surroundings near my bus stop at Coppergate and Piccadilly.
Feeling chilled and bedraggled, I sought refuge in Russells, a restaurant that "offers tradition on a plate, just like mother used to make." Aaah, roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, and a glass of red wine; what better way to top off a day in this most English of British cities.
At the time, I had a twinge of regret that I hadn't taken a hotel right in York. I'd be soaking in a warm bath instead of having to endure a soggy bus ride back to Riccall. No, no, argued my frugal side: what's a few minutes compared to the quality you get at the Park View for half the price of a comparable room in the city. In retrospect I still think that if the city of York is ever again on my vacation route, I'll likely make the Park View Riccall my home away from home.
Beverley: Number One Bed and Breakfast, 1 Woodlands, Beverley, East Yorkshire England HU17 8BT. Rates: From £35.
Riccall: The Park View, 20 Main Street, Riccall, York YO19 6PX. Rates: From £52.
York Tourist Information, De Grey Rooms, Exhibition Square.
Poppy Seed Cafe, 13 North Bar Within, Beverley, East Yorkshire.
Russells, 26 Coppergate, York.
Arriva Bus, # 415/416, Selby to Riccall to York.
East Yorkshire Motor Service, X46/X47, Hull to Beverly to York.
Moorsbus, comprehensive bus network serves the North Yorkshire Moors.
National Rail, fares and schedules for all Britain.
Ryedale Folk Museum, Hutton le Hole.
Merchant Adventurers' Hall, between Piccadilly and Fossgate. One of Europe's
finest examples of a medieval guild hall, this building has been in continuous
use for 650 years. Its archives house documents dating to 1220.
Details: Merchant Adventurers' Hall.
National Railway Museum, Leeman Road, York. The world's largest railway
museum, housed in three great halls.
Details: National Railway Museum.
Yorkshire Museum, Museum Street. Ten-acre botanical park; Roman, Anglo-Saxon,
Details: Yorkshire Museum.