Last month, York was voted the city that people in this country would most like to live in. As a resident of York for over six years, this does not come as a surprise. From the moment I entered York, I fell in love with it and proceeded to build a life in this venerable city hereafter. It is difficult to relinquish its hold.
York oozes class. It boasts amazing culture – great restaurants, art galleries, bars – fabulous architecture, and most of all, an indeterminable essence that cannot be described more than it can be felt, whether you’re at Clifford’s Tower, Stonegate (stick a roof on this street and you have a museum), The Shambles, or The Minster – the tourist magnets. But spend long enough here, though, and you really get under the skin of the city. Millions of people walk the streets of York every year, from every corner of the globe, but to residents, there is much more to York than meets the eye.
I moved here in 2006. I spent the previous three years in Durham, another quintessentially beautiful English city, where I read law. The similarities between the two cities are obvious; both are centred on ancient seats of Christian worship; both are internationally renowned places of academic study; both underscored by a vibrant local community. Some argue that Durham is actually prettier: the walk from Van Mildert College to the law department on the Bailey, taking in Prebends Bridge, has what many great men have called the most picturesque scene in all of England; the view of Durham Cathedral sitting high atop the hill on a peninsular. It is certainly one of the best things I have ever seen.
But what York enjoys most over Durham is space. It is a bigger city, with more things to do, and more things to see. You can actually feel a degree of claustrophobia in Durham after a while, which for me at least, can only be dissipated by a visit to Newcastle 12 miles away. York, on the other hand, has everything you need within an easy, walkable distance. The Minster is smack bang in the middle of town – head through one of the ancient snickets in York and you wouldn’t think that one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture the world has ever seen is a stone’s throw away, hidden away from view. Its ability draw a gasp still holds strong after six years.
Like many others before me I came to York for legal training at the College of Law, situated at the Knavesmire overlooking the racecourse and the home of one of the best venues for racing in the country (The Royal Ascot was held in York in 2004). I moved to South Bank, living in a student house on Scarcroft Road, and it was a typical postgraduate household; two Italians, a Liverpudlian, a Bulgarian, and a weird but wonderful Chinese man who sparked within me a desire to explore the South East Asian region, which I did in 2008.
To this day I still cannot think of a better community in which to live. A fifteen minute walk into town (a journey which takes you through Micklegate Bar) the area has many top quality amenities: a butcher that makes the best hot beef sandwiches known to man, a baker, a great pub, a great hairdresser, and a huge field to run in/barbecue/sunbathe when the weather feels appropriate. Not to mention Bishopthorpe Road, a wonderful little High Street that has a very cosmopolitan feel to it, juxtaposed to the small ‘villagey’ feel it has about it. I have sat outside the Pig and Pastry eating a continental breakfast and drinking fresh orange juice in the blazing sunshine, thinking the area compares with the very best that London has to offer.
When I moved to York, I took a job to supplement my income in a city centre bar. For a good number of years it proved to be the central hub for mine and other peoples’ social lives. Based in the Old Quarter, annexing Stonegate, this is the classy part of the city to drink. It contains some of the best bars in the country in my opinion; Kennedy’s, Evil Eye, 1331, Bobo Lobos, Vudu, Dusk, Stonegate Yard, and The Biltmore to name but a few. Serving drinks and food to customers from all over the world is by far and away the most interesting job I have ever had, but more than that, the people I worked with, and still know to this day, made it much more fun than I could ever imagine. Finishing a shift and then walking into a competing pub where you know the other members of staff, drinking until the early hours of the morning, has provided a good number of enjoyable moments. Even if I barely remember them.
If you have a predilection for meeting new and interesting people, York is your place. Throughout my time in York I have had the chance to DJ in front of a packed crowd, play guitar in a number of venues across the city for a good friend who possesses a sparkling voice, not to mention meeting many, many other interesting people.
Christmas in York
I have yet to mention Christmas! Stonegate at Christmas brings a warm feeling to your tummy. There really is a special vibe about the city, compounded by seasonal festivities. There is no better place to be than in York at Christmas time. St Nicholas’ Fayre and the Festival of Angels only adds credence to this – thousands of people descend upon York to shop in the boutique shops and be watered and fed in many of the city’s independent restaurants.
Whenever I step off a train at York, and walk into the street opposite the City Walls, I immediately get a sense that this is my home. I am glad the rest of the country want to feel this too.