Exploring York by Bike, by Boat and On Foot.
I loved my trip to York, and we compiled a pretty thorough Top Ten List of Things to Do. It’s a compact city, invitingly walkable, charming cobbled lanes and beautiful buildings bursting with history. But why be predictable by simply marching around? Children love exploring, they usually love different modes of transport, and if someone else is doing the navigating then mum, dad or the grandparents can quietly take a chill pill.
FOR ALL AGES – After exploring the York Castle Museum (which was my ‘must do’ attraction in our York Top Tips) we were exhausted. Walking for hours around a museum is tiring in its own way. Next to the museum is a stop at ‘King’s Laith’ for City Cruises York, which meant we could sit on our bottoms, and sail along the River Ouse without lifting a finger. Once we’d grabbed our seats we bought some bottled water and beer from the onboard cafe, things were looking up. The boat has ample seating for all ages, the windows are large and uncovered, so every parent with climbing toddlers knows the score, but taking a buggy onboard isn’t a problem.
Over the tannoy our skipper Les pointed out relevant landmarks and historical sites such as Guy Fawkes’ school, St Peter’s. He also revealed a section of the river where men, in the past, could duck their annoying wives to teach them a lesson in mysogyny. At the end of each explanation Les cracked a little joke, a little ‘dad’ joke, the suspense of waiting for the delivery of each gag, the anticipation, had us in stitches every time. We called him ‘Les the Legend’ and thanked him when we departed. Current prices for these gentle cruises can be found here. The trip took just over an hour and was a very relaxed way to learn more about the city, see York from the water, and take the weight off our feet.
FOR OLDER KIDS – If you’ve got active, older children I can’t recommend York Cycling Tours highly enough. York’s a beautiful city for cyclists as it’s rich when it comes to cycle paths. Motorists also seem to expect to see cyclists on their roads, which is hugely helpful. To join general tours, kids should be aged twelve and over, with good cycling abilities. For less confident cyclists it’s possible to book out an entire tour as a family: this becomes your own personal tour, and the pace and tone can accommodate your child. Booking is essential.
As my tots are still gadding about on balance bikes I turned up with my pal, childfree, with a mild headache having thrown some shapes in York’s salubrious ‘Kennedy’s Bar’ the night before. Fresh air and pedal power seemed like a good idea.
Our tour guide, Andy, met us behind Gillygate pub, and kitted us out with our bikes and helmets. Due to four last minute cancellations (how rude) we had the trip all to ourselves. The minute we set off I felt in safe hands, given clear directions and Andy was an easy cyclist to follow.
We pedalled for a mere two minutes (exhausting) before we figuratively hit York Minster and parked up. Andy explained a little about the building, and Guy Fawkes’ upbringing in the area, before pointing out a statue of the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great, which I must admit I would never have noticed otherwise. Young Constantine’s dad, Emperor Constantius, popped his clogs whilst Constantine was in York so he was promptly declared Emperor with cause for a huge Roman celebration. That must have been a party to rival Kennedy’s Bar.
Onwards again. We cycled a few minutes more and parked up near a convent to hear the gruesome tale of the pickled hand of a crushed York martyr. I won’t give too much away but kids would love these truly horrible histories. Andy relished telling this tale.
At our third stop Andy stopped at a local war memorial and told stories of York’s ‘Railway King’. His enthusiasm for these characters was addictive, and he talked about these people as if they were modern politicians or celebrities, so it all felt up to date rather than a history lesson. I’m guessing that our tour guide was subtly gauging our cycling skills, as finally we truly hit the road, heading out to York’s famous race track, hearing tales of old execution sites which saw the fall of Dick Turpin, taking in the views of the famous Terry’s Chocolate Factory, before cycling though Rowntree Park which was awash with families out at the weekend. This park was funded by another confectionary giant, of the Fruit Pastilles fame, and here we stopped for coffee in an utterly charming cafe with balconies overlooking the greenery. What I liked about the tour was the way Andy adapted to our personalities. You don’t have to stop for coffee and cake, you don’t have to cycle far, he discreetly suggests things and sees how each party reacts. We, of course, were up for everything. After a few more stops we were back at base. Andy hadn’t stuck to our two hour time slot at all so we gave him a tip as a way of thanks. It felt good to do something active on the trips, so if this interests you current booking info can be found here.
FREE EXPLORATION FOR BABIES AND CHILDREN – I’ve mentioned that York is a very walkable city, but its city walls offer a new perspective. It’s a good way to mix things up. We cut through the city to participate in our cycling tour, but on our journey back to our accommodation we walked around the city via the walls. You see things from an elevated position, you peer into the backs of gardens, houses and hotels you wouldn’t get easy access to. Walkers will also probably pass some of the four main gatehouses, or ‘bars’ as they’re known – Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar – which were used to vet people entering the city and extract tolls as required.
The walls are pretty much a no-go area for buggies but it’s feasible to take babies in slings. Toddlers may revel in it or struggle, it depends on the child, but schoolchildren will certainly enjoy the novelty of travelling ‘by wall’.
York is infinitely explorable so mixing up ways to get around add value to your trip.
OUR STORY – We travelled to York direct from Aberdeen on east coast Virgin Trains. We used the YorkPass for our long weekend, offering free entry into over thirty attractions and tours, as well as shopping and restaurant offers. One, two or three day passes are available. An adult pass is currently £38 for one day, £50 for two. A child’s pass is £24 for one day, £28 for two. As most attractions welcome under 5’s for free it’s generally a false economy to buy a pass for this age group.
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