tower bridge
Text and photos by Steve MacNaull

You bump into history everywhere you go in Yorkshire – Viking-era village here, a Roman road there and everywhere centuries old castles and churches.

“That’s our reputation, isn’t it?” says Malcolm Smethust, the captain of York Boat, the tourist cruise that follows the River Ouse through the ancient walled city.

“Everyone comes here for the history. And York has it in spades with York Minister Cathedral, the Jorvik Viking Centre, the Shambles and York Castle.”

guard st. jamesWe visited Yorkshire on a family holiday and stayed with relatives in Darlington. As a result, the North Yorkshire town became daytrip-central for our jaunts in the region.

Darlington is a typical English market town with a church-spire-and-train-station-clock-tower centre surrounded by a rolling landscape of patchwork fields full of sheep.

Even my morning runs in Darlington were historic. My favourite route was along the River Tees, which includes a section of stone road built by the Romans 1,700 years ago.

This North Yorkshire cliff town on the North Sea has a massive expanse of beach accessible by a cable car that takes people down the steep elevation. The windy location is perfect for flying kites and boogie boarding and swimming (if you like cold water). In the centre of town, sheep graze in the churchyard and across the street Church Fish Shop serves up traditional takeaway fish and chips.

sheepSaltburn’s dramatic seafront and fossil-dotted headlands are part of the Heritage Coastline. Today it’s a tourist attraction and provides shelter for migrant birds, but in the past it was the perfect hiding place for sailors smuggling contraband.
The Saltburn Smugglers Heritage Centre pays tribute to that shady past by recreating the Ship Inn as it would have been at the end of the 18th century. It tells the story of John Andrew a.k.a. The King of the Smugglers and even wafts out the aromas of various contraband.

Saltburn was a rich Victorian town thanks to being the most important ironstone mining district in England in the 19th century. It shows in the town’s many elaborate and well-preserved Victorian and Edwardian homes and public buildings.

That past is honoured at the Ironstone Museum, which is on the site of the old Loftus Mine. In addition to the usual museum displays a visit to the facility allows your clients to go underground as the miners did 150 years ago.

This compact walled city still features many of the narrow, winding and cobblestoned streets from hundreds of years ago. Much of the downtown is pedestrianized so clients can wander and shop and take in sites such as York Minister Cathedral, The Shambles (old buildings from hundreds of years ago that lean toward each other over a narrow alley), York Castle and the York Boat 45-minute cruise.
Betty’s Tea Room, a Yorkshire institution, is the place to go for lunch of cucumber sandwiches and scones with clotted cream and jam, and Yorvik is an attraction that recreates a Viking village from the year 925. Vikings invaded York in 866 and artifacts from that settlement were found a couple of decades ago prompting the development of Yorvik.

In past competitions York has been named both Europe’s Favourite City and The UK’s Best City. It is recognition of the city’s 2,000-year status as northern England’s spiritual capital and the fact that it’s an important tourist attraction today.

York Minster is the largest Medieval Gothic cathedral north of the Alps and features 800 years’ worth of stained glass. A tour of the church can go either, or both, ways; below ground to explore the Undercroft; or up the stairs to the tower top and an expansive view.

For a decidedly non-spiritual experience York Dungeon brings two millennia of gruesome penal and torture history to life with displays and reenactments.

A scenic drive over the moors ends up in the picturesque quayside town of Whitby, a city famous for three things: explorer James Cook; Dracula; and Whitby Abbey.

Cook did his merchant navy apprenticeship in Whitby in 1747 before setting off to discover Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and Newfoundland for Britian. A replica of his ship Endeavour is in Whitby harbour.

Bram Stoker wrote his famous 1897 novel Dracula while staying at the Royal Hotel in Whitby and used the town’s St. Mary’s graveyard as inspiration for the section of the book where the vampire jumps from a Russian schooner onto English soil.

whitby abbey

Whitby Abbey is now in ruins, but still can be explored and sits majestically on the hill above town. The sections of abbey still standing are mostly from the 12th century, but the site’s history dates a further 500 years to when a Saxon monastery was there. Caedmon, who is widely believed to be the first English-language poet, was a monk at the Saxon monastery. It was also at this time, in 664, the monastery decided to follow the Roman Catholic rather than the Celtic Church in regards to the date of Easter.

The Yorkshire Dales
This rolling landscape is typical English farm country and forest interspersed with charming villages of stone buildings. We lunched at the 250-year-old The George Inn in Thoralby. Such inns in Yorkshire are as much local watering holes as they are tourist stops and as such serve everything from British beers and South African wines to fish and chips and crab cakes.

We also hiked down to Aysgarth Falls on the River Ure. The falls was used for the fighting scene between Kevin Costner and Little John in the movie Robin Hood. The film also featured Canadian Bryan Adams’ ballad Everything I Do I Do It For You on the soundtrack – a song so popular it spent 16 weeks in the No. 1 spot on the music charts.

Like so many other destinations, the Yorkshire Dales have embraced sustainable tourism. The region encourages the nine million people who visit annually to arrive by train or bus, rather than car, and tread gently. The tread gently mantra allows The Dales’ four most popular attractions – shopping, dining and staying locally; hiking; cycling; and horseback riding – to thrive.

Our trip wasn’t all history-seeking, because we spent a day at Europe’s largest mall – the MetroCentre in nearby Newcastle. Besides 380 stores, there’s a bowling alley, movie theatres and the Metroland amusement park where my 15-year-old son Alex rode the roller coaster and Grace, my five-year-old daughter, and I rode the little jeeps. In a strange example of church and commerce, the mall’s construction was financed by the Church of England Commissioners. The church sold 90 per cent interest to Capital Shopping Centres in 1995, but some of the religious origins are still there, such as a chapel with full-time resident chaplain and regular Sunday services. The mall houses all the famous British brands such as Marks & Spencer, Woolworths, HMV and Boots and international names like Swarovski and Starbucks.

Yorkshire is a fantastic trip on its own, but while your clients are in England why not sell them on a trip to London, one of the most famous cities in the world? The English capital is easily accessible from anywhere in the country by train.

The best way to take in the metropolis’ greatest hits is on The Original, an open-top double-decker bus. We got off the double-decker to ride the London Eye, the world’s largest observation Ferris wheel, and to check out Tower Bridge and the Tower of London, where Henry VIII had one of his wives imprisoned and the Crown jewels are on display.

The bus also features a running commentary and allows you to hop on and off at 80 stops, including all the best-known sites of London like Buckingham Palace; the Royal Mall; Prince Charles’ St. James’ Palace; Piccadilly Circus; Trafalgar Square surrounded by pigeons and the Canada House embassy; the National Gallery; Big Ben at the Parliament Buildings; and the West End theatre district.

Speaking of theatre, a trip to London isn’t complete without a couple – or three – musicals. We managed to get a hold of one of the hottest tickets in town to see Billy Elliott. Elton John wrote the music for the show based on the movie of the same name about the boy in a roughneck northern English mining town who takes ballet on the sly. We Will Rock You is a combination concert-dance-comedy extravaganza featuring the music of Queen. The family-friendly Sound of Music at the London Pallidium stars Connie Fisher as Maria. Fisher won the role in an American Idol-style reality TV show and as a result has become an instant celebrity. Each ticket was a pricey 55 pounds (about $115), but worth it. After all, it’s not everyday you get to London.

While most of London’s famous sites are on the north side of the River Thames, there’s a burgeoning tourist and cultural scene on the refurbished South Bank. That’s where the London Eye is as well as all the other attractions of the South Bank like the Tate Modern Art Gallery, Millennium Bridge and the South Borough Public Market.

While in London, we headed out to the leafy suburb of Wimbledon to take in a day of Grand Slam tennis action. Even if your clients aren’t tennis fans, nothing beats the setting of 19 grass courts and the civilized combination of watching tennis and eating strawberries and cream. We watched Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain beat Luxembourg’s Gilles Mueller and Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus triumph over Frances Nicholas Devilder.

For shopping Oxford Street is the famous artery with modern stores in showpiece buildings that are hundreds of years old.

Another perfect day trip is Windsor, only 19 kilometres from London, where Queen Elizabeth has the 950-year-old Windsor Castle. It’s really a three-in-one attraction of palace, museum and art gallery. “People love coming to London because everywhere you go you bump into history,” said our Windsor guide Tom McIver of Backroads Touring. “But it’s also a vibrant city with all the modern amenities, entertainment and dining.”

birdThe Royal Collection (c) 2008, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIWhat’s New In Britain
Rare Things In Buckingham Palace: The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace is the setting for an unusual exhibition that runs through September 28. Amazing Rare Things: The Art of Natural History in the Age of Discovery brings together works from the collections of the Royal Library selected by curators of the Royal Collection in collaboration with the distinguished naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough.

It includes paintings, drawings and illustrations by artists and a collector who have shaped our knowledge of the world around us: Leonardo da Vinci, Cassiano dal Pozzo, Alexander Marshal, Maria Sibylla Merian and Mark Catesby.

Emperor Hadrian Returns To Britain: The British Museum’s major exhibition for 2008 will focus on the Roman Emperor Hadrian. Bringing together over 180 loans from 31 countries, Hadrian: Empire and Conflict will display dramatic sculpture, bronzes and architectural fragments, many of which will be seen for the first time in the UK. The exhibition also includes objects from the Museum’s own collection including the famous Vindolanda tablets from Hadrian’s Wall. On view July 24 to October 26.

Watching Cheetahs In Bedfordshire: The Zoological Society of London’s Whipsnade Zoo is opening a £1-million enclosure for its cheetahs this Easter. Cheetah Rock is a 4,000 square-metre enclosure with a rock lookout and watering holes. It offers a natural-looking environment where cheetahs can display their natural behaviour. Visitors view the cheetahs from an African-style hut. Floor-to-ceiling glass will be the only thing separating them from the animals. The exhibit will include a display vehicle where visitors can imagine themselves in the African savannah behind the wheel of a safari Land-Rover. They can also test their running speed against a sprinting cheetah time trial.

A Murder Story In London’s East End: The Museum in Docklands is holding the first ever exhibition to explore the Jack the Ripper murders and their legacy, and will examine why the story continues to resonate over 120 years after the events. The exhibition brings together the surviving original documents including police files, photographs and letters from the public.

Visitors will be able to follow the crimes and the investigation as they unfolded and understand more about the lives of the victims, witnesses, suspects and police as well as life in the East End of London in the late 19th century.

Prince Charles(c) Reserved/The Royal Collection 2007,Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth IIAn Exhibition For The Heir To The Throne: To celebrate the 60th birthday of His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, HRH The Prince of Wales: An Exhibition To Celebrate His Sixtieth Birthday opens in May in the Drawings Gallery at Windsor Castle. Photographs from the Royal Photograph Collection will document major public and family events in His Royal Highness’s life – his Investiture as Prince of Wales in 1969, his marriage to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981, the births of Princes William and Harry, and his marriage to the Duchess of Cornwall in 2005. Works of art and memorabilia selected from the Royal Collection and from the Prince’s own personal archive will reflect many of His Royal Highness’s lifelong interests, especially music, theatre and the arts, and includes a small group of watercolours painted by His Royal Highness. Runs May 16, 2008 to February 22, 2009.

A Radisson In London’s West End: The Radisson Edwardian Leicester Square Hotel is Radisson’s latest London property. Located in the heart of the West End, close to Covent Garden, Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery, the theatres of Shaftesbury Avenue and the cinemas of Leicester Square, the 60 rooms include one suite and feature Bang & Olufson plasma TVs, leather walls, and granite and marble bathrooms, and offer guests a personal phone number with voicemail. Hotel amenities include a bar and restaurant, three meeting rooms, fitness centre and wireless broadband access throughout.

A New Hotel Beside Waterloo Station: Park Plaza County Hall, the fifth London hotel in the Park Plaza Hotels Europe group opened in February. The new 398-room hotel is located just south of Westminster Bridge, close to Waterloo Station and the heart of one of London’s liveliest art, theatre, restaurant and nightlife areas. All the guest rooms have a large flat-screen TV, tea and coffee-making facilities, an iron, minibar and safe for laptops. 300 rooms have a fitted kitchenette and separate seating area and seven upper-floor penthouse suites have views of the River Thames, the Houses of Parliament and the London Eye. Amenities include a fully-staffed business centre, six meeting rooms, a fitness suite, sauna, steam room, beauty treatment room and lounge bar.

Hilton Comes To Luton: The first of 20 planned Hilton Garden Inns in the UK and Ireland opens this spring in Luton, with 157 bedrooms featuring a self-adjusting Garden Sleep System™ bed, large desk, ergonomic Herman Miller Mirra® chair, complimentary high-speed internet, secure remote printing and a flatscreen cable TV. Hotel amenities include 10 meeting rooms and a 24-hour Business Centre as well as a 24-hour Pavilion Pantry® and a gym. The hotel is in Bedfordshire, close to the M1, Luton Airport and Luton Parkway Station, and a 30-minute train ride from Kings Cross and St Pancras International.

A New Hotel For Yorkshire: The Aston Sheffield/Rotherham Hotel in South Yorkshire opens in April with 78 ensuite rooms, each with a king sized bed and walk-in power shower, plus 12 executive bedrooms and three rooms catering for disabled guests. The hotel offers free high-speed wi-fi internet access throughout, seven conference rooms, Brasserie restauran and bar 59.The hotel is near junction 33 of the M1, midway between Sheffield and Rotherham and close to the Peak District.