Follow the Cats [York, Yorkshire]

by - March 22, 2016


 The change from countryside roads to town outskirts was so graceful that we were surprised when the towers of the cathedral loomed over us from behind the low buildings. Sitting proudly on the window sill of a brick building was a small statue of a black cat, welcoming us to York, a city which has, through battles and war, earned itself its own identity - a unique one, which winks playfully from every medieval house and every old sweets shop.

 I must admit that I had not even done a quick Google search before we set off for York, but it needed no interpreters to tell us its story. It spoke clearly through medieval towers turned into souvenir shops; through the signs tempting us to stray from our path and go back in time to Scandinavian Jórvík; through the songs of the York Minster echoing cheerfully through the tiny streets; even through the multiple pubs claiming that "this very building is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes".

 Those who find themselves lost or unsure of where to start their tour of the town, I would advise to simply follow the cats: make your way to the York Glass shop in the Shambles and pick up a free Cat Trail map. The aim is to spot all of the small cat statues scattered across the rooftops of the buildings. In doing so, you end up exploring some of the most beautiful parts of the city. Remember the little black cat at the start of this post?..

 If you are not really a cat person, or you want to know about the darker stories of York's past, set an evening aside to go on a Ghost Trail. I personally recommend this one, which starts at the west doors of the minster. There are no tickets or bookings, all you need to do is show up on the spot. Trust me, you will know your guide when you see him. We did not see any ghosts, but perhaps fortune will smile upon you.

 Of course, we did not miss out on visiting the York Minster where I did not dare let go of mi amore's hand, for fear of getting lost. So great was the distance between us and the vault ceiling, that gravity seemed like a vague concept. Beneath us was a path of cold stone blocks, each telling the life and story of people long gone. The 'middle ground' between this 'heaven and hell' was a wonderland of stained glass, depicting moments of history and myth in vivid colours. Yes, it was that middle plain - that labyrinth of twisting paths and fates - that was more inviting, fascinating, full of life, than the inevitable below us, or the dream above us.

 It turned out that York was more than we had bargained for and we had to leave before we'd seen everything we wanted to (NB: The Jórvík Viking Center is closed until spring 2017 due to a flood). In many ways, it was reminiscent of Canterbury (which you can read about here), but this time something stopped me from making this travel post as personal as I normally would. Canterbury was a quirky mosaic; York was a kaleidoscope. It followed no timelines, and ignored all cultural boundaries. Its personality was that of a bohemian - possessing the charisma of a small 'hipster' town, whilst at the same time shining brighter than the neon lights of its newer American counterpart. And this is the type of character that plays the leading role in any story.

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