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Northern England for 11 nights

This was a “no rhyme nor reason” add-on to my Scotland trip. Well really it was because I had planned it for a slightly different trip for 2020 and I just didn’t want to postpone this part again. You could call it “all about the lodgings and cathedrals”. Ha!

Durham 2 nights: Durham Castle. Who wouldn’t want to stay in an old castle? Well, really it is student housing for Durham University, but I truly did get to stay in the castle part. Who cares if it was 87 steps up (or down) each time? I was in the Keep (room number K40 to prove it). :) And breakfast in the Great Hall? Like being in a movie! These kinds of accommodations are inexpensive but only available during school holidays and I was happy it worked out for me!

York 5 nights: So I went from a castle to a convent. I stayed 2 nights at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Center, 1686, just a 5 min walk from the train station. A cute place, reasonable prices, with a beautiful garden - still a living breathing working convent. Thanks to Laurie Beth for asking and Suz for recommending! I heard no other American accents.

Then I moved to the other side of the river for 3 nights to the perfectly respectable (and normal) No 34 York, on Bootham Crescent. Nice people, nice place, easy walk to the city center.

Reason for the change? Cost first. I had 5 nights at No 34 booked but it was 3 nights in a single room and 2 nights in a double room. So when I came across the convent and it had availability at a single rate for the same 2 nights I was going to have to pay a double rate AND it was so interesting, I just did it.

Hawarden 2 nights: I wanted to see Chester. Somehow I came across Gladstone’s Library and who could resist staying in a library with history that looks like a manor house?! This is where the 3 time Prime Minister donated his library toward the end of his life. It’s said he carried some of the books over himself from his home. It was only a 15 min drive from Chester, in a small town - and bonus it was in Wales! (I had failed to notice that….) The building is absolutely gorgeous, people nice, and my room had a real bathtub! Possibly my favorite stay out of 5 weeks.

Manchester 2 nights: This was kind of a utilitarian stop but I had come across pictures of the John Ryland Library and just needed to see it. So I stayed at one of only 2 hotels of my trip - Motel One by the Piccadilly train station. It was my first Motel One and I have to admit it did feel kind of like modern luxury at that point. Ha!

What I did: I admit to moving a little more slowly toward the end of these 5 weeks, but I enjoyed everything I did, as well as the relaxing. :)

Durham: was definitely for evensong in Durham Cathedral (I went both nights). I also walked the river down below the castle and cathedral.

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2578 posts


  • The Railway Museum. Yes, everyone says go, so I did; but I truly had no concept of how interesting it is! So much to see and just a really nice space! It is worth making a stop in York to see it, even if you aren’t staying.
  • York Minster. Of course. I went to evensong twice here also.
  • York Castle Museum. Enjoyed it. :)
  • Merchant Adventurers Hall. For me, this was interesting but not excessively so.
  • Shambles. Wandered through once - wouldn’t go back unless everything was closed and crowds gone - and I could have done that but it wasn’t a priority and circumstances didn’t make it happen.
  • Walls. Walked a part of them. A nice part of history.
  • Free walking tour (the official one). This was really great. I am not much of a group tour person but the group size was manageable and the guide really gave us some good history while integrating our very multi-cultural group (Norway, Slovenia, Ireland, U.S., Spain, Mexico, and 1 lone UK tourist). Then the 2 hr tour turned into 4 hours when the lady from Ireland (who actually lives just outside York right now) invited the guide, a lady from North Carolina, and me for “tea and a bun” after the tour. The guide took us to St Sampson’s Center - which basically looked like it was where the old people come to socialize, but right in the center of town. And I can’t imagine how you would find your way in for inexpensive tea and cake if you didn’t know it was there. What fun!
  • York Museum Gardens. Although the guide took us through and gave us perspective, I wandered back through on my own a different day (I encountered the birds of prey here).
  • Day trip to Castle Howard. This was an easy afternoon day trip by bus on the day I changed lodging in the morning. I like castles and history and the castle, gardens, and lake were beautiful. It has been a filming location for several shows I know, so that was fun, too.
  • Fountains Abbey. Oh my goodness. So, this is completely doable as a full day trip by bus but I opted to go by car after I picked it up leaving York heading to Hawarden. The abbey ruins are so impressive and huge. It is hard to imagine what they would have looked like at their peak in 1550. And it was just so fun to see lots of families picnicking amongst the ruins on a day out. I also walked part of the included Studley Park - an idyllic setting by a lake, with its own history. I had time, but I would have needed a second pair of legs to have seen all there was to see.

Hawarden: Drove in at dinner time so just walked the grounds and next door church. The following day was an easy day in Chester - I took a short boat ride on the River Tay, walked the walls and the Roman Garden, and attended evensong at Chester Cathedral (should I confess it might have been my favorite?).

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct: On the way from Hawarden to Manchester (ok, not on the way at all…but not far out of the way), I drove to Llangollen Wharf and took a 2 hr canal boat ride that ended after crossing the Aqueduct. Stunning. A slow relaxing ride along the canal, Welsh cream tea, crossing the VERY tall aqueduct, and an included quick bus trip back to town. This has also been on my list to see for several years, but I wasn’t expecting to get there this year. :)

Manchester: slow morning, then the free bus from the station to John Rylands Library (2 free bus routes in Manchester leaving from Piccadilly Station). If you haven’t heard of it, think an equivalent look to the Long Room at Trinity University. Definitely worthy of my stop!
And only since I was almost there, The People’s Museum - small, free, chronicling groups of people who worked for liberties we now take for granted.

Then the train back to Edinburgh for my last three days. Till next time, England!

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2026 posts

Envious for your five nights in York and then Durham too! We spent three nights there in 2019 and it wasn't nearly enough. We didn't even make it to the train museum! Maybe someday...

Pretty impressive that you were doing all this after five weeks.

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1292 posts

I love that part of England, too. Somehow it seems the most "English" of all. I haven't been there for several years...I hope it hasn't become too much like the rest of the modern world.

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2578 posts

Beth, when researching for the trip, I just kept finding more I wanted to see and kept adding nights. Lol! On a second trip, I would base out in the country, though.

Katherine, my taxi driver on my final day assured me people were just more friendly in this part of England. :) Plus the countryside is so pretty in three directions I went…..

Posted by
3020 posts

We've started making a unique stary as part of our trips, usually something above our usual price point and only 1 or two nights. I'll add the Durham, Hawarden and York hotels(?) to our list of possibilities.

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2578 posts

Well, Allan, both of those places were definitely unique but also on the more inexpensive side of my lodging costs. A lot of the rooms I had were basic but the buildings themselves were unique. I would love to be traveling through Oxford (or St Andrews) during holidays and get to stay in one of the college lodgings there! I can PM you a link to pictures if you ever get to that point.

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1841 posts

It’s great to hear how much you enjoyed York as I have 5 nights booked there for May. I’m adding all your info. to my notes. Thanks for sharing.

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2578 posts

Thanks, Carrie! I definitely enjoyed the day trips out of York as much as my time in the city. There were so many wonderful options.

Judy B, my trip was 5 weeks total (mostly in Scotland) but the first week 3 friends were there also. After they left, I had 4 weeks solo.

Posted by
1578 posts

I have enjoyed reading your reports. I am, admittedly, slightly jealous of this Scotland and England trip. I so so so want to go, and one of my BFF's here at home is Scottish, and goes home every summer for a a visit- except this one, wah. Maybe next year. I will know who to ask about some Northern England stuff though!

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2578 posts

AMann, I understand. This one was planned for 2020, then 2021….. So third time was the charm. :)

Posted by
1521 posts

Great report! I'm bookmarking this to look up some stuff later. I'm another one planning to go to York next year. 😊

Posted by
3614 posts

What a great trip and report! I loved hearing about all the places you stayed.

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2578 posts

Thanks, roubrat and cala! York was a great area and I love kind of offbeat places to stay (not for everyone, I know). :)

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2604 posts

Thanks for the report. Just curious, what do you do for meals while solo traveling? Or is food unimportant? When I went to Paris a few months ago, I didn’t enjoy my dinners nearly as much as a solo as when my husband was there ( he left early and I stayed another week).
Also, what was weather like?

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2578 posts

Tammy, basically I did for meals whatever I would have done if someone had been with me (but had no opinion on food and restaurants). Breakfast always came with my lodging. And after that, I might stop for coffee or a snack but I only ate one restaurant meal a day. Would the meals have been more fun with someone else? Sometimes but not always.

Sometimes other diners would start a conversation (like the couple from Germany who asked how tipping worked in Scotland and conversation went from there). I always look open to conversation but didn’t really begin it at a meal. I think in more elegant restaurants, that happens less (I only ate once somewhere like that). And I am not fond of eating in my room, although I did that a couple of times when I was really tired.

And I just don’t mind eating alone - I can’t help that unless I want to wait around for a friend’s schedule and desire to match mine (and for me to want to travel with them for as long as I want to travel). Trade-offs. And often where I was waiters were more than happy to converse. I know a few good life stories now. Ha!

I can’t help but think this varies by country (just like it does in different parts of the U.S.) and restaurant choice. But I ate wherever looked good and whatever I wanted and enjoyed it!

And I loved my weather! It was chilly in Scotland almost every day (a little unusually so for them in the islands some people said) - and I missed the heat wave in England so that part was also delightful. Good thing because most of my lodgings did not have air conditioning. I had some rain and some drizzle up on the islands but that is normal.

Posted by
2223 posts

You continue to set the bar for back-door travel that so many of us aim for, thanks for the report.
This kind of getting around, with alternate lodging and finding the local tea room, is what might tempt me back to the northerly regions.

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2578 posts

Aw, avi, that is so nice. I don’t think of myself as a back door traveler at all. But I do like people - and smaller places and towns seems to provide more opportunities for interaction. But mainly I just like things that are a bit different. 🤣