A quick march around York’s World War II and Cold War history

You’ve been mesmerised by the Minster, shuffled down the Shambles, and wandered around the walls … you may be forgiven for thinking that York’s history stopped sometime around the time of the Tudors.

You’d be wrong. Andrew and I checked out five of York’s military museums to get under the skin of our city’s World War II and Cold War history. Here’s what we found.

[box type=”note” border=”full”]Disclosure: Many thanks to Visit York, who kindly provided Andrew and I with a York Pass each to cover our entry fees. As ever, all opinions expressed are my own. Prices of individual attractions correct as at October 2017.[/box]

Protecting us from nuclear fallout at the York Cold War Bunker

A couple of miles from the city centre, the York Cold War Bunker was active from 1961 all the way through to 1991. Its purpose? It was one of 29 UK sites designed to notify Britain if it had been the target of a nuclear attack, and measure the fall-out if it had!

This joyous task was the job of the now-disbanded Royal Observer Corps (ROC). If the worst had happened, the ROC had the rather unenviable job of being cooped in this underground bunker for 30 days whilst completing their nuclear fall-out monitoring duties.

York military museum York Cold War Bunker

Monitoring any potential nuclear fallout – as you do!

Fortunately the Cold War didn’t heat up to that extent, and Andrew and I were glad we didn’t have the job of checking radiation levels by “just nipping outside to look at the monitor”, and then “decontaminating” with water. Apparently this was one of the few ways to guarantee getting a shower in the bunker, such was the limited water supply.

Now decommissioned – the York Cold War Bunker is run by English Heritage, with entry through an hour-long guided tour. Adult tickets go for £7.50 + £0.80 gift aid.

[box type=”info”]Many of York’s military history attractions can be visited with a York Pass, which can be a worthwhile investment if you’re also visiting some of York’s pricier attractions over a few days. You can buy a York Pass through this link, at no extra cost to you. By doing so I receive a small commission, which helps to keep The Gap Year Edit website running.[/box]

Preserving 300 years of local military history at York Army Museum

York Army Museum - York military museum

At York Army Museum
– who can resist dressing up?

In the city centre at the base of Clifford’s Tower, near York’s city walls, is the York Army Museum. The Museum focuses on 300 years of history of the Army in Yorkshire. There are some great interactive displays and powerful videos, which bring the realities of war to life. For something a little more light-hearted, we had a lot of fun dressing up in camouflage gear. What’s not to love about that?

The entry fee for adults is £5.

Giving thanks to our Canadian Allies at Beningbrough Hall

Beningbrough Hall sits to the north of York – an easy trip by bike, as we discovered on a previous visit. You can also get there by car, or bus. This beautiful stately home, which now houses part of the National Portrait Gallery collection, was requisitioned during World War II for the war effort.

Lady Chesterfield moved out, and Canadian aircrews stationed at nearby RAF Linton on Ouse moved in. Many of the crew sadly didn’t return from their bombing missions over Germany – the Hall still honours them today with a very moving exhibition in one of the upstairs rooms.

A quick march around York's World War II and Cold War history

Beautiful Beningbrough

On a lighter note, Beningbrough also has some gorgeous gardens, a rather fine tea room, and other stately-home-esque exhibitions.

Entry to Beningbrough Hall costs £11.80 + £1.20 gift aid.

Paying tribute to the Allied Air Forces at the Yorkshire Air Museum

Over to the east of York, The Yorkshire Air Museum is located at what was once RAF Elvington. Elvington, like Linton, was also used in World War II as a base for Allied bomber crews.

As the name suggests, the museum houses some rather fine examples of legendary WWII aircraft – the Halifax, Spitfire, Dakota, Handley Page Victor … they’re all here. Go on a “Thunder Day” to hear their engines roar!

York military museums: The Handley Page Victor at the Yorkshire Air Museum

The Handley Page Victor at the Yorkshire Air Museum. Photo courtesy of Visit York.

Along with the aircraft themselves, you could spend hours wandering around the hangars taking in the varied exhibits – don’t miss the Bomber Command!

The Allied Air Forces Memorial is also on site. The Yorkshire Air Museum is priced at £10.00 for adults.

Imagining life in wartime Britain at Eden Camp

Nowadays, Eden Camp styles itself as a “Modern History Theme Museum” but it was originally built in 1942 as a Prisoner of War Camp. During World War II, Eden Camp housed Italian and, later, German Prisoners of War.

Exhibits are spread out over the site’s 29 huts – wrap up warm if you’re there in Winter, as they’re not heated! It’s a fascinating look into wartime life: for the British, and also for the POWs who lived in the camp.

Eden Camp is located further east of York, and just north of the market town of Malton (a good foodie destination). It costs £8.50 for adults.

If you’re in that neck of the woods in October, don’t miss Pickering’s 1940 Wartime Weekend. Pickering is six miles north of Eden Camp.

[box type=”info”]To help you get the most out of your visit, pick up the Insight Guide to York before you arrive. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Tearfully moving at times, joyous at others, visiting York’s military museums brought home just how big a part the city and its surroundings played during World War II and the Cold War. As an alternative from some of York’s more widely known attractions, we’d highly recommend you quick march to at least one of them, pronto!

Which York military museum sticks in your mind the most? What made it so memorable? Let us know in the comments below.

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How to spend a full day walking York city walls

This locals’ guide to York city walls features several hot spots that make this English city so special. Plus: I include some insider tips about the off-wall places you shouldn’t miss.

You could walk the 3.4km around York city walls in an hour or so. But, take in sights and the occasional pub en-route, and that hour could easily stretch into a day – and night.

York city walls at Lendal Bridge

Yes, the walls even have in-built coffee shops. This one’s The Perky Peacock under Lendal Bridge.

Start with a good breakfast

If you’re going to be on your feet all day, give yourself a good dose of fuel to start with. Begin your York city walls walk with breakfast at the Brew and Brownie on Museum Street. Their all-day pancakes are to die for. Get there at opening time though, as tables are in demand. The visitor information centre is a couple of doors down.

[box type=”info”]To help you get the most out of your time in York, pick up the Insight Guide to the city before you arrive. Help the site by buying the guide through this link; it won’t cost you a penny more![/box]

Start your York city walls tour at Bootham Bar

A “Bar”, in York city walls terminology, is not somewhere to buy a lovely glass of wine or a fancy cocktail. Oh no. It’s the ancient term for a Gatehouse. In the case of York, the gatehouses are stone structures or towers the size of several houses. They were used as tollhouses or defensive positions to guard what was once England’s second city.

There are four large and two small Bars around the walls, and they’re all pretty photogenic. Start your York walls walk at Bootham Bar, which is next to the De Grey Rooms.

If you were hoping a bar was secret code for “pub”, more of those later!

Go clockwise to York Minster

You’ll soon look over the beer garden of the rather fine Lamb and Lion pub; overshadowed by the Gothic splendour of York Minster looming before you.

The Minster’s current exterior dates from the 13th century. There’s a fee to get in for non-residents, but the views from York’s walls are free.

Continuing, you’ll overlook gardens and fancy houses galore. York St John University (on your left), the Treasurers House and the Quilt Museum (on your right), before arriving at Monk Bar. The tiny Richard III Experience is located inside this Bar (joint ticket with the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar).

Sadly, the walls aren’t continuous (boo, hiss), so – about 10 minutes after Monk Bar – you’ll need to get off them at a particularly unattractive road junction opposite a carpet store. Walk with the waterway on your right and the entirely unglamorous retail units of Office Outlet and Halfords on your left, before rejoining at Red Tower.

Walmgate Bar

After rejoining the walls at Red Tower, you’ll reach recently-restored Walmgate Bar after only a few minutes. If you fancy a restorative cuppa you’re in luck, as it’s home to the rather fine Gatehouse Coffee.

York Gatehouse Coffee - York city walls walk

Yes, it really is a coffee place in a “bar” – one of my fave places for a brew in York

Clifford’s Tower and the Castle Museum

Moving on from Walmgate Bar, you’ll pass the Barbican – a venue for concerts and the occasional snooker championship – on your left, before arriving at York’s former castle, just past the Travelodge. Clifford’s Tower is the old Castle Keep. It’s run by English Heritage and offers fine views of York from the top.

Clifford's Tower York - York city walls walk

Clifford’s Tower – even if you don’t pay to go in, it makes for a good photo 🙂

York Army Museum - York city walls walk

At York Army Museum
– who can resist dressing up?

From here you can also detour to the fascinating Army Museum (one of several York attractions focusing on military history), and to a York favourite, the Castle Museum (all have entry fees, though there’s a discount at the Castle Museum for local residents with a York Card).

In the Castle Museum you can get locked up in the old city jail, and wander the streets of a very plausible Victorian York. It’s the kind of place you can have fun for hours. It also makes for a brilliant stop if the weather isn’t kind to you.

From the Castle, cross the river over Skeldergate Bridge, where you can rejoin the walls or keep going straight ahead for a minute or two for a little off-piste detour.

You’re in locals’ territory here. This is Bishy Road – Great British High Street of the Year and a slightly gentrified but very lovely little row of shops, mostly of the independent variety. It’s also round the corner from my home; so I admit I’m rather biased in loving it!

For a bite to eat, I can highly recommend Sicilian bistro and gelateria Trinacria, the bustling Pig & Pastry or the fabulous Robinsons. If you’re after something stronger, The Swan pub is a good bet.

[box type=”info”]For somewhere to stay near the walls in York, try Middletons Hotel on Skeldergate. Middletons also does a very nice Sunday lunch and owns the neighbouring gym (which I go to). Or there are plenty more accommodation options, including cosy B&Bs and budget hostels. Booking through these links doesn’t cost you any more and I receive a small commission which helps me run this site. Thank you :)[/box]

Micklegate Bar

Rejoining the walls at the end of Skeldergate Bridge, continue to Micklegate Bar, which houses the Henry VII Experience.

York city walls - Micklegate Bar

Micklegate Bar. Not bad for a city entrance.

If you didn’t have a Bishy Road lunch stop, another option here is Your Bike Shed Café, just below the Bar. Brigantes, slightly further down the hill into town on your left, is a fine pub/bistro option; or you could mix it up with a tasting and/or tour at York Brewery.

York Brewery - York city walls walk

The York Brewery tour – you get a tasting at the end of it 🙂

Keeping on the walls, you’ll soon see York’s magnificent railway station on your left. You can detour here – it’s a ten-minute walk (signed through the station) to the free and fun National Railway Museum. Like the Castle Museum, there’s entertainment to be had for kids and big kids alike.

Finish your tour of the walls with a beautiful vista of York Minster straight ahead with you. At Museum Gardens grab yourself an ice-cream, and sit in the sun (optimistic here, this is England, after all!) under the remnants of St Mary’s Abbey to enjoy it. Bliss!

the view down to York Minster from York city walls

Looking towards the Minster on the home stretch of this York city walls walk

Best time to visit York city walls

York city walls - March daffodils

Don’t miss the March daffodils

March, without a doubt. Spring is in the air and the daffodils are in full bloom. There’s no finer sight.

York city walls tips and practicalities

  • They’re free! You don’t need a ticket – just find the nearest entry point and enjoy.
  • The walls are open every day from 8.00am until dusk, except on Christmas Day and days when there’s snow or ice.
  • They can be busy, especially during weekends and school holidays. A great time to walk York city walls is just before they close at dusk – you’ll have them pretty much to yourself.
  • Many stretches of the walls have sheer drops to one side; not to be tippled over when tipsy. There are also steps galore.
  • York is half way between London and Edinburgh. If you arrive by train, you can enter the city walls at Micklegate Bar, which is to your right if you exit the train station’s main entrance.

Have you walked York city walls? Did you manage to complete the circuit without stopping at a pub? Tell us all about it!

Day trip from York: Beningbrough Hall by bike

Beningbrough Hall makes a perfect day trip from York by bike. Here’s how to combine gentle exercise with a Georgian mansion, without ending up in a spin.

day trip from York - Beningbrough Hall by bike

… and we’re there *collapse* 😉

Cycle Route 65 from York to Beningbrough Hall by bike

The route from York to Beningbrough Hall forms part of National Cycle Route 65, which means loads of signposts and minimal chances of getting lost. Hurrah!

You’ll pedal along the banks of the River Ouse from central York (passing under the city walls at Lendal Bridge) on dedicated cycle paths, before joining (mostly) quiet country lanes.

The route is mostly flat, so you don’t need to be King or Queen of the Mountains, or even of the Mild Inclines! The most strenuous it gets is a couple of bridges over the East Coast Mainline railway line.

Arriving at Beningbrough Hall by bike

Happily, the National Trust, who run Beningbrough Hall, are well geared up for cyclists.

free brew on a day trip from York to Beningbrough hall by bike

free brew!

There’s a bike rack right next to the entrance, and cyclists can even enter the grounds for free for half an hour – to use the bathrooms, take a quick wander round, and grab all-important refreshments.

Even better, they’ll even throw in a free tea or coffee! Admittedly, it’s more of a “buy a snack, get a free brew” kinda deal, but a flapjack/brownie is practically the law anyway after you’ve spent all that energy, right?

If you want to explore for longer and go in the house itself, you’ll need to buy a ticket. They cost up to £12, depending on the season (more on that a bit later).

What to expect at Beningbrough Hall

Like many of the UK’s grand old houses, you can expect history, grandeur and gardens.

Outside there’s a formal garden with a lawn manicured to an inch of its life, plus the mandatory veggie patch (patch being an under-exaggeration!). Happily, they’re not so precious about the lawn that they won’t let you take a picnic on it.

There’s also parkland with some rather photogenic trees.

photogenic tree at Beningbrough Hall - a day trip from York

photogenic trees abound in Beningbrough Hall’s parkland

In the Hall itself there are super-helpful volunteers, who can give you the lowdown on its previous inhabitants. There’s even 300 china cups to represent the Hall’s 2016 300th anniversary. How can you not love that?

300 cups at Beningbrough Hall - a day trip from York

300 years, 300 cups

There’s also an affiliation with London’s National Portrait Gallery going on. Great if you’re into portraits, even more so if you don’t mind being a bit silly with the dress-up-as-if-you’re-sitting-for-a-portrait option 😉

Beningbrough Hall was home to Royal Canadian Airforce Servicemen during the Second World War. It’s one of many York attractions with an interesting military history. The Canadians used the nearby airfield as a base for raids over Germany. Many didn’t return, and their stories are told in some of the upstairs room. For me, this was the most captivating (and poignant) part of the house.

Practicalities of a day trip from York to Beningbrough Hall

Bike practicalities

If you’re making this day trip from York by bike, wear a helmet and take a lock. Go by car or bus instead if the river is flooded!

cycle helmets - Beningbrough Hall by bike - day trip from York

playin’ it safe with our cycle helmets

Bike Hire is available in York, including at Cycle Heaven at York’s Railway Station. Hire costs are £15 for five hours, or £20 for a full day.

National Cycle Route 65 is well signed. You can also download full details of the route here.

[box type=”info”]To help you get the most out of your trip to York, pick up the Insight Guide to the city in advance. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Beningbrough Hall costs and opening times

Georgian mansion Beningbrough Hall - day trip from York

Georgian mansion? Don’t mind if I do!

Entrance costs to Beningbrough Hall depend on the season. During the Winter, only the gardens are open, and tickets are cheaper. For full details, see their website.

In the Summer, Beningbrough Hall is open Tuesday-Sunday and the Adult price is £10.80 or £12.00 with gift aid (a scheme that enables tax-effective charitable giving by UK tax payers).

In the Winter, the gardens are open and on weekends only. The Adult price is £6.30 or £7.00 with gift aid.

Children pay half price and family tickets are available.

Prices and information correct 7th June 2016.

Getting to Beningbrough Hall by bus

If you don’t fancy a bike ride, there are a couple of other options.

One is to drive, the other is to take the service bus from York to the nearby village of Newton-on-Ouse (a pretty village with two good pubs) and walk from there. The timetable can be found here.

However, no bike = no free brew 🙁

Tell us your tales of Beningbrough Hall. Did you go by bike? Where else would you recommend as a day out from York?

Top Yorkshire events to get excited about in 2016

23 March 2016, I’m in the audience at an all-singing-all-dancing “Inspiring Yorkshire” event at York’s Barbican.  It’s purpose? To champion 2016 Yorkshire events and campaigns to promote tourism in God’s own county this year.

2016 Yorkshire events - Scarborough harbour boats

Boats in Scarborough harbour

What are those 2016 Yorkshire events, I hear you cry? And can I go to them? You can indeed! Here’s a flavour of what you’ve got to look forward to if you visit the county during the spring and summer of 2016.

Cycling: Tour de Yorkshire, 29 & 30 April & 1 May 2016

Last year was the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire (TDY) built on the legacy of Yorkshire being the launching point for the Tour de France Grand Départ in 2014. The TDY attracted 1.5 million spectators last year. Yes, 1.5 million. You can be one of them, lining the three-stage race on 29 April, 30 April and 1 May this year.

Stage 1: Beverley to Settle, via towns including Tadcaster, Knaresborough, Pateley Bridge

Stage 2 (also the one-day women’s race route): Otley to Doncaster, via Harewood, Monk Fryston and more

2016 Yorkshire events - Harewood House

Harewood House, a rather fancy-pants stately home you can visit

Stage 3: Middlesbrough to Scarborough, via the North York Moors National Park, Whitby and Robin Hoods Bay

The women’s race has upped the ante this year; with cycling world champion Lizzie Armistead flying the Yorkshire flag through her home town of Otley.

Expect a party atmosphere, and numerous “Wiggo” (Bradley Wiggins, cycling God) facial hair parodies. And some very fast cyclists whizzing past.

2016 Yorkshire events - Whitby

Gorgeous Whitby, en-route on Stage 3 of the Tour de Yorkshire

Food and drink: Tour de grub de Yorkshire 2016

Ok, so I added “grub” in there with a bit of Yorkshire artistic licence! The good folks at Welcome to Yorkshire have pulled together their recommended eateries along the Tour de Yorkshire route.

2016 Yorkshire events - Tour de Yorkshire Scarborough

Scarborough marks the end of the final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire

I go along with their recommendation of The Beehive at Thorner; their French Wednesday evening dinner deal is an absolute winner. As for the rest; I need to go and sample them!

Arts: The Yorkshire Festival, 16th June – 3rd July 2016

The programme for this hasn’t been fully announced yet, but apparently there’ll be a Nile extravaganza on 18th June, as well a Big Disco dance-off where we all dance under a glitter ball on 1st July. Sounds like fun! Keep an eye on the Yorkshire Festival website for more details.

Other 2016 Yorkshire events

There are a gazillion other events going on in Yorkshire this spring and summer. Those above are ones I heard more about at the 23rd March Inspiring Yorkshire event. A few selected others include:

2016 Yorkshire events - Harrogate Flower Show

Floral heaven!

3rd April & 5 June 2016: Thunder Day at the Yorkshire Air Museum

21st-24th April 2016: The Harrogate Flower Show

10th July 2016: York Dragon Boat races

12th-14th July 2016: The Great Yorkshire Show, Harrogate

Getting to Yorkshire: Fly to (and from) Doncaster!

Doncaster isn’t exactly known as a tourism hotspot. Although with a Wildlife Park, a world-renowned horse-race (The St Leger) and some rather fine stately homes nearby, perhaps it should get more credit.

Airline FlyBe have seemingly seen the potential of this under-visited but well-connected part of Yorkshire, by announcing new flights to the slightly confusingly named Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood airport.

Us Yorkshire folk may not want to escape God’s own county, but – if we do – Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin are just some of the destinations on offer. Returns to the latter can be found for less than £80 (guess where I’ll likely be going on a city break!)

Of course, the extra promotion of Doncaster Sheffield airport is also designed to encourage visitors to the region; as an alternative to Leeds Bradford airport.

My 2016 Yorkshire events

I’ll be checking out the new spa facilities at upmarket waterpark Alpamare – due to open in Scarborough; getting my Thunder on at the Yorkshire Air Museum on 5th June; and perhaps even dancing under a giant glitter disco ball on 1st July. I’ll also be finding out if Doncaster Sheffield Robin Hood airport can offer service and value as comprehensive as its name 🙂

Which 2016 Yorkshire events (or parts of Yorkshire) do you want to go to?  Which would you recommend? Share your thoughts below.

How to visit Kinbane Castle, Northern Ireland

Kinbane Castle is full of drama. Its isolation. Its embattled remnants. Its surroundings. Kinbane stirred up a depth of emotion in me. Here’s the story why (keep reading to the end for practical tips of how to get there).

The wind blustered all around as I simultaneously skipped and staggered up to the farthest point on the narrow limestone promontory.

Arriving at the top, out of breath, I gazed back across the panorama before me.

Sea to the left of me, sea to the right of me

Sea to the left of me, sea to the right of me

The slight remains of Kinbane Castle, looking almost folorn in its isolation, on the isthmus below.

The Causeway Coast, sloping away to the left, lush green fields jutting up to cliff edges, with the tumultuous sea waiting in anticipation.

The sweeping bay to the right, crowded with black rocks formations; with the famous hexagonal pillars of Giant’s Causeway only a few miles to the West.

Kinbane Castle, Northern Ireland

The bay sweeps away from Kinbane Castle, Northern Ireland

The cliff set back from the water’s edge here; water falling tens of metres over the cliff edge and cascading onto the expectant rocks.

I felt an embrace. Of the wind, of my emotions being captured in a perfect moment; of my boyfriend, who was hugging me tight to keep the force of the cold wind away.

Kinbane Castle location

Everything about Kinbane felt magical, from the moment we set foot out of our tiny Nissan Micra hire car, high above the luminous landscapes that awaited, hidden from the road above.

Waves of positivity bounded over me, as I – in turn – bounded down the cliff side on a seemingly never-ending stairway to the bay below; unaware of the landscape that awaited.

Rounding the cliff corner to the vista below me, I couldn’t stop smiling as the emotions seized my soul.

Kinbane Castle Northern Ireland

Who wouldn’t be moved by a vista like this?

Only a few places in my life have almost moved me to tears with the sheer depth of feeling they’ve evoked. I can now add Kinbane to that privileged list.

(San Juan Chamula, Mexico, was another)

Enough of the fluff, now onto the practicalities …

How to get to Kinbane Castle, Northern Ireland

Kinbane Castle (free to visit) is just off the coast road between Ballycastle (around 3 miles East) and Ballintoy, on the Causeway Coastal Route. The easiest way to get there is by hire car; although if you plan it right there are infrequent local bus services (check your bus uses the coastal road rather than the inland road). From the car park, the walk to Kinbane Castle isn’t for you if your mobility is limited and/or if you prefer to avoid lots of steps.

Where to stay near Kinbane Castle

The small seaside town of Portrush was a fantastic base for a few days. Portrush has several pubs and a decent selection of restaurants, which were lively even in the middle of December!

[box type=”info”]We stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Portrush (££ discount off your first Airbnb stay with this link) and used the Lonely Planet Guide to Ireland for my trip. Help the site by using these links, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

There are also plenty of places to stay in and around Ballycastle, and of course near the famous Giant’s Causeway.

Other Northern Ireland Causeway Coast castles

Kinbane isn’t the only castle on the Causeway Coast. Dunseverick Castle (free) has barely a wall standing, but its situation on a jagged stretch of coast makes it worth a detour from the main road, if only to snap a few pictures.

Dunseverick Castle Northern Ireland

Dunseverick Castle. Complete with jagged coastline.

More touristed, Dunluce Castle (entry £5), has a similarly spectacular setting, with drops from the drawbridge down to the crashing sea below. It’s all geared up with display boards and audio guides.

Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle. Wouldn’t have wanted to try and attack it!

Kinbane Castle, my favourite Northern Ireland castle (so far)

If feeling were colours, then Kinbane Castle would be lush green joy. And other superlatives. Definitely my favourite Northern Ireland castle so far; but there are so many more to explore!

Have you been to Kinbane Castle? Where’s the best castle you’ve been to, and what made it so special? Let us all in on the secret – share your castle-tastic experiences by leaving a comment below.