When I began my ‘sustainable style guide’ to travel series, I intended to explore cities local to me and show, through experience, how rich travel within the UK could be. It appeared to be a manageable (and sustainable) goal and yet, in the short space between beginning this blog and now, the world has changed so completely that even travelling a short two hours by train seems to be the privilege of a different world.
I arrived in York on March 11th for a conference that ran from the 12th to 13th. My intention had been to stay until the 16th for various degree-related tasks and to further explore the many sustainable businesses that the city has to offer. But by the evening of the 14th I was so convinced that my travel home to Cambridge would be impeded that I left early on the 15th. The train ride home was full. And silent. It was a relief to be home in Cambridge.
So, given that none of us can travel, that we are confined to our localities, that many businesses are closed temporarily (perhaps permanently), it does seem somewhat ill-timed to release a travel-centric post.
However, … I have been thinking a lot about sustainability in the past few weeks. What was so recently the focal point of conversations about ethical living has now dissipated into a slurry of ever-more pressing questions about public health, industry, and how we live now. And in many ways, the forced domestication of much of the world’s population is having a positive effect on our environmental impact. Caveat: it should not have taken a global pandemic to throw light onto issues surrounding sustainability.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about what we are to do with our time, now that social contact has been drastically limited. If you are anything like me, you will be spending a great deal of time watching tv, flicking through magazines, perusing the book you’ve intended to read for some time, cleaning the kitchen, tidying the house, and watching more tv. Our modern consumption of ‘content’ has potentially never been greater and so, I wanted to put this blog post out now as my miniscule contribution to that project.
Though you won’t be able to enjoy the work of many of these businesses for some time to come, I hope that by showcasing the work that they do I can inspire and entertain you, if only for a moment. I have written the body of this post as I intended to, but you can find an epilogue with details of some of the continued work of these businesses at the bottom.
The City of York
York is an ancient city, built up around the still proud Roman walls. It is a tourist hotspot and home to the University of York, where I’ve been a student for the past two and a half years, commuting from my home in the south of England to learn from my supervisor and steep in the city’s many sights and delights.
As usual, I took a train up from Cambridge, changing at Stevenage. With the good excuse of this article in mind, I plumped for a first-class ticket on one of LNER’s new trains. My brief, yet wholehearted survey of this experience is that it is one of the best luxury train experiences the UK has to offer. From the well serviced facilities to the competent and helpful train staff, it was a blast. The bar for future train trips to York was set high.
There are countless choices here, but, as per my brief, I have focused on the most stylish stays. There is none moreso that The Grand Hotel, York. From the moment that you approach the building, you are entrusted into the care of the hotel’s courteous and cheerful staff. Whilst resident, you can avail yourself of the hotel’s luxury offerings, including The Spa at the Grand and a bountiful breakfast of locally sourced delights at The Rise. Aside from being one of the city’s most stylish accommodations, The Grand is proudly sustainable. Details of its policy and activity supporting their commitment to the planet can be found here. Like many hotels, The Grand is focusing on how everyday activities contribute to a carbon footprint. They show how stylish hotelling should be in the twenty-first century, and how luxury equates with low impact, thoughtful sourcing.
If you’re looking for a homier affair, with all the accoutrements of fine living, consider Grays Court. Sitting in the shadow of the York Minster, Grays Court has a refined period sensibility about it. If you dream yourself in August de Wilde’s Emma (2019), then this is the hotel for you. After a day of pounding York’s pavements, you can while away the afternoon in the gardens before floating into The Bow Room restaurant. Head chef Joe Clapham has created a menu of only good things, many of which are grown in the Grays Court gardens.
Finally, if you are wishing for something further removed from the boiling hotpot of city life, you might consider The Black Swan at Oldstead. This Michelin-starred “restaurant with rooms” is all about a space dedicated to excellency in food and service. Sustainability is in the fabric of The Black Swan’s design, being run by the Banks family who trace their relationship with the land in and around Oldstead back for many generations. This business is a special, forward thinking one, designed as a place of generosity and excellent execution. As their website proudly displays:
“There is a real sense of nature and the seasons; of fresh tastes straight from the fields and woods; of age-old methods merging into dynamic modern innovation and running through everything is a true feeling of purpose and place.”
York is, along with Bath, Oxford, and Cambridge, one of the four most beautiful cities in England. But its food offering far surpasses those of its rivals. There are countless spots to grab great grub in the market or in the many fast food joints that line the beautiful ancient city streets. But for really stylish sustainability, I put forward three eateries that source locally and plate with beautiful exaction.
Le Cochin Aveugle has been a staple of York’s fancy food scene for some time. Head chef Josh Overington and his team seat patrons in three tranches during the course of the evening. Expect fresh takes on French classics as you swim through a finely tuned tasting menu.
Skosh is cool from top to toe. Micklegate is my York area of choice and I have spent many an evening ogling the chic interiors as a buzz rolls out, onto the street, of happy faces and cheerful conversation. The food is fabulous. Like Roots (see below), Skosh focuses on small plates, seasonal produce, and powerful, dramatic flavours.
Roots is another business of the aforementioned Banks family. In a quiet suburb of York, the restaurant focuses on a beautiful presentation of sharing plates. These small series of dishes are seriously powerful, delightful presented, and all in the comfort of a sun trapped room in a bright corner of Marygate.
There are many beautiful things to see in York. But to my mind, none surpasses the almost-totally-intact city wall. The Friends of York Walls are a phenomenal community initiative dedicated to keeping the history of the wall alive and, if you’re lucky, you will encounter them along the way (more details of their events can be found here). I have had the pleasure of many thoughtfully told stories from some of their members. And walking the wall is a treat that can take you café hopping around the many spots that inhabit its towers.
Outside of town, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is arguably the most sophisticated art space you are likely to encounter. Take a breath of fresh are and take in the beauty of the artworks.
In town, you can choose from sites such as Treasurer’s House (National Trust) and Fairfax House. Step into a world full of objects as they were intended to be received. Imagine yourself in a different, aesthetically inviting age.
I think that my love for charity shopping as an adult began in York. There are countless secondhand retailers, to suit all budgets and levels of comfort. My favourites include the British Red Cross Shop on Walmgate, which on first encounter is as immaculately laid out as your average high street retailer, despite being a trinket box of preloved gems. I have found the perfect Burberry trench and wallet there for a steal!
Sue Ryder has the most excellent. Truly. THE. most excellent vintage floor. Head upstairs and avail yourself of decades upon decades of fashion and accessories. Imagine your favourite Instagram vintage store in person, with reasonable price tags to boot. And whilst you’re visiting the Bishy Weigh (next), pop into St Leonard’s Hospice. The staff are wonderful, the selection boasts labels such as Frank Usher, COS, and Toast. You can’t go wrong.
And finally, if you’re looking for some cultural takeaways, you must try Fossgate Books. It is a palace of the imagination.
Having said that the Micklegate is my York area of choice, part of me will forever favour the Bishopthorpe road because it is the beating heart of York’s sustainable business scene. They even have their own website that functions as a community hub. Unlike the Micklegate, which performs an important role in the prominent role of the city wall, the Bishy road is a kind of secret, off the beaten track, which attracts fewer, if any, tourists.
If you are here for any significant period of time, you’ll need to stock up at The Bishy Weigh. This package free shop should be on every British high street (and likenesses surely will, soon). Airy, bright, friendly, and roundly stocked with staples, this shop is a great example of the simple solutions that a sustainable bent can lend to the future of retail.
On Burton Stone Lane, you’ll find The Shop of Small Changes (which resides alongside the Giftery). The proposed small changes include a wide offering of plastic free, zero waste, low impact living artefacts and aids. These products offer a great introduction to the world of sustainable living!
The Pig and Pastry is a neighbourhood oasis. I’ve spent many a morning jostling with my fellow café goers, peering over a plate of mushrooms as I balance my laptop beyond. The food – exceptional. The coffee – some of the best. The staff – a never-ending delight, a source of much laughter, helpful, knowledgeable, and great at what they do.
Shutishuti Patisserie is a purveyor of pure visual gold. Run by artist Eszter Takács, Shutishuti is a micro-pastry that operates exclusively online. They continue to accept orders and have a weekly revolving menu of sweet treats that are perfect fodder for your Instagram feed. This is small batch beauty at its best.
Bistro Guy is bold and straight-up. Its premises on the Gillygate are smack bang in the heart of York, from where it serves an array of food and drink. What makes it different from other eateries? Owner Guy Whapples extensive knowledge of the York food scene and his depthy awareness of Yorkshire ingredients and suppliers. It’s simple really: great food that you can rely on for being responsibly sources.
York is one of the most exciting British cities for a sophisticate to visit. From some seriously sumptuous places to rest your head to the fresh, bright, and uplifting landscape of the city, York has everything that a modern traveller could want. That’s to say nothing of the phenomenal, daring, bombastic food scene, which, despite present circumstances, continues to inspire and engage…
What are these businesses doing now?
Since lockdown began, Supper Collective has been hard at work feeding the isolated and other vulnerable members of York’s community. This group of local and independent retailers includes many of York’s sustainable heavy hitters, such as The Pig and Pastry, Skosh, Chopping Block, Le Cochon Aveugle, Haxby Backehouse, The Hog and Apple Food Company, Dough Eyed Pizza, Brew & Brownie, Spilman Farming, Millies, Harvey’s Cheese, Swillington Organic Farm, Parlormade Café and Scone House, Rocket and Russet, Yorkshire Fungi, and the list goes on. (N.B. If we haven’t included your business and you are participating in the Supper Collective, please drop us an email. We would love to tell everyone about you!) The collective has been provided 150-200 free meals every day and are reliant on donations from lovely people like YOU. More on how to donate over on their Go Fund Me page. Quite rightly, this amazing initiative was nominated for The Telegraph’s Lockdown Awards – voting is now closed but you can find out more about the awards here.
On top of supporting the Supper Collective initative, Le Cochon Aveugle is offering an exciting takeaway three course meal for two. At £45 for this, a bottle of wine, and free delivery or collection, now is the time to support this seriously special restaurant.
Tommy Banks, chef patron of Roots and The Black Swan at Oldstead, is selling “Made in Oldstead” food boxes. Each box contains two three-course meals for two (so, six courses by our count). Boxes can be delivered to the Harrogate, Oldstead, and York areas and are snapped up quick! So be sure to follow the Banks family businesses on their social media channels.
If you know of any other York based business with a sustainable bent, let me (and the world) know about it in the comments. I find many of these business by making cursory google searches, but an equal number were flagged up through word of mouth. So, I look forward to hearing your recommendations! And when eventually we can travel, and it is safe to do so, consider York.
Other people say (collected from social media recommendations): Chinese Laundry offers a great selected of curated vintage (as well as a bargain bucket of £5 vintage threads).