The glare of the sun roused me from my sleep. I glanced at my watch, and it had been an hour since the train departed from Manchester Piccadilly Station. In another 30 minutes, the train would reach York Station and end its service at Middlesborough.
It was not even 8 in the morning and York was still in reposed. York Station was an old station, and one of the great buildings of Victorian England opened in 1877 by the North Eastern Railway Company within the city walls. The train station was utterly quiet, except for a few tourists waiting for city buses and Coastliner (a private coach that runs to outskirt of York), which operates after 8am. The earliest schedule for Coastliner 840 to reach York from Leeds was in a half-hour, so I decided to wander nearby.
The most prominent feature outside the train station was "The Bar Wall" of York, a medieval City Wall nearly 3 miles in length that once enclosed the centre of York. Only part of the wall was accessible the time I arrived. A signboard hung loosely from the rusty heavy iron gate: "Closed After Dusk," which conveyed the message, "Open After Late Dawn." Even though I was not standing at the culminating point of the walls, the view to York was still magnificent. In the distance, just right across Lendal Bridge, one of the bridges spanned River Ouse; York Minster was majestic! It shimmered under the morning sunlight and radiated glow in all directions to its surrounding. Traffic was light and I almost caught no glimpse of any tourist nearby; perhaps it was far too early to the opening hours of most attractions. I loitered along the wall for another moment. Down below me was River Ouse flowing seamlessly; a few boat-hired owners were setting up their stalls and preparing start of the day. The air was fresh and crisp in the morning spanking breeze, and a sense of tranquility was observed.
I studied the city map in my hand. York city centre was not big. It was categorized into three distinct parts: Castle Area, Minster Area, and Museum Area; Clifford’s Tower, York Minster, and National Railway Museum (the world’s largest railway museum) prevailed these areas respectively.
To my trepidation, my hand watch read 9am and I knew I had missed the first Coastliner 840 to Whitby, final destination of the Coastliner. The next Coastliner 840 will only reach York in another hour and a half. I do not wish to spend my whole day waiting for the coach again and again, so I decided to board on Coastliner 843 instead, which runs from Leeds to Scarborough and congregates with other Coastliners at Malton.
The trip in York was split into two parts: during crack of dawn and near dusk, when I was back at *Pickering and Whitby.
In retrospect, I did some walking near The Bar Wall and had a cup of hot coffee before I boarded Coastliner 843 to Malton. Since the day was great, I intended to change my plan to visit Whitby first, then go back to York in the late afternoon, as I had confidence to finish touring around York city centre.
The coach duration from Whitby to York took about two and a half hours. By the time I reached York, the weather was catching up. Wind start to pick up its speed, light rain spattered on me, and there were dark clouds overhead. I sprinted down to Clifford’s Tower, nearest to where I alighted. Clifford’s Tower was once the stronghold of York Castle and the site of many horrific incidents throughout history when the city’s Jewish community took shelter when faced with an angry mob. To my disappointment, it has closed for the day. But then, I had some shots of the exterior tower and clambered up the steep stairways led to the main entrance of Clifford’s. Right opposite of Clifford’s Tower was York Castle Museum. The place was isolated: parking lots were vacant and I was sure it was closed as well.
Just near to castle area, restaurants and shops were still in business. I randomly entered a few shop for souvenirs. To my awe, the shops began to roll down their gate and announce to existing customers that they would be closed in another 10 minutes. No way! It was only 5 in the evening. Then to my acknowledgement, most of the shops in York closed at 5:00 or 5:30pm on weekends.
I roamed around the street helplessly, watching the shops closed for the day and feeling depressed. I felt I was not given a chance to learn about York. And the sun was low in the horizon. No photo. No shopping spree.
I fished out the city map from my purse, still struggling on where to go; at least I need to bring some photos or some gifts from York. I hated to go back to Manchester empty-handed. Well, well, well, Minster Area could be a great place for some night shots, and I do not want to miss out on York Minster either, since it was the largest medieval Cathedral in Northern Europe. The distance from Castle Area to York Minster took about a 15-minute walk. The sky started to darken, and the evening wind was blustery. I began to feel chilly and hungry. Desperately, I searched for restaurants that were still open, just to take some hot food and rest before I proceeded.
En route to restaurants, York Minster loomed in front of my eyes right after I passed through the High Petergate arch, in conjunction with part of the city walls, which was closed. Still remember that it closes after dusk? Sometimes I wonder if it is actually open or I always come at the wrong time.
York Minster was renowned for nightspot gathering. Everybody comes here for one purpose, "The Ghost Trail of York." It was a busy scene. Lines of tourists on the curbside of the road cupped their hands over their mouths against the chill air lingering around them. Some were trembling, and the whining from the few tourists was lost over the wind. Strong wind whipped across the abbey’s patio and knocked down a few provisional signboards mounted near the entrance: "Ghost Trail started at 7:30pm every night. Adults £4.00 and Kids £2.00."
I looked up at the public clock across the road. It was only 6:40pm, and a bunch of enthusiastic ghost hunters had already form the long lines. Next, couples of weirdly dressed men and women started running towards the entrance of the minster. They were each carrying a lit candle that brightened up the place as the sunrays vanished into the horizon. The heavy bronze door creaked and inched open. One man from inside beckoned to those men and women to enter and meanwhile raise his palm and halted the crowds outside.
The scene urged me to join the ghost trail. However, my stomach was groaning and legs were shivering. I continued with my restaurant search. Just round the corner of York Minster was a Japanese restaurant that served Chinese and Thai food as well. I scurried in to dodge the blustery wind outside. When I was seated, I realized that I was more cold than hungry. All I needed that time was a cup of warm water and a place to shelter me from the rough wind.
After my dinner, it was 7:25pm, only 5 minutes away from start of the ghost trail. To both my annoyance and fear, the whole street outside York Minster was empty. Not a single person was found. Where are the rest? The door to the entrance was tightly shut. I pressed my ear against the door, no commotion or voice coming from inside.
Nothing. Absolute silence.
The street was utterly quiet. It seemed like no visitor had ever been in the place. All I heard was the howling of the wind, whipping hard and snapping against trees branches.
Maybe I was the only person outside York Minster after all. Does this qualify as being through the ghost trail?
*To know more about what I did in Pickering, read on in "Time Consciousness: Pickering’s" journal.