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Returning To York....

I visited York twice in a week recently, firstly to watch some cricket, then with a follow-up trip a few days later to take in a number of the city's pubs....

York, like most of the rest of the country, has been basking in sunshine over the past couple of weeks, and so both my visits over that period were greeted by blue skies and high temperatures. First up, it had been a visit with some friends to the York Cricket Club where Yorkshire were playing Lancashire in the One Day Cup. The ground is situated a little way out of the city centre in the suburb of Clifton, and whilst there were buses a-plenty heading in that direction, we made our way on foot, walking beside the River Ouse through an increasingly rural backdrop. We took a turn through some fields, and the ground came into view, cricket nets, marquees, and trees ringing the field of play. We got seated in a temporary stand erected for the matches Yorkshire were playing there that week, and as the players emerged to applause from a crowd of around 3,500, the sun was beating down behind us, an accompanying wind providing some respite. Yorkshire had won the toss and decided to bat. The opening hiss of a beer can, the rustle of a packet of crisps, followed shortly by an appeal from the Lancashire side, and a wicket was down. And so it continued, Lancashire gaining the upper hand over the course of the day, and a few hours later duly won the match by 7 wickets. A disappointing result for followers of the White Rose, but overall it was a most enjoyable and chilled day watching cricket in a lovely setting.

Looking great in the sun: York Cricket Club, Clifton

As expected, the beer at the ground was not of interest, so although we'd had a can or two of craft ale we'd brought along, we needed to address our after the match beer requirements, so following a walk back along the Ouse into the city centre we paid a visit to a few of the fine pubs and bars the city has before catching the train back to Halifax. And having enjoyed that post-match wander with the guys I decided that on my next free day I would head back to the city and have a more in-depth tour on my own.

It was even warmer when I caught the train a few days later from Halifax. The journey took just over an hour, and it was round about noon when the train pulled into York Station. I decided I would get myself acclimatised with a pint at York Tap, situated in the station, and brought to you by the same people who run similar enterprises at Sheffield and Harrogate. Mind you, it has been something of a regular stop-off point for me of late, what with two visits when I changed trains when visiting Malton recently plus a visit after the cricket, so I almost felt on nodding terms with the guys behind the bar. Whereas I'd had a standout beer here on that trip to Malton, my choice today did not scale those heights but it was a pleasant enough 3 - if I'm kind - on the National Beer Scoring System scale. My choice was a pint of Patchwork Rocket from Firebrand Brewing, a trading name used for some beers from award-winning brewers Altarnum, based in Launceston, Cornwall. It was a pale beer but was a little lacking in distinguishing features.

York Tap: the bar now standing at Platform 4

It was then back out into the heat, the temperature hovering around 30 degrees, and whilst I had in mind the places I wanted to visit, I decided I would deviate from it almost immediately with The Maltings coming into sight close to the Lendal Bridge. Set on a lower road as the bridge slopes up before crossing the river, this free house is a distinctive dark-painted building that has graced the Good Beer Guide for a good many years now. It is often busy and today many of the tables were occupied. I ordered a half of Easy-Going Assassin from Roosters, at 4.3% the gentler sibling of bad-boy Baby-Faced Assassin (ABV 6.1%). Brewed exclusively with Citra hops it was a delicious fruity IPA with plenty of citrus notes, worth at least a NBSS 3.5 score, and was one of the best beers I had all day. I looked around the room; plenty of York memorabilia on the walls, 7 cask ales and 4 ciders to choose from, with many of my fellow customers tucking enthusiastically into their lunch. A reliable pub for beer, and with it only being 5 minutes from the station, before York Tap opened it was where many York pub crawls would start and/or finish.

The Maltings, York

One of the pubs I'd called in the previous week was one I'd never visited before. Just across the bridge, on the street called Lendal is the House of The Trembling Madness (opening picture). This is one of two such establishments in the city and is set in a award-winning restoration of a former saddlery spread over five floors, with bars on 3 levels starting from the cellar, toilets and kitchen up on a level above the bars, and rooms for events and private hire above that. It majors on craft beers with over 20 keg lines but offers 3 beers on cask too. Whilst I'd had a craft ale from Beak the previous week, this time I was on cask as I had spotted a beer from Wylam on the list. The beer concerned was Fleek, a 4.2% slightly hazy pale featuring Citra and Amarillo hops, and my pint was one of the best I had all day, clean and refreshing, worthy of a NBSS score of 4 and a reminder of the quality that Wylam produce as standard. Like everywhere I visited on this very hot day, top marks to the teams there for maintaining high quality cask ales in what can be  challenging conditions.

It was a few minutes to the next bar, another new one to me that we hadn't managed to get in last week. We had planned to, but arriving at The Market Cat on the delightfully-named Jubbergate next to the Shambles Market we had been greeted by a notice on the door saying they were having to close early because they had no staff, a reminder that in the current climate and especially for places like York with hundreds of hospitality venues, there is a challenge in recruiting and retaining people. With two of us in the group working behind a bar, we did think about going in and offering our services...well at least to sort our own drinks out! This time, it was most definitely open, and as I walked in I realised it was pretty busy. The pub is a joint venture between Thornbridge Brewery and drinks distributor Pivovar UK who, with running 3 other venues in York including York Tap, plus being headquartered near the city, have strong roots in the area. It reminded me of a more modern version of the Banker's Cat, the Thornbridge pub in Leeds, and with seating on three floors, with views over towards the Minster for the upper levels, it is a very pleasant place to while away some time. Meanwhile the beer. Thornbridge naturally had the lion's share of the 8 hand pumps which also features from Pivovar's own Tapped Brewery regularly. I went for a half of one from Bristol Beer Factory that I'd not seen before, Hydration, a 4.4% session IPA featuring three British hop varieties - Olicana, Godiva, and Archer. It was very good, refreshing and full of flavour (NBSS 3.5). I had enjoyed finally being able to visit the Market Cat.

The Market Cat, York

Next up was a pub only a couple of minutes away, and another one with Pivovar connections. Pivni is a beautiful, timber framed building incredibly dating back to 1190. I had been here a few times before but they have tended to be flying visits. Today, I went for a half of another Bristol Beer Factory ale, the 3,9% Low Rider, an extra pale session IPA with Citra and Amarillo hops atop a base of predominantly Maris Otter malt. I stayed in the narrow bar as it was too warm for me outside, plus all the outside tables were occupied. The beer was ok, for me it scraped a NBSS 3, and whilst it is given that Pivni is a beautiful, historic building, I felt it lacked the relaxed and friendly atmosphere I experienced elsewhere in the city.

Pivni, another fantastic old York building

I had my next pub planned, and for some reason I decided to go down the Shambles, one of the most famous streets in the city. It is narrow, with timbered buildings dating back to the 14th century, many with jettied floors overhanging the street. It was originally crammed with butchers, the word 'shambles' being an obsolete term for slaughterhouse and meat market. The butchers may have all gone, but the craft and gift shops left in their wake attract hundreds of visitors, with many more simply walking the street. It means it always rammed, busy in both directions, and with sudden stops and false starts plus the usual array of backpacks and other tourist paraphernalia it is a nightmare to negotiate if you are using it as a cut-through. 

I just about made it through in one piece, and was turning down Fossgate when I decided to investigate the bar on the corner, which looking through the window appeared to have a decent number of beers on. I walked into the Fossgate Tap, a smart modern bar situated in a former Army Navy Stores branch. There were 4 beers on cask, with more on tap, many from Turning Point brewery in Knaresborough. I ordered a half of their keg Three Way Joust, a 4.8% pale ale featuring Simcoe, Azacca, and Amarillo hops, which was very refreshing and easy to drink considering its strength. I sat in the lower level of the split ground-floor bar which follows the slope of Fossgate. It turns out the bar is a joint venture between the Fossgate Tap and Turning Point Brewery, with the Fossgate Tap according to its website in a small group featuring the former estate of Leeds Brewery, which was acquired by Camerons a year or two back. Food seemed to be a big part of the offer, as is normally the case when a place styles itself as 'Bar and Kitchen', and whilst the menu did look quite appealing, I resisted the temptation.

Fossgate Tap, York

It was literally next door to my final pub of the trip, The Blue Bell. Apart from calling in after the cricket the week before, I had last visited this historic pub a couple of years ago when we were coming out of the first lockdown and going for a drink meant social distanced seating only. On that occasion I had managed to get a seat in the small back room, where I was joined for a couple of pints by locally-based blogger Simon Everitt aka BRAPA (British Real Ale Pub Adventure). The multi-award winning Blue Bell has just picked up another award having won York CAMRA Pub of The Year 2022, and in the small front room where I sat on this occasion several certificates were displayed on the wall. I had ordered a pint of Wold Top Bitter, a 3.7% amber beer which is brewed on a farm near Driffield. It was in excellent condition, cool, well-balanced, and refreshing, and I awarded it a 4 on the NBSS scale making it joint beer of the day with the very different Fleek from Wylam. I got talking to landlord John who told me the best-selling beer is the Blue Bell IPA which is brewed for the pub by Brass Castle. Other breweries whose beers were on the bar included Bradfield, Rudgate, and Taylors. I was hungry by now, having had no lunch, so I went for one of the pork pies under the plastic cover on the bar for a makeshift afternoon tea to go with my pint. Top pie. There was a steady trickle of late afternoon customers, some going into one of the two rooms, the odd one was stood by the hatch in the corridor, whilst others were watching the world passing by on Fossgate. 

Scenes from The Blue Bell, York

Sadly, I had to get back to the station for my train, and so I bade my farewell to John and made my way back to the station through the busy streets, this time avoiding the gridlock of the Shambles. The train to Halifax was on time, but busy. I'd had another great trip to York, but following two visits in two weeks, I think I'll leave it now until at least the autumn before I consider another visit....

Follow me on twitter: @realalemusic


  1. Great reading as always, Chris.

    Love the last photo from the Blue Ball, the dark wood set against the light from the lamps and the street outside.

    I appreciate your honest NBSS scores; it's useful to compare with my own experiences. I had a 3.5 Boltmaker at the Tap in May, but I reckon less beers is the way to maintain quality in 2022.


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