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5 reasons to visit York

PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 July 2016

Deans Park close to York Minster.

Deans Park close to York Minster.

Archant

Take a tour of the city's lesser-known treasures with Chris Titley

River Ouse.River Ouse.

There are as many guide books to York as there are selfies taken in Shambles – or so it sometimes seems. So when I was approached to write another, I wasn’t sure. What new could I say? But the premise of the book, 111 Places In York That You Shouldn’t Miss, was seductive. The publishers were interested in the city’s more offbeat pleasures, a guide written as much for residents as tourists.

And so we set out on a mission to chronicle some of York’s less headline-grabbing attractions, discovering some new ones on the way. Here’s a selection that are well worth a visit…

History

Tucked away in the north west of the city is Poppleton Railway Nursery. There used to be six railway nurseries supplying flowers and vegetables to stations across the country, and this is the only one that remains. Saved by a group of volunteers, it holds regular plants sales.

If the spookier side of York’s history appeals, try the Black Swan on Peasholme Green. It boasts ghosts galore, a secret passageway and skulls leering out from the wood panelling upstairs: was this home to York’s own Hell-Fire Club, or a witch’s coven?

Shopping

The window of Blueberry at Silver Street is filled with unique handmade gifts: teacup candles, eggcup pin cushions, redecorated furniture and LP clocks. As well as selling lovely gifts, the shop is a showcase for the work of the Blueberry Academy, which helps adults with learning difficulties gain independence.

York is home to many wonderful old book shops, including Janette Ray Books on Bootham. Inside a building which backs directly onto the City Walls you’ll find volumes on architecture, design, gardens, art and photography.

Among the city’s burgeoning selection of retro shops, Bowler Vintage on Fossgate has two floors of old school fashion and gifts. But if you just fancy a play, head out to Minifigs & Bricks off Wigginton Road – billed as ‘the world’s smallest Lego shop’.

Food and drink

Every week brings a new café opening as York asserts its new-found culinary confidence. One of the most remarkable additions is Gatehouse Coffee, where you can enjoy a hot drink on top of Walmgate Bar, one of York’s medieval stone gateways.

One of the many victims of the December floods was The Hairy Fig on Fossgate. Like so many businesses it has been refitted and reopened, so you can again enjoy this deli’s astonishing array of fine fodder, whether that be truffle and pistachio piglet paté or 40 types of liquorice.

City bosses would like to turn York’s Shambles Market into something akin to the buzzy Borough Market in London. There’s a long way to go, but with Los Moros it has made a good start. It serves up authentic North African street food from a kiosk just off Shambles – try the handmade Merguez sausages.

And later cool off with a cone from the Two Hoots Ice Cream Boat on the River Ouse.

Exploring

Finding GR8escape York is half the battle. Hidden above an unassuming doorway on Colliergate, it is the city’s first ‘live escape room’, where teams are locked in and given a series of puzzles to solve in order to break out.

Now known simply as St Nicks, you would never know that St Nicholas Fields was built on a rubbish tip. Today it is a wonderful wildlife haven – you might even catch sight of a water vole – and home to countless family-friendly eco events throughout the year.

St Wilfrid’s Rectory Garden rarely opens its doors to the public, so keep your eyes peeled. Found behind the imposing Catholic church on Duncombe Place it is one of York’s secret city centre gardens, a beautiful triangular plot with a stunning view of the Minster.

Characters

Many know that Dick Turpin met his end here, but fewer realise you can visit his grave. It is found in the otherwise unremarkable St George’s Churchyard on George Street. Soon after his execution Turpin’s body was taken from here by grave robbers – and although his corpse was recovered, no one is entirely sure if he was reburied here.

Napoleon may never have visited York, but a rather fine oak statue of him resides in the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Imported from France in 1822 he spent many years advertising snuff outside a tobacconist and once had to be rescued from the Ouse after being flung into the river by a group of celebrating soldiers.

Of York’s numerous street entertainers, Purpleman is the most enigmatic. Posing for pictures with tourists on Stonegate, advertising supermarkets, travelling on charity missions to Syria, the man needs to be in two places at once. And now he can be – thanks to his apprentice Purplemen.

Finally, a couple for animal lovers. Frankel once electrified 40,000 people as he stormed to victory at York Races. Trained by the much-missed Henry Cecil, Frankel is now a permanent fixture at the racecourse in the form of a life-size bronze sculpture.

And next time you are gazing at York Minster, try to spot its celebrity residents. They are a pair of peregrine falcons who have mistaken the great church for a cliff-face, and made it their home. You’ll have to be quick though – the birds can reach speeds of 200mph. w

111 Places In York That You Shouldn’t Miss by Chris Titley with photographs by Richard McDougall, is published by Emons, price £11.99.

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