Cambridge & York

It was about two and a half years coming, but we finally got back a little of what COVID stole from us in 2020. This post covers a day trip we took to Cambridge from London, and two nights in York after we left London, in late July 2022.

Less than an hour by train directly north of London is the university city of Cambridge. Founded in 1209 by Oxford scholars amid political conflict, it’s the world’s third oldest surviving university.

We headed up to Cambridge on the third of our six days in London. The train ride was very pleasant and uneventful, though we were starting to pay attention to the rotating national rail strikes, which thankfully never landed on a day we took a UK train. York would be after our London leg was over, a halfway pit-stop en route to Edinburgh.

While we didn’t encounter labour disruptions, there had been some power line issues on the route we were to take from London King’s Cross to Cambridge, so we ended up having to tube it to Victoria Station and got away a bit later than anticipated.

A Day in Cambridge

One of many walkable streets in Cambridge
One of many lovely walkable streets in Cambridge

Beyond the university, it’s simply a lovely history-rich town with roads built for community, walking and people and not so much for cars. A lot of the university buildings are on the River Cam and you can cruise by on a punt (low rise flat boat), as we did for an hour after lunch. You can also tour many of the college campuses which make up the university and we chose to have a walk-through of St. John’s College, one of the most picturesque in the city.

Walking distance for our day in Cambridge: 10.2k

If London is spectacle, then Cambridge is quaint.

Strava map of our walk around Cambridge
It’s a long, straight walk from the train to the city centre

While there were still lots of people, Cambridge was nothing like London and provided a nice little reprieve in the middle of the first leg of our journey. Particularly when we walked off the main roads or toured something, it got very quiet. Aside from things that charged admission, there were many places where you could find lovely quiet gardens and courtyards.

You can see by the map of our Cambridge walk to the left/above, we had a pretty lengthy stroll to/from the train station to get into the town centre, but when we got there, it was really nothing but history and views.

Aside from our tour of St. John’s College, and walking around and soaking in the many sights (Corpus Clock, Market Square, King’s College and the like), we also climbed the spire of Great St. Mary’s, giving us spectacular 360 degree views of the town, below.

Great St. Mary’s Cambridge Views

Random Street Scenes

Finally, we took a punt on the River Cam and, while a long or private one can get a bit expensive, our hour-long shared ride was pretty reasonable and we got a good history lesson from the Punter driving the boat. You can take one out yourself, but my understanding is that a good half of those who do end up in the water. We just wanted to relax and take in the canal meandering.

A Couple Nights in York

The last stop in our eight days of England, was two nights in York. What a seriously lovely city. About halfway to Edinburgh and two plus hours north of London by train, it’s a very medieval city with a rich history, and so much of it still accessible, including most of the York Walls and access gates erected around the city in Roman times.

Walking distance for two days in York: 24.3k

If London is spectacle and Cambridge quaint, I’m going to call York fortified.

Welcome to York (at the train station of course)

York also has a very deep chocolate tradition (which we didn’t get to), but the aforementioned walls, York Minster, the National Railway Museum and Clifford’s Tower, the Shambles and St. Mary’s Abbey ruins were all things we found very interesting during our stay.

The York Walls gate near our hotel

We stayed in the Staycity Aparthotels Barbican Centre, and were very pleasantly surprised. We had a full 1BR suite, though sadly didn’t make use of the little kitchenette. While there weren’t any shows to take in at the Barbican when we were there, we were literally right across the street from one of the York Walls gateways and a very short walk to the south of the city centre. We had to cross canals to get into town, which is always nice.

Without further ado, the sights …

Obligatory Streets & Canals

None of my time in the UK or Ireland would be complete without documenting the wonderful, walkable, traffic-calmed streets we spent so much of our time on. Below, some random flavour of beautiful York.

York Walls

Most of the York Walls and gateways are still standing and you can walk around the medieval perimeter of the (then) city along the tops of the walls. It’s really a different experience, as you literally feel history under your feet.

York Minster

While York Minster isn’t as mind-blowing as Westminster Abbey, it’s a beautiful cathedral in its own right and we decided we’d take a tour.

Clifford’s Tower

Clifford’s Tower is a 13th-century castle keep, built on a high grass mound, formerly used as a prison and royal mint. There were some views from the roof.

Outside Cliffords Tower

The Shambles

The Shambles is a historic street, featuring some of the best preserved medieval buildings, some dating back to the 14th century. It may look like a normal shopping street now, but it’s very much smaller, with some buildings feeling like they’re falling in on you, they’re so old. One thing I didn’t know while visiting is that Shambles is an obsolete term meaning open meat market, and this is where there was once many butcher shops.

St. Mary’s Abbey Ruins

Located at the back of what is now the York Museum, these are a ruined Benedictine Abbey and scheduled monument.

The National Rail Museum

The final highlight of our time in York, the National Rail Museum was amazing. When you think of what rail has meant to the UK and the role trains play in national transportation, this place covers it all. And I mean all. However, pictures in museums, particularly locomotives, steams and huge rail cars are difficult to do justice to. I’ll try.

A Tiny NHS Adventure

To close things off, York was also where we had our one little NHS experience and it was a very good one. As aside for some colour, if you will. Connie hadn’t had an asthma episode in some time and didn’t bring her inhalers on the trip. So, of course she had a bad one on the trip, developing a cough toward the end of our time in London and hacking near-constantly when in York.

She called the national health 111 line and was triaged for about 15 minutes. Within about three hours someone called her back, did a full phone consult, and booked her into York hospital. We walked the 2km or so north to York Hospital, got in almost immediately to see a GP on duty, who did another fairly extensive consult and half an hour later we walked out with prescriptions for both inhalers and a steroid to kick-start inflammation reduction. At no time did they require extensive personal information, payment of any kind for all the staff time, and the prescriptions were considerably cheaper than they are at home.

With that, the York leg of our trip draws to a close. Next up, we were off to Scotland, starting with four nights in Edinburgh.

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