How to get cheaper rail tickets in the UK (without booking billions of years in advance)

The price of UK rail travel has undoubtedly gone up over the past 2 years. What used to be a cheap trip is now double the price for a lot of people. This article explores some ways you can buy cheaper tickets, whether you’re a native or coming to the UK from abroad.

Many people suggest “oh, you have to book in advance to get the cheap tickets” but this isn’t helpful for many people. There are three issues with this:

First, if you try and book in advance, you might think you’ll definitely get the cheaper tickets. But let’s say you booked three or four months in advance. The cheap tickets won’t show up because they haven’t been released yet! How ridiculous is that? Nowadays, they don’t automatically make the cheapest tickets available for all advance customers, there’s actually a narrow window of opportunity, so you might be getting penalized for buying tickets too far in advance!

Second, those advance tickets often sell out quickly (especially to regular travellers who snap them up the day they’re released which is exactly 9 weeks in advance of the travel date).

Third, many people don’t plan their travel that far ahead of time. A few years ago, you could get a one-month advance ticket or a two-week advance ticket and get decent prices compared to an anytime single or day return. There was even a three-day advance ticket once upon a time! Now? The whole system is so broken it’s insane.

So whether you’re a planner or you live life by the seat of your pants, you’re probably getting ripped off for the cost of your UK train tickets. But there are still things you can do to reduce your train ticket costs for journeys within Britain:

Check what railcards you are entitled to buy

This is absolutely the first and most important step in saving money on a train ticket. Unless you are travelling alone and aged 30-60, there’s probably a railcard that will net you about 1/3 off your travel. You usually pay about £30 for the year (or £70 for three years) and the savings can mean this pays for itself after just one long-distance or big family rail journey!

Instead of family tickets, senior tickets, and other discounts at the point-of-sale of the tickets, train tickets in the UK don’t work like that (why would they? That would make sense, and nothing about British train travel makes sense, as the rest of this article will show). Instead, you need to buy an advance railcard and then book your tickets with it. Be sure to have the railcard with you when you travel or you have to pay full price (so keep the tickets with the railcard if possible and take the lot for your journey).

The railcard options are:

16-17 Saver Railcard (gets you 50% off travel if you’re the right age)

16-25 Railcard (gets you 1/3 off off-peak travel when you’re this age)

25-30 Railcard (same as 16-25 railcard; I don’t know why the two are not just combined into a 16-30 card to be honest)

Disabled person’s railcard (1/3 off peak AND off-peak travel for you and a carer/friend)

Family and Friends Railcard (great for group bookings, this gets you 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 60% off for up to 4 children). You only need ONE family and friends railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Network Railcard (perfect if you live in the South East, this covers 16 of the home counties and London. You get 1/3 off for up to 4 adults and 4 children). However, if you can get the family and friends railcard, the discount is better than the network railcard, and the family and friends one covers the whole of Britain. Again, you only need ONE Network Railcard for your booking, not one per person.

Senior Railcard (1/3 off for the over 60s)

Two together railcard (1/3 off for you and one other person) This card has no age restrictions or other requirements so anyone can get this card as long as you’re travelling on the train with someone else.

Veteran’s Railcard (discount and terms unclear). This card is for anyone who has served at least 1 day in the UK forces (including territorial/reserves) or anyone in the merchant navy who has seen active duty on UK operations.

With so many cards to choose from, there is probably one that can get your ticket price down.

What if you can’t get a UK railcard?

If you aren’t eligible to get a UK railcard, look into whether you can get an Interrail or Eurail pass if you’re coming from another country (or if you have a foreign passport). If you’re doing a lot of traveling in a short amount of time, this could save you hundreds compared to the cost of individual tickets. The Interrail pass is for Europeans. The Eurail pass is mainly for Americans.

The terms and conditions are very specific to your individual situation so read all the info thoroughly. You may still need to pre-book tickets at the train station (don’t pre-book via Trainline or anywhere else online if you have an Interrail/Eurail pass as it won’t work properly and you may end up paying full price for the tickets which puts you back to square one).

With or without a railcard, another good way to reduce the cost of your ticket is to split the journey (ideally on the same train).

What is journey splitting?

Due to ticket pricing algorithms, it is often more expensive to buy a ticket from a main city to another main city (or tourist destination). There might be another train station right next to your usual one where prices are cheaper. For example, if you’re travelling from Stoke on Trent to Derby, it could be cheaper to get a ticket from Stoke to Uttoxeter, then Uttoxeter to Derby. As long as the two tickets together cover your full journey on the train, this is fully legal and allowed.

There are sites that can help you find the best price for splitting your journey, otherwise, you can “overbook” your ticket.

What is overbooking?

Overbooking is booking a ticket for more stops than you actually wanted to travel to. Bizarrely, it can sometimes be cheaper than a shorter journey. This works best with day tickets or day returns due to the way ticketing works.

Say you wanted to go from York to Leeds. The trainline goes Nether Poppleton, York, Leeds, Bradford (I’m simplifying the stops here). It could be cheaper for you to get a ticket from Nether Poppleton to Leeds, or from York to Bradford, or from Nether Poppleton to Bradford. Put all of these into your train ticket booking site (such as National Rail Enquiries) to find the cheapest ticket, then get on/off at your usual stops. So you could buy a ticket that starts at Nether Poppleton, but still get on the train at York. As long as your ticket is valid for the whole journey, this is allowed.

Does this work with ticket barriers?

I have never had a problem using a ticket at ticket barriers but it depends on the ticket type and how rigid your journey times are.

With an anytime single or day return, if you’re on a train with a long stop, e.g. York to Manchester, and you get off at Leeds to grab a McDonald’s then get back on the train for the rest of your journey, you would need to go through the ticket barriers to get to McDonald’s. The day ticket (anytime single) or day return would allow you to do this. The same would apply to an over-booked ticket, for the same reason. The ticket barrier doesn’t know why you got off the train, but it should know that the ticket is valid.

Instead of being classed as an “anytime single” or “day return”, some tickets are classed as a “this journey only ticket”. These might not register correctly at the barriers for a different station to the ones where the journey begins and ends, so trying to get on at a later station can be a little more risky, but a reasonable ticket guard would check your ticket, see it’s valid for the train at the platform, and let you get on.

Avoid London if possible

Many tickets are more expensive if they include “London Terminals” (the big train stations in London). This includes travel via King’s Cross, Marylebone, St. Pancras, Waterloo, etc. If you can organize your journey avoiding these stations, you can probably bring the price down significantly.

For example, let’s say you’re travelling from Newcastle (Upon Tyne) to Bristol Temple Mead. Instead of going Newcastle to London on one train then changing at London to get to Bristol, you could specify a different route on your ticket booking to avoid London. So you could travel Newcastle to Birmingham New Street then Birmingham New Street to Bristol Temple Mead and it would work out cheaper (for this specific journey, this route is also quicker, and there’s usually a direct Newcastle-Bristol train that you could travel on, depending on the time of day you were travelling).

Some tickets even say, “avoiding London terminals” on them. If yours says this, you have got a cheaper ticket that hasn’t had the “London surcharge” applied to it.

Nice ideas, but what if you’re travelling TO London?

If you are trying to travel to London, you will probably be looking at the most expensive train tickets in the UK. No one knows why. The pricing of tickets to or from London doesn’t make any sense when you think about rules of “economies of scale” or “supply and demand” but there we go.

Travelling to or from London, you have two options to reduce your ticket cost, depending on where you live and whether you drive (or can get a bus) or not.

Your first option is to drive/bus to the edge of London, park at a train station such as Luton/Leagrave, Slough, Croydon etc then get just your TfL ticket for the overground/underground to reach your final destination.

The other option is, you could book your main train ticket to the edge of one of the TfL zones (the areas of London are broken up into zones and underground/overground tickets are priced according to which zones you’re going to) then use your debit card or oyster card to finish the journey. Paying separately like this can work out cheaper for some people, it depends on where you’re trying to go and what the cost for the full ticket is.

Overall though, get one of the railcards mentioned above to cover your main journey, then prepare to still bend over and be screwed a bit by the London train ticket prices.

Do also consider alternatives to the train (such as the bus) in areas of London where this is feasable. Some areas, especially at peak hours, the bus takes longer than just walking due to traffic, but other areas, such as Twickenham or Southwark, the bus is a reasonable and cheap alternative. I actually had a decently fast bus ride from Covent Garden to Trafalgar Square during the middle of the day last time I was in London, though, so don’t rule this out even in Zone 1!

Will these methods add to my journey time?

Not if you were travelling that way anyway. If you were going into London, at some point you would have to change from a mainline train to an underground/overground train anyway, so you might as well do it in the cheapest possible way.

The TfL network has clear and transparent fixed prices for the different zones whereas the mainline (longer distance) trains tend not to have transparent prices–and that’s where you want to avoid getting ripped off. In my own experience the main thing that adds to journey time is transfers, so if there’s a lot of walking such as between a train station and an underground station, or from a station to a bus stop, then a wait for the next mode of transport, it can take ages.

But if you’re splitting a ticket and staying on the same train, or getting off the mainline one stop early and getting the underground, you shouldn’t have a noticeable difference in journey times. Use a journey planner to help you decide (Google’s one can be shockingly inaccurate), and make sure to include all the places you want to stop/change so you can get a realistic timing.

Conclusion:

There is a lot you can do to reduce the price of a train journey in the UK. It seems counter-intuitive to pay £30 extra for a railcard, but if it saves you £100 on a £300 booking, it’s absolutely worth it!

If you have any other (legal) methods to get train costs down, let me know in the comments.

5 Foods to Forage in August: Ireland

One of the most wonderful things about living out in the country in a large village is the abundance of wildlife all around me. I love seeing the birds every day as the coal tits come to my bird feeder followed by the ravens, who usually grab some of the pest bugs from my vegetable garden while they’re here.

I get excited when the blackberries appear, green at first, then red, before turning that barely-black shade that means it’s time to pick them. And I always smile when I see the rose hips starting to form at this time of year, looking like dewy pink rosebuds again, as nature gets ready for the transition into Autumn.

August is the month that many berries are ripe for picking. These are usually full of vitamins (especially vitamin C which boosts your immune system among other things) and preserving these berries through making jams, jellies, wines or cordials is a traditional way to ensure you have a healthy winter.

The earliest of the nuts appear at the end of August, too, although most taste best when harvested next month or even October. If you can find hazelnuts to pick, you’ve hit the nutritional jackpot this month!

Here are my top 5 foods to forage in August if you live in Ireland:

Blackberries

ripe blackberries
Ripe blackberries… totally different to blackcurrants (but everyone thinks they’re the same thing).

These are native and you’ll find their distinctive brambles all over the place.

My grandma used to say never to pick blackberries from by the road because the toxins from petrol cars would get into the berries and make you ill. She was a district nurse/midwife so probably knew what she was talking about. She lived in an era where car fuel contained lead, but she also grew up in rural Ireland at a time when there were significantly fewer cars on the roads, so I’d still heed her advice because we know a lot more about the toxicity of other petrol fumes these days.

I wanted a reliable source of blackberries as I adore blackberry jam, so since April I have been growing my own blackberry bush in a container (to stop it taking over the garden… it’s already trying haha). If you’ve a blackberry bush, it should fruit in the second year.

Ironically, it turns out there are also blackberry brambles in the little spinney at the bottom of my garden, and they have grown through the fence, so it looks like we’ll be inundated with my favourite berries next year! I always had a great crop of wild blackberries growing in the hedge at our old house in York, England (despite my mother in law’s attempts to remove the bramble “weed” when she visited), so I can’t wait to have them in my garden again.

Choose ripe blackberries which are a dark purple (almost black), and avoid ones which have been pecked at by birds or eaten by insects. If they have brown damage to the berries, leave them for the birds, too. Absolutely never pick mouldy ones (these will have green fuzz on them).

Remember, it’s better to leave some behind than to pick everything then throw it away, because other animals depend on naturally-growing fruits for their survival.

The best thing to do with blackberries you’ve foraged is to make my grandma’s blackberry jam recipe. If you don’t have time to do it immediately, freeze your blackberries until you can make them into jam.

Raspberries

My other grandma was Scottish. She lived near an abandoned railway line where canes of raspberries grew in late summer and her freezer always had a little supply of them ready to be made into her delicious pies with homemade pastry. Aside from the berries, raspberry leaves can be harvested, dried and made into tea which tones the uterus and helps stimulate labour contractions for pregnant women (avoid when pregnant until the end of your pregnancy).

To harvest the berries: Pick them when they are a pinky-red colour. The berries are delicate so store in Tupperware-type containers. You can either eat them as-is (or as an ice cream topping), freeze them, or make them into pies or jam. Avoid fruit that is damaged or looks like old lady skin, or has gone a strange colour. Also avoid unripe fruits.

To harvest the leaves: Pick them when they are green. Avoid ones with holes in them or ones which have aphids or other insects living on the back (or front, but usually insects colonize the backs of leaves). At home, wash them thoroughly then put on an oven tray. Bake at 65 degrees Celsius (150F) for 4 hours to dry them and put them into small muslin bags or tea filters when you want to make raspberry leaf tea.

Elderberries

Elderberries are a versatile natural fruit berry growing in Ireland in August. The berries are small and round, a deep purple that looks black, with a shiny surface.

There are a few other plants that have berries that look similar, including deadly nightshade (not a tree, but it can be parasitic around trees and I’ve seen it reach heights of 10 metres or more when entangled around a tree), so if you’ve never picked elderberries before, do consult a plant or tree identification guide to be sure you’re picking elderberries.

Elderberries can be used to make jam, cordial, or wine, depending on what you prefer.

Hazelnuts

Finally, a source of protein! Hazelnuts are supposedly native to Ireland in some areas, although I’ve never seen any myself. I’d keep an eye out because they’re the jackpot when it comes to foraged nutrition.

They’re hiding in little papery structures on hazel bushes, and they’re reddish-brown when they’re ripe (don’t pick green ones)

You can roast them and salt them, or even pickle them to preserve them!

Crab apples

Crab apples are a lot smaller than regular apples. They look a bit like rose hips, and are a similar size, except crab apples are perfectly round, not rosebud shaped. If you’re familiar with the plant where you’re picking them, you should know if, earlier in the year, it had dog rose/wild rose flowers (either white or purple with a yellow centre) or whether it didn’t, and that’s a good clue, too. Don’t worry at all if you get them confused. Both are edible.

Crab apples are best used to make crab apple jelly to be served alongside chicken as a condiment (like cranberry sauce for turkeys, but more European).

Swimming adventure

Yesterday, we had a little swimming adventure at Finn Valley Leisure Centre in Stranorlar.

We waited until after jellyfish had finished his afternoon nap, and took his new UV protection swimsuit (a €3.49 bargain I spotted in Lidl yesterday after ordering reusable swim nappies for him from Jojo Maman Bebe the day before, which probably won’t arrive for a few more days).

The swimsuit has a top and shorts and I really bought it for splashing in the sea but I think it’s a bit déclassé to take a toddler swimming in just a swim nappy, especially since ours look small on him despite him still being in the right weight category for them.

When we arrived, we took it in turns to take care of the toddler, so I got changed while my husband changed Jellyfish, then we swapped and I held onto the wiggly toddler and inflated his floaty things while my husband got changed.

The pool here is amazing for little ones. There is a separate toddler pool with its own lifeguard. The water hits 0.45m max. It starts off at paddling pool depth so Jellyfish was able to quickly feel confident and in control of the water depth. He loves water anyway so this was just like going to the beach for him. When the water got to his chin, he got a bit worried so we put him in his big orange baby seat and whizzed him around, which he enjoyed last time we swam, before Christmas.

This time, however, we alternated putting him in his seat with letting him experience the water without it (he kept his armbands on). He enjoyed being able to wiggle and kick, and even started trying to move in specific directions to say hello to other babies in the pool.

I really liked how engaged the lifeguards were with the swimmers. I’ve never seen lifeguards actually helping children to swim before, but with enough lifeguards on duty, one was able to give their attention to a disabled child and enable him to experience swimming.

We spent 45 minutes in the water then showered off poolside as Jellyfish is a bit scared of showers. He liked being able to run out of the way of the stream of water and that helped us actually get him showered for a change (usually at home he baths rather than showers and he cried last time I tried to take him into our shower).

We hurried back to the changing room at this point and dried off. I undressed Jellyfish and my husband got his clean nappy on while I got dressed. The changing rooms are unisex with the option of both cubicles or open plan, which made it easy to find space to change Jellyfish and ourselves.

Overall, we all had a great, stress-free time and our little one was able to feel confident in the water which is really important to me as I’m not much of a swimmer (I failed swimming several times in primary school due to my asthma not being controlled, and I’ve never really been confident because of that).

From my own experiences, I wanted our little one to start swimming when he was a tiny baby, but this wasn’t possible. I was very upset that I couldn’t get Jellyfish into baby swim lessons last year, but that’s the trouble with having post-birth complications and a baby who was a few months old when lockdown began.

Like many other new parents last year, we lost so many early baby experiences I’d planned in the years before we got pregnant, so many chances for him to interact with other people and experience things out and about in the big wide world, and it was hard to deal with losing those important developmental opportunities, so hopefully we can make up for it all in the months and years to come.

I drove us home from the pool feeling happy that Jellyfish had enjoyed exploring the water and splashing around, and seeing other babies his own age doing the same. I would recommend this pool if you’re local in the County Donegal or Strabane area and looking for things to do with your baby or toddler, as the toddler pool is such a nice area to swim with a baby or toddler. I’ve honestly never seen such a nicely-designed public swimming pool before, and it’s definitely worth the €6 entry ticket per adult.

There’s free parking on-site and the toddler leisure swim is available 10am-6pm Saturdays and Sundays.

There’s a frog in our garden!

We’ve been trying to solve this mystery for about a week.

Last week, while we were busy laying the drainage to ensure our heavy clay soil can be used for anything other than very soggy lawn, my husband spotted a little creature behind our oil tank (the oil tank is for heating, if you’ve never come across this).

The first time he tried to approach, the creature fled through a gap in the bottom of the fence. All we saw was a flash of black then we heard this crashing and banging. For about a week, we wondered if it was a water rat or similar. My husband estimated from the noise it made that the visitor must have been this big (holding his hands apart so wide I was led to believe the mystery creature was about the size of a rabbit).

Fast-forward to yesterday, we were laying more drainage (between the downpours) and our little friend appeared again, looking a bit put out when we interrupted his lunch. Mystery solved: It was a huge black frog.

He just stood very still and waited for us to leave. This fellow has more neck than a giraffe, he didn’t even flinch when my husband stood inches away, moving some wood so he could get out through the fence.

Again, today, he made another appearance and I think he has decided to take up residence at the back of our garden. Probably because it’s so damp and soggy. Poor chap is going to be a bit put out when we drain all the land. We might have to put in a water feature for him (except we have to proceed with extreme caution re: water due to us having a toddler).

So here’s a picture of our mysterious intruder:

I was unsure whether this was a special species of frog native to Ireland, but when I looked it up, there wasn’t really any information about black-coloured frogs online, so I’m guessing it’s a common frog (in an uncommon colour). It’s definitely not a toad because it doesn’t have the warts, and anyway, the face is too pointy. Apparently, frogs can turn darker colours when they are cold, but that doesn’t make sense for this frog, because both times I’ve seen it, the temperature was between 18-22 degrees Celsius, which is quite warm (T-shirt weather).

Have you ever seen a frog in an interesting colour? Are these native to Ireland? Do we have a rare species of frog in our garden that’s never before been discovered? What a mystery!

Oh and on the topic of hilarious stories to do with land drainage, on the way back from Buncrana at the weekend, I saw a tourist pull into the side of the road and refill his drinking water bottle from the outlet pipe from a farm’s land drain! He threw his head back and chugged it. Eurrrrrgh! He was drinking cow poo! If you’re on holiday in a rural area, please don’t do this, you could get dysentery or all sorts. If it comes out of a big pipe and lands in a grid or river, it’s NOT a natural stream of drinking water.

You may also like to know about our beautiful butterfly visitor!

Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum

Vindolanda was famed as the last outpost of the Roman Empire. Sited along Hadrian’s Wall, on what used to be the border between England and Scotland, this fortified settlement defended Roman-occupied England from the untamed Picts. I went in 2016 and have never gotten around to writing about it so here it finally is.

The site of Vindolanda is split into two attractions.

There’s the (enormous) site itself, where you can see the real Roman remains of the buildings that have been excavated. This is Vindolanda and to my knowledge there’s no other Roman site as extensive or as high-quality in Britain which is publicly accessible.

The second attraction is the Roman Army Museum, which is part of the same site, shares a car park etc, and has the small finds from the excavations of Vindolanda along with displays, interactive things and information explaining the written history of the time period. This is a great place to get out of the rain which is plentiful and often unpredictable in this part of England.

I really enjoyed seeing the remains of Vindolanda. Don’t get me wrong, the Roman Army Museum is probably one of the best museums (musea, if you’re pedantic) in Britain, certainly the best Roman museum, but I’m not the biggest fan of museums due to my ADHD, so for me, my favourite part was being outside and walking around amongst the remains of the buildings, getting to see what it all would have been like, and learning from the real remains. There’s a reason I’m an archaeology grad not a museum studies grad. But the quality of finds in the Roman Army Museum are excellent, it’s incredible to see such well-preserved artefacts from the time period. My favourite thing to see in the Roman Army Museum was the wax stylus which still contained writing from its erstwhile Roman owner.

You can pay separately or get a joint ticket which makes it easy to do both sites, and there are also family tickets (for up to 2 adults/3 children). 

Getting there:

Cycling/Driving: Find the A69 (the road between the A1(M) motorway at Newcastle and the M6 motorway at Carlisle). About halfway down this road, turn off at Bardon Mill toward the B6138. The B6138 roughly follows a large section of Hadrian’s Wall which is accessible from the road, so this is a good place to do some off-path exploring. However, for Vindolanda and the Roman Army Museum, there are big brown tourist signs from the link road between the A69 and the B6138.

Public transport: There is a bus stop right outside Vindolanda. This is for the AD122 from Hexham to Haltwhistle (and back again). Check which direction you need (Hexham or Haltwhistle) as buses to each are hourly but both stop at the same bus stop (which is at the car park for Vindolanda). Hexham has a train station with a 30-minute journey time to/from Newcastle Upon Tyne station. Haltwhistle is on the same railway line which is the Carlisle to Newcastle line, but the line doesn’t stop at Vindolanda.

A Brief History of York (and where to find its remains)

York is a lot older than it looks. Situated in rolling plains at the heel of the North York Moors, downstream from the glacial valley of the Vale of Pickering, York seems fixed in time as a medieval city with later additions, but its past is much older than that. If you want a quick history to help you plan a trip to York, read on! This article covers everything from prehistory through medieval all the way to modern times, with named buildings/landmarks for you to find from each time period, too!

Prehistory

The city of York has a shorter prehistory than other parts of North Yorkshire, for example Scarborough. There’s nothing of it to see in the city, unfortunately, but the monolith in Rudston, near Bridlington, is one of several places in North and East Yorkshire where you can take a day trip to see some prehistory.

If you love the Neolithic, Bronze and Iron ages, check out these 9 prehistoric day trips you can take from York.

Celtic York (Iron Age)

Nothing really remains from York’s Celtic past but we know about it from the Romans. York was located at the confluence of two Celtic tribes, the Brigantes who occupied much of what are now the counties of North and West Yorkshire, and the smaller Parisi tribe, who occupied what is now East Riding of Yorkshire.

Not much is known about the area that became York at this time, but it was probably a small settlement or trading outpost where the two tribes could exchange goods, since the Parisi’s main town was near what is now Brough, East Riding.

Ptolemy said York was already called Eboracum and under the Brigantes’ control by the time the Romans occupied. He may not be a reliable source since he was a Greek historian who lived in Egypt and had never been to England. His knowledge of Britain likely came from rumours and Roman propaganda, so take it with a pinch of salt.

Celtic buildings were biodegradable, made out of wattle and daub (big stick frames packed with manure reinforced with hay), so it is much harder to find the remains of Celtic settlements than it is to find Roman ones, which incorporated stone.

We get a lot of our information on the Celts from burials. The nearest Celtic burial site includes an incredible chariot burial in Pocklington, which was Parisi controlled. This site is currently being studied and they haven’t decided how to display the discoveries, yet.

Roman York

The Romans conquered Britain in AD43 after previous, failed attempts. It was 28 more years before they reached York, where they built a fort in the city of Eboracum. It was actually already a settlement (as we have just seen) but the Romans moved in and made it their own, first with a military fort, and then a civilian settlement.

Archaeologists think the Brigantes were originally working with the Romans but dissented over taxation issues, at which point the Brigantes had a short future with a lot of sharp things in it. The Romans took over Eboracum and made it a military outpost. Once the area was at peace, the Romans turned their fort into a walled city, still called Eboracum.

The Romans built the Basilica (administrative civic building with a courthouse) beneath what is now York Minster. We also have evidence of Roman baths, and some remains of other Roman sites in York, but a lot of it is probably built under existing buildings. Where a building is medieval, it is unlikely that we will ever find out what Roman things lay beneath it, because the new building has to be preserved.

Some people say the Multangular tower is Roman but actually only its base is. The council have it listed as built between 1250-70.

There are still Roman remains you can see in York. Check out this article on them!

Anglo-Saxon York

The Saxons renamed Eboracum to Eoforwic. Influences from this time include place names, such as the nearby Queen Ethelburga’s school. At the time, England was devolved into six kingdoms: Wessex, Essex, Sussex and Kent across the south coast; East Anglia, in modern-day Norfolk; Mercia, in the midlands; and Northumbria in the north. Little remains of this time. During this time, the first York Minster was built in 627. The original building was made of wood. This was replaced by the second Minster, a stone building completed in 637. This was extensively renovated in the 670s and the Minster library and Minster school were founded. This second Minster burned down in 741. Not to be deterred, the Saxons rebuilt it a third time (it was later destroyed again, by marauding Vikings in 1075).

Viking York

In 866, Ivar the Boneless brought an army of Danes to York. From East Anglia, they moved north through Bernicia and into Deira. In 875-954, the area was mostly controlled by Vikings with the occasional Saxon resurgence. The Vikings quickly established themselves in the area and while they were not even here for a century, they transformed York into England’s second largest city in that time. The old Roman wall was covered with earth and a huge wooden palisade was built on top to make it more effective at keeping people out. Viking coins were minted in York, the title “King of York” was created, and one Viking king (Guthred) was buried in York Minster, and the city was largely at peace again. The Viking rule ended in 954 with the death of Eric Bloodaxe, and the next ruler of York was an Earl, rather than a King, as the warring countries within England all became one large country. The Vikings did return and attempted to take Jorvik again but they did not succeed and the whole area returned to Anglo-Saxon rule for 110 years.

What’s left to see:

Across the river on Bishophill Jr, you can find the church of St Mary Bishophill, a 10th Century church. This is the only building left from this period.

Norman Medieval York

After the arrival of William the Conqueror in 1066, York suffered heavy damage during the harrying of the north, a programme aimed at subjugating the last vestiges of resistance to Normandy rule. The land around the city of York was razed, to make it impossible to grow crops there, and 150,000 people died. After starving out the resistance and paying the Danes to leave, William removed all Anglo-Saxon nobles and installed Norman rulers and York was rebuilt mostly the way it is today.

Important buildings you can see from the Norman medieval period include the Minster (current version 4.0) and the remains of York Castle (Clifford’s tower). The ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey in the Museum Gardens is from 1089. St Martin-cum-Gregory church, while it has been altered over the years, still has an 11th century nave which you can see from the outside. Further afield, on Lawrence Street, the 12th century tower of the Old Church of St Lawrence creates a mysterious silhouette in the churchyard of what is now St. Lawrence parish church.

There is also a secret building you can find if you are feeling adventurous. The Norman House is the ruined remains of a twelfth century house. Behind Stonegate, it is unmarked on Google maps. Those in the know will tell you to find an archway on Stonegate to access The Norman House. It’s actually a neat, black door, marked 52A. Presumably, this door was installed to protect the house from the local yoof and potential squatters. Info here.

Plantagenet Medieval York

The house of Plantagenet was a continuous line from William the Conqueror, but not known as such until Richard of York adopted the name. This era spanned 1216 to 1485 and was characterised by a long and bloody feud between the rival branches of the family: The house of Lancaster and the house of York. The city of York wasn’t greatly involved, the house of York was largely York in name only, but some locals do feel a loyalty to these kings – mostly called Richard or Edward – over the rival Lancastrian kings – the Henrys. This turbulent time is known as the War of the Roses, and references to this can still be seen today, as the White Rose of York is now an emblem for the whole of Yorkshire and none of the fighting took place in the city of York, which thrived and finished this era unscathed—by politics.

The Black Death In York

In 1348, The Black Death reached England and spread across the entire country before the end of the following year. It reached York in 1349. Higden of Chester travelled across the north of England and asserted that “scarcely a tenth of the population was left.” By this measure, York fared better than many nearby towns and cities; estimates suggest it lost 30-60% of the population. A more concrete number is difficult to calculate because York actively recruited more citizens from the surrounding rural lands, which added to the population.

The graveyards overflowed and plague victims were buried in huge mass unmarked graves in grassy ditches just outside the walls. An unreliable source suggests these victims were buried in the embankments, and still remain undisturbed, but this is not true. As we have already seen, the embankments cover the Roman walls (and this would be a bizarre way to bury the dead at a time when religious zeal was at its peak). It is far more likely that they were buried below ground level, perhaps where the former moat was.

In some parts of the city, houses and roads either side of the walls make it impossible for there to be undisturbed medieval burials in them. In what remains, it is doubtful the city had the space to bury around 10,000 people around the walls, which calls into question the higher death toll estimates.

Within the city, daily life was a balancing act between waste disposal and grand ideas. On one hand, St. Leonard’s Hospital was the biggest hospital in the North of England (with 225 beds compared to most hospitals having around 20) and the medieval Minster was a great Catholic cathedral. On the other, the streets were swamped with domestic and business waste and sewage, and the water was unsanitary. None of these issues are peculiar to York, however, and are representative of how people understood things during this time.

The evidence shows the presence of leprosy and other diseases in York, but largely health problems were due to poor diet, with iron-deficiency anaemia, joint problems, and rickets commonly found in skeletons from this time. When it comes to medieval hospitals, more is known about the buildings than the people or their ailments/infirmities, and St Leonard’s is no exception.

Things in the city from this time period are plentiful and include: The Merchant Adventurer’s Hall (completed in 1361), which was most recently an almshouse until 1900. The Shambles (the houses you see today date from 1350-1475), a former street of butchers. 2 Jubbergate, at the top of The Shambles, is a fantastic building from the late 14th century. York Barley Hall, a former priory which is now a museum. What you can see of York walls, the third version of the walls, was constructed during the fourteenth century with some accessibility modifications in Victorian times. You can also see the ruins of St Leonard’s hospital (destroyed during Henry VIII’s Reformation) in the Museum Gardens and even venture into its undercroft where there are some displays.

A grand example of the overlap between styles can be seen at St. William’s College, on College Street near the Minster. This impressive half-timbered building was built in the middle of the reign of Edward IV. It was the home of twenty-four priests whose job was to pray for the dead. Later, it became the home of the chantry priests of the Minster. At a first glance it looks Tudor, but the yellow brickwork belies the fact it is older.

Tudor York

The Renaissance in Italy spread to England by the reign of Henry VIII, with ideas such as humanism which would shatter the philosophy underpinning the state. The Reformation and subsequent swinging pendulum between whether the monarchy expected the population to be Catholic or Protestant in any given year caused deep rifts between people that probably began the decline of faith in Britain. Whether this was good or bad depends on your point of view.

Vernacular buildings (houses, shops, and other small projects) in Tudor York were timber-framed, with the wooden beams exposed on the outside of the building. The first floor often projected further into the street than the floor below, and many Tudor buildings were famous for their black-and-white effect between the dark timbers and the white daub between it. The roofs had a steep pitch and leaded glass windows, to avoid Henry VIII’s glass tax. Some buildings were brick-built rather than timbered.

You can see Tudor buildings in York at King’s Manor (the king in question being Henry VIII), A home built in the reign of Henry VII at 31 North Street (designated “Church Cottages” but this name isn’t findable on Google). 7, 8, 12, 12a, 41 and 42 The Shambles are also from the same time period as are 85-89 Micklegate.

For Elizabethan-era buildings, Mulberry Hall on Stonegate is exactly what people imagine when they think of Tudor buildings. Heslington Hall (about 2.5 miles out from the city centre) is a grand example of “high architecture” of the time, but you can’t go inside as it’s part of the University of York’s admin buildings. King’s Manor is older, more accessible and very impressive, situated between the Yorkshire Museum and the Art Gallery.

After the Tudors

The House of Stuart ruled England from 1603 to the eighteenth century, a time of great turbulence. During the Civil War, York’s walls had to defend the city as it became a Royalist stronghold, with the ousted King Charles even holding court in York after London became untenable. Soon, Republican forces marched on the city and laid siege to it. The Royalist army based at York burned the east side of the city down to buy time keeping the Republicans out. The city was badly damaged by the siege, which is why there is a sudden shift from ancient monuments to modern buildings in the east.

Financially, York struggled during this period, especially as the many soldiers in the city were waiting on back pay. A gunpowder explosion in 1684 destroyed York Castle, leaving only what exists today. This ended York’s military power for the time being.

There are a few Jacobean buildings, from the reign of King James I/VI, which look identical to the Tudor style but more dowdy. Examples include St Anthony’s Hall (also known as The Hospital of St Anthony) on Peasholme Green; 28, 30 and 32 Coppergate; the Dutch House at 9 Ogleforth; 35 Stonegate.

Eighteenth Century

After the repressive Puritanism and troubled times of the seventeenth century, the eighteenth brought back abundance, optimism and refinement to the city. The glass tax had been abolished and windows became ginormous. Ceilings also got higher, as new building methods using fired bricks transformed architecture and design. Buildings became light and spacious.

In York, the century began with the debtor’s prison opening in the severely-damaged York Castle in 1705. In 1740, York finally got a hospital again – the first since St. Leonard’s was ruined during the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The industrial revolution of 1760 largely bypassed the city. Where other northern towns such as Leeds and Bradford were transformed during this time, York was already a profitable city, its residents were largely gainfully employed in skilled industries which couldn’t be streamlined by factories yet, and only a handful of factories appeared over the next century and a half.

Barely touched by time, York’s city centre remained the same as ever, adding grand buildings to the streets but no slums or factories. Science came to York, and one notable scientist was the astronomer John Goodricke, the namesake of one of the University of York’s colleges.

19th Century

The first factory industry to come to York was in 1824, when the York Gas Light Company, who made lights powered by gas, founded their factory in Layerthorpe. Nothing remains of this. An iron foundry was set up inside the walls at Dixon’s Yard, Walmgate in 1837.

In 1829, tragedy hit the Minster when an arsonist motivated by religious delusions set fire to the building. The choir and the roof of the nave (the main length of the cross-shaped Minster) were severely damaged. Another fire in 1840 completely destroyed the roof and extensive repairs had to be made.

In two separate endeavours, Mary Tuke and Joseph Rowntree, whose families were well-acquainted, opened grocery stores in the 1820s. Mary Tuke developed a successful family cocoa business which was bought out by Henry Isaac Rowntree in 1862. When he got into financial difficulties, his older brother Joseph Rowntree invested, paving the way for York’s main industry for the next hundred and fifty years—confectionery.

A second confectionery company—Terry’s, of the chocolate oranges—predates Rowntree. Terry’s was founded in York in 1797, by Bayldon and Berry. Joseph Terry, Berry’s son-in-law, took over the family business in 1821 and, with his qualifications and experience as a pharmacist, created fruit sweets, candied peel, cough sweets and other medicinal sweets. Later, his successor, son Joseph Terry Jr, launched a line of cocoa products. The famous Chocolate Works on Bishopthorpe Road beside the racecourse dates to 1923, and you can still see it today, although it closed in 2005 when production moved abroad.

Other major developments to York in the nineteenth century include the railway. The line was first constructed in 1842, but the station, with its famous late Victorian architectural style similar to the old St. Pancras Station, was not built until 1877.

Industry wasn’t the only thing that transformed nineteenth-century York; between 1829-1851, the cholera epidemic plaguing Britain also deeply affected York. You can visit the York Cholera Graves on Station Road, in a graveyard just outside the walls en-route to the railway station. The outbreak was so severe, and people were so afraid of it, that the city stopped funeral processions taking place along narrow roads, in an attempt to halt the spread. Outdoor funerals were also mandated. These measures caused an uproar amongst people at a time when giving people a “proper send-off” had become almost an art-form and very specific etiquette and customs were usually observed. Fear of contagion caused widespread anxiety, which led to rioting, and in some cases, angry, frightened citizens threw coffins of the deceased into the river.

Where to see York’s nineteenth century past

The Terry’s confectionery shop is in St. Helen’s Square, opposite Betty’s. The business inside it has long-since changed to a high street store, but the building still has a fresco between floors two and three which says “Terry’s” on it. The Cholera Graves are still maintained by York Council and are beside the walls, across the road from the Memorial Garden on Station Road. The railway station is also on Station Road (funnily enough), and if you ascend the bridge between platforms, you can get a good view of the original construction of the roof.

Of the factories founded in the nineteenth century, only one building remains—the Nestle factory, formerly the Rowntree factory, out in New Earswick. However, the “Morrisons Chimney” (real name: The Destructor) still stands, alone and without any context or even a memorial plaque. It was the 55m high (180 feet) chimney stack used as part of the incinerator for destroying the city’s waste.

This area was still the old city tip a hundred years later, in the 1990s. The chimney was situated near where the city’s small, original power station was built, but the power station, and most of York’s industrial heritage, was destroyed in the early 2000s. It seems very ironic that York should know the value of the past better than anywhere, and yet they so readily threw an entire chapter of theirs away to make room for a shopping park on Foss Islands Road/Jewbury.

Modern history

York’s modern history is easy to spot because it really stands out among the backdrop of the mostly historic buildings! From the car park on Stonebow which is a controversially ugly example of 1960s brutalist architecture (and which isn’t a listed building, despite rumours to the contrary), to the war memorial and memorial garden near the train station, the past hundred-and-twenty years did not leave York untouched.

Vanilla dairy-free choc-chip ice cream recipe

Gordon Ramsay’s advice is that the best way to do homemade ice cream is to buy a really good vanilla ice cream then add toppings to it at home. Only, there’s no good dairy-free vanilla ice cream available here. So I decided to do my own. Also, I like the texture of chocolate chips, so I decided to add them during the churning.

This vanilla dairy-free choc-chip ice cream recipe was created out of necessity. I had dabbled at making ice cream at home before, when I lived in China, where there is no such thing as dairy-free ice cream (or even dairy-free sorbet). Every food of western origin gets milk added to the recipe over there. I think they think it makes it more authentic.

I had been a little spoilt living in America for 6 months, where a certain Mr. Ben and Mr. Jerry have created the most incredible range of dairy-free ice creams that are available in every one-horse (and thousand-horse) town I visited. I’m not proud of it but I developed a taste for American dairy-free ice cream. And in the UK, the supply of dairy-free ice cream was reasonable. Even in Malaysia I had no issue getting dairy-free ice cream.

But in Ireland, dairy-free ice cream is overpriced and there’s almost none of it available. Literally over the (non-border) in Strabane I can get 3 ASDA dairy-free imitation Magnums for £1.50 or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s cookie dough dairy-free ice cream for £2.99 (on offer) or £4.50 (normal price), which I think is quite a lot to pay. But in Ireland? That same tub of cookie dough costs €7! SEVEN EUROS! Seven. Euros. Or as I like to call it, daylight robbery. If you can even find a shop that sells it.

As I am currently pregnant, and it’s summer, I need ice cream like I need air to breathe. My attempts to make ice cream in China were okay, but not great. It turns out those recipes to make ice cream without an ice cream maker are blarney. So, since I am now in a country where it’s harder and more expensive to buy electricals, I decided I needed an ice cream maker. I crunched some numbers and it cost £32 (+ free delivery) for an ice cream maker, which is 4.5 tubs of Ben and Jerry’s at Supervalu prices.

So as long as I make only 2 litres of ice cream with my ice cream maker, it’s paid for itself.

This recipe comes out a little bit less vanilla than I’d like, but it works from ingredients you can find in your local Supervalu, Centra, or most small rural Irish shops (maybe not the local chipper), so I’ve sacrificed a little bit of flavour for making this a recipe you can make ANYWHERE in Ireland.

To vanilla it up some more, you do something with vanilla pods. Good luck finding vanilla pods in the arse end of the West Coast because I couldn’t.

Vanilla choc-chip ice cream recipe

Ingredients:

1 tin coconut milk (the type for making curries)

1 tsp vanilla essence

100g honey or other sweetener (don’t use granulated sugar, it will not dissolve at this temperature)

1 packet of chocolate chips (Sainsbury’s dark chocolate chips were dairy free when I last bought them)

Method:

Refrigerate the coconut milk overnight.

If you have a cheap ice-cream maker without a compressor, freeze the ice cream maker’s bowl according to manufacturer’s instructions (I recommend leaving it in there overnight).

Put the coconut milk, honey and vanilla essence into a blender and blend for 30 seconds (don’t add the chocolate chips yet).

Take the ice cream maker’s bowl out of the freezer, assemble the ice cream maker and add the mixture. Add the chocolate chips to the mixture. Let the mixture churn, it should take 7-12 minutes depending on your ice cream maker.

When the mixture starts to thicken into a texture that’s thicker than a dough but not quite completely solid, turn off the ice cream maker and immediately transfer your mixture to a freezable bowl. I have a pottery bowl with a plastic lid which I brought back from my two years in China. Freeze the mixture for an additional hour or two (or longer) and take out of the freezer for 10 minutes before serving. Makes about 500ml (just under 1 pint) of ice cream.

The biggest mistake I’ve seen people make in the reviews of cheap ice cream makers is they leave the mixture in the machine too long, expecting the machine to freeze it completely. If the mixture gets too hard, the electrics will break. A motor turns the paddles, and it doesn’t know to stop, so even when the mixture gets too hard to mix, the motor will still try and turn the paddles, until something snaps and then your ice cream maker won’t work. So it’s better to take it out a little early and freeze it the rest of the way. Remember, you only need the ice cream maker to churn your mixture, you have a perfectly good freezer that can freeze it (if you don’t have a freezer, you can’t make ice cream this way)!

Ice cream stores for up to 1 month.

Thursday Photo Challenge is Changing.

I’ve been doing these photo challenges for six months, now, and despite the fact that I’ve been part of the photography wordpress community, I wasn’t prepared for how bitchy and cliquey people can be. So far, I’ve had to delete more than a handful of really nasty, shitty comments from people who think they’re photographers, people sending me emails telling me who do I think I am running a photo challenge, and people telling other people to avoid participating in my challenge. In six months of running the Thursday Photo Challenge I have had ONE person share their (awesome) photos with me, and that was via Twitter.

Until I started this challenge, I always thought the WordPress Photography Community was a welcoming place where anyone could participate. Obviously, I was wrong about that. Apparently you have to be approved by the right people to be allowed to do photography on WordPress these days. It wasn’t like that when I started this blog in 2014, and I never got that vibe in all the years I participated in other photo challenges on WordPress, but times they have a-changed and some shitty, bitchy people have installed themselves as gatekeepers.

With that in mind, and given that my blog started 6 years ago so I could share my travel photos with my friends and also keep a log of how I did certain things like put up curtains in my car campervan, I’m going to continue posting my photos in relevant travel articles. Since I’m also a professional author and I largely don’t care to be part of the photography community if they’re going to be fifty-something men acting like the thirteen-year-olds in Mean Girls, I’m going to change my weekly Thursday posts to writing prompts.

Let me be clear. Nothing is STOPPING me from continuing to blog, but I can blog about anything I damn please and I am not interested in the pathetic drama that the photography community is sending my way so they can all get stuffed. Perhaps bitchy comments is why the original weekly photo challenge died a death. I’m sure a fiftysomething man called Roy will be along any minute now to enlighten us all about the things us mere female mortals could never possibly understand.

Mystery: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge!

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos! Oh, wow, I can’t believe this challenge marks six months of Thursday Photo Challenge! Time flies when you’re having fun.

This week’s challenge is a mystery.

Mystery creates wonder and wonder is the basis of man’s desire to understand.

Neil Armstrong

What photos can you take to depict a mystery? My photo comes from Angkor Wat, Cambodia. There are few explanations for anything at the huge site as you walk around. It’s all a mystery. You can learn more about Angkor Wat at the museum in Siem Reap, though.

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!

Sleepy: Join the Thursday Photo Challenge

Welcome! Come and join the Thursday Photo Challenge, a weekly photography challenge for everyone who likes to take photos!

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience. This is the ideal life.

Mark Twain

This week’s theme is sleepy! What can you come up with?

My photo is from a rare animal rescue cafe in Seoul, South Korea. Basically, they took in rescued animals who had been bought as exotic pets then abandoned by their owners, and was completely funded by the money people paid to see them. It was like a cat cafe, but with different animals and a lot of strict rules like no touching the animals and no feeding them. This dog is so sleepy at the top of his slide!

Here’s how to take part:

  1. Take a photo or search your files for one that represents the week’s theme.
  2. Write a post, including your photo, any words of explanation or inspiration you wish to share, and a link to this challenge page.
  3. Comment on this post with a link to your page so others can see your contribution.
  4. That’s it! Super easy.

This challenge will stay open for one week, then next Thursday, I will post the next challenge!