An absolute Shambles: postcard from York

An absolute Shambles: postcard from York

Modern Traveller takes a day trip to the age-old streets of this former Roman stronghold.


The little round tables and white-painted, wrought iron chairs wobble slightly on the grass.

Perched in this bright summer garden, nose in a book, amidst well-tended wildflowers that beam upwards at the sunshine, the big city feels a world away. The carrot and ginger cake at no8‘s pop-up café is the stuff of dreams — the ideal nibble to set us up for a wander through the enchanted Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, a maze of creaky floorboards and topsy-turvy, worn wooden beams.

On the other side of the uneven, mossy red-brick wall lies a whole world awaiting discovery. Forget maps — phone or paper — and stroll along winding cobbled streets, pausing to admire tiny boutiques stacked to the rafters with polka-dot, cream lace and velvet vintage pieces, independent bookshops spilling over with dust-coated titles and tempting eateries tucked into corners, sweet scents wafting onto busy, bustling byways.

Sure, there are tourists and students and families, dogs and pushchairs and skateboards, but there are also layers upon layers of history here, if one only knows where to look. Weather-beaten plaques, brass statues, ancient wooden signs and more: The Shambles is a haven for the curious, if only one can forget the crowds.

Get lost in florist’s shops brimming with buds, savour succulent pulled pork baps from Shambles Kitchen and laugh with soap-sellers at their blustery outdoor stall: forget everything but the mere fact that you are here.

The medieval Minster rises as if from nowhere, dwarfing the pretty Georgian edifices which surround it. A giant, it towers, spire reaching skywards. The inner chamber is cavernous, reflective, silent; witness, no doubt, to a complex and tumultuous history.

An open gate gives way to the gorgeous gardens of Treasurer’s House, small but perfectly formed; its myriad foxgloves, geraniums and bursts of lavender a heartening ode to an English summer. Artfully placed wooden benches allow visitors to admire this oasis, the Minster soaring over its vine-clad walls, before ducking inside to marvel at the house’s splendour.

Clamber up the steep stone steps to the city walls for a bird’s-eye view of red-brick townhouses, lively pub courtyards, and glimpses through the tangled branches of ancient trees onto expansive, well-tended lawns. This is the intrigued traveller’s guilty pleasure; from here, empty dwellings, anomalous street lamps that once lit roads which no longer exist, and the backs of boarded-up shops can be gazed upon, contemplated and reimagined.

An afternoon in the Shambles is about stepping back in time, savouring a rich chocolate ice cream and a creamy cappuccino — also topped with oodles of the good stuff — from Monk Bar, and coming away with a vintage dress, a bag full of books and one’s curiosity only intensified.

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