Stroll With Stu: Personal nostalgia-fest around the city

York Minster.
York Minster.

Low cloud on the hills steered me towards a Town walk for a change and for Town, read City.

My little personal route around York takes in some greater and lesser attractions, while trying to avoid snakes of bored schoolchildren, Japanese cameramen and portly Americans.

The old NER boardroom, at the Grand Hotel, York.

The old NER boardroom, at the Grand Hotel, York.

However, I started with a bit of a personal nostalgiafest.

My 30 years spent working on the railway included a small portion in the offices at York.

I knew one of these office buildings as Main HQ, the magnificent building just inside the City Wall, two minutes walk from the station.

It was built in 1906 for the North Eastern Railway and remained the HQ for various manifestations of Railway Governance even after privatisation.

Clifford's Tower.

Clifford's Tower.

It is now the 5-star Grand Hotel & Spa and I thought I would pop in to see what they had done to the place. Stewart Reid, the Head Concierge, was kind enough to give me a short tour.

He didn’t know that I suffer from chronic cynicism and was ready to get all steamily enraged at modernist vandalism and corporate wreckage, but I was hugely and pleasantly surprised.

The original green tiled walls on the marble staircases and the sturdy wooden doors – all retaining their original office numbers – were as I remembered them, but it was the old Boardroom I really wanted to see.

Now a conference room, I’m pleased to say that this too is largely unchanged.

Portraits of old NER Chairmen still look down on businessmen nodding sagely to one another while discussing paradigm shifts, employee engagement, and that new blonde girl in accounts.

The rest of this hotel just oozed class, and I was seriously impressed with the whole package.

My thanks again to Stewart who should feel free to send me any freebies/gift vouchers that he has tucked away in his desk.

Turning left at the main door, the building straight ahead on Tanner Row is now the local office for English Heritage. I worked in there too and wanted to see if the bizarre fire escape from the second floor was still in use.

Colin, the Safety Manager, only became animated once a year when he led a fire drill.

It involved squashing round his desk, clambering over a windowsill and out onto a metal walkway. Then, while the people at the back were being burnt to a crisp, Colin would operate a manual winch to lower a drawbridge leading over someone’s garden to a set of steps into a back alley.

The woman at English Heritage thought I had gone mad and I left her in peace.

So, uphill along Tanner Row, left down Barker Lane and right along Micklegate to climb up onto the City Walls at Micklegate Bar – one of the four medieval gates to the city. There is a small museum here – the Henry VII experience – which is worth a quick look before heading south-west along the walls to admire the daffodils and busy squirrels.

Drop down at Bishopgate to cross the River Ouse on Skeldergate Bridge.

Have a quick look at Cliffords Tower ahead, but then head to your right along the busy Tower Street, to cross the second river – the Foss.

A feeble attempt to build an architecturally sympathetic Wetherspoons in pretend stone has failed miserably and you should shield your eyes as you cross the road and bear left up Lead Mill Lane.

On your left is the grave of legendary Highwayman Dick Turpin, a sort of 18th Century Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Go left onto George Street, curving right to Walmgate and left back towards the city centre admiring some attractive niche shops and restaurants along the way.

Eventually, with M&S on your left, go straight on along Colliergate. At the end of the extensive Barnitt’s shop frontage, look up to see a stone cat fixed to the wall below the clock.

This is just one of over 20 such cats around York and a walking route can be downloaded from trail - a rare free attraction in the city. Escape the bustle by turning right down St Andrewgate, and left at the end along Aldwark near the Merchant Taylors’ Hall.

Go straight over Goodramgate along Ogleforth, past a number of historic buildings towards the National Trust Treasurer’s House and the rear of the gobsmacking York Minster.

You can reach the front entrance (£10 entrance fee) after a pleasant walk through Deans Park.

The map shows how I got back to the start via the Museum Gardens, the City Walls and past the spectacularly ugly Hudson House, but I’ll leave you to decide where to go next.

Perhaps it’s time for the shops, or one of several hundred lovely cafes and pubs on offer in big-city York. Next time, we’ll be back on more familiar, and somewhat muddier ground.