Although Tom and I usually prefer staying in self-catered accommodation when we travel (no getting up at the crack of dawn for breakfast, or being interrupted at any moment by unexpected knocks on the door) there’s only one place we stay when we visit York. Marmadukes Hotel.
The decor has a slightly Old World, colonial feel, with plenty of dark wooden tables, leather sofas, wicker chairs and botanical prints. Apparently it was once the home of a Victorian gentleman, and you do get a sense of this. It’s spacious and light, however, and the cabinets of desiccated plant samples and taxidermied animals favoured by the nineteenth century house are absent. I love this place. It always feels like staying in a home rather than a hotel.
Posing? ME?! Nooo.
Lounging around in our lovely room. It’s actually not quite as pretty as the last room we were allocated, but it still has a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere.
The main drawing room. The staff are happy to serve drinks in here whenever you ask, and there’s a second room next door with leather sofas, a chess set and other board games in case you get bored.
If it is taxidermy you’re after, however, head to The House of Trembling Madness (Delirium Tremens, or DT’s to the locals). The shop downstairs sells an incredible range of alcoholic delights, but make your way through this and up the stairs for the real treat. Crooked wooden beams, benches with sheepskins and fur pelts thrown over them, and a whole wall of mounted heads lend this pub a strangely homely and welcoming feel. Like a Viking boozer. We were sat beneath a huge boar’s head, and above the bar an antique Victorian lion snarls down at punters. Miraculously they actually have wifi here, making it a great place to curl up and write.
A moment of calm, before the place filled up completely as people finished work
A whole wall of taxidermy
We had a few drinks here, before meeting Tom’s brother Luke at the Evil Eye Lounge (every drinking establishment in York seems to be competing to have the most ridiculous name. Excellent reason to test them all, I’d have thought.) In theory this is a student bar, but don’t let that put you off as it’s a relaxed and eclectic crowd. Great cocktails, quirky décor, and a menu of dishes brought back by wide-eyes travellers. Carved four poster beds have been incorporated amongst the usual benches and tables, which you should definitely occupy if you get the chance. I completely forgot to take any photos, sorry, but that is testament to the venue and company!
The next day, determined to get some writing done, we wandered around York looking for somewhere suitable. I vastly prefer writing in cafes and bars, as inspiration is all around you. It also feels more purposeful than sitting on the sofa at home, where there are so many other distractions.
Tom, looking more like the Bernard Black of the North
York is a beautiful town, full of Medieval buildings and cobbled streets, but it is also full of tearooms. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of afternoon tea, and Betty’s Tearooms do an excellent one… but they just don’t work as a writing environment. There’s too much light, for one thing. I don’t know about you, but I much prefer hiding myself away in the shadows so I can type and think in peace. There are also far too many people, often sitting at tables crowded closely together, peering curiously at everything and everyone around them. There are plenty of excellent pubs and restaurants in York, but the sort of cafes you get in London and Paris don’t seem to have arrived yet.
After a good half an hour of peering doubtfully through tearoom windows, we were advised to try Grays Court. Not even the locals seem to know about this place, but it was exactly what we wanted. For anyone who does know York, you need to circle anticlockwise around the back of the Minster, then it’s just past the Treasurer’s House. These were the directions we were given anyway! For everyone else there’s google maps.
We wandered beneath a stone archway, and found ourselves in a stunning courtyard. The trees were hung with lanterns, and only just starting to spill golden leaves onto the cobbles beneath. We picked out a heavy oak door as being the most likely entrance, and made our way up the hulking wooden staircase on the other side. As promised, the place was half empty, and we were invited to wander around and find a room we wanted to sit in. We chose the Library (obviously!) but even the main, wood-panelled lobby has been cleverly split into separate areas so you are able to feel more secluded if you want to.
Apparently the manor house was once owned by the Duke of Somerset, Jane Seymour’s brother, and visited by both James I and James II. It hasn’t been open as a hotel for long, and they still seem to be putting in the finishing touches (a few shelves in the Library hadn’t yet been filled, and a wall of gilt-framed black and white photos in the dining room was only half completed). It’s a lovely, peaceful environment though, and we stayed there most of the day.
We only had two days in York, but we found some lovely places. I’ll save the excellent shopping for another time!
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