Trails and trials of the writer who walks
IF MY son moved to York in order to sever maternal apron strings, he failed. Any location with 15 hand-pulled real ales between Platform One and the taxi rank was never going to be far enough away. The York Brewery Tap is a station bar where none of the drinkers are actually travelling (check out the absence of wheelie cases.) Dominating this brass and mahogany temple of fermented felicity is a large circular bar that faces trains and buses at the same time, like a back-to-back. They also serve a heavenly crispy crust hand-crafted stilton and pork pie..
Leaving the York Tap, and feeling full of pork pie and pint plumptiousness, I turn left, cross the River Ouse, turn right into Lendal and left into Stonegate. My suggestions are simply to provide a sense of purpose. York is a medieval-flavoured ‘ale-dorado’ where a random ramble will equal any planned itinerary.
Towards the end of the narrow street called Stonegate, is the House of Trembling Madness. (You will have walked for nearly ten minutes by now so may feel the need to call in at the Old White Swan en route). Trembling Madness is easily missed because of its beer shop façade, but if you pass through the shop and climb the wooden staircase, you will find a beamed and bare-boarded attic space with its small-pane windows filled by a view of the Minster. There’s a slightly queasy tilt to the walls, and the collection of stuffed animal heads does nothing to settle the stomach. I re-calibrated my inner ear with a half of Hardknott Brewery 5.6% Code Black (‘I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you’). Rather surprisingly, my half appears as a generous measure in a pint pot. As it’s only just 12 noon, I doubt they’ve run out of glasses. Within thirty minutes, the place is packed.
From the end of Stonegate, turning right into Low Petergate, I look out for Goodramgate on my left. In my mind, it’s called Goodbeergate. Any pub in this narrow street is sure to please, but my personal favourite is The Habit. I like the well-tended log-burning stove that sits centrally inside a large dog cage and is always lit. I like the winter mulled cider and unintentional shabby chic, the mysterious tall narrow doors set under the stairs, the huge rusting masonry nails inserted into the walls centuries ago for some long-forgotten purpose, the life-sized sculpted foot that holds the door open. Oh, yes, and the beer. This is where I plunge ‘into the abyss’, courtesy of Blue Bee brewery of Sheffield, with their 6% stout that carries an aftershock of Fisherman’s Friend. I can convince myself it’s clearing my sinuses, if not my head.
After kicking the Habit, the next pub is a mere stumble away. The Cross Keys sits at the corner of Goodramgate and Deangate where the narrow lanes open out into the Minster Yard. This is a large comfortable pub of the Nicholson’s chain and it ranges far afield for its ales: East End Brewing Company, St Austell Ales, Itchen of Hampshire, Red Squirrel of Hemel Hempstead, Hopback of Wiltshire (with a few Timothy Taylors and York Breweries thrown in to keep the locals happy). But you can’t run a successful pub in York if you haven’t got a ghost, and the Cross Keys has hundreds, all under-aged. The building was once a privatised workhouse for orphans where the ruthless capitalist owner killed most of his ‘customers’ through starvation and neglect. He fudged the records to maintain his income and hid the rotting corpses in a large cupboard until, allegedly, the sounds of sepulchral sobbing overcame his senses whereupon he went mad and was locked away himself (hopefully in a small cupboard). If it’s sunny, you can read this depressing story in the outdoor courtyard where either the celestial influence of the Minster, just over the road, or the ambrosial influence of a pint of Minster Ale will surely elevate your mood.
Vikings, Romans and Normans have all left their stamp on York. There’s Coney Street (after the Danish word Kunung for king), Shambles (from flesh shambles which were benches used by butchers), Monkgate, Micklegate. And what about Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma gate!
My son is in the process of buying his own flat in York. Guess who’ll be sleeping on his sofa!