Tuesday, 28 October 2008

All change on Kensington High Street

Despite the fact that I'm a fairly regular visitor to Kensington High Street, it's taken me a while to realise that the former Safeway is now a large Tesco Metro. This has always been the main supermarket on Kensington High Street, as it occupies a high profile position just to the west of the entrance to the underground station.

With the acquisition of Safeway by Morrisons, I had thought we might have a bit more competition in the area: Waitrose have the former Budgens store at the top of Earl's Court Road, and the Whole Foods Market has opened up in the former Barker's building. But no, Morrisons have sold the store to Tesco, who already have the huge flagship Tesco Kensington store on Cromwell Road, about a mile away (and, confusingly, rather closer to Earl's Court). So Kensington now has two large branches of Tesco, but no Asda or Morrisons, and the nearest Sainsbury is over a mile away.

But perhaps the key word here is 'former'. There seems to be a steady merry-go-round of High Street names either moving in or out of Kensington High Street. As well as the supermarkets, Uniqlo have taken over the store that was 'Next', and I noticed today that the branch of H Samuel the jeweller has disappeared.

Now, I'm not a retail expert, so I'm not sure if this is a healthy sign or not? But there's no doubt that a major blow to the area was the departure of Barker's, the department store latterly owned by House of Fraser, which was situated in its wonderfully iconic modernist building (thankfully, still there).

Now I realise all this is driven by the markets, and that ultimately it depends on what customers want. But there's something very comforting about department stores, with their myriad of different sections conjuring up thoughts of old fashioned service, and offering the ability for Mum and Dad to browse separately and then meet up for coffee later, all in the same building. When I was a child, we often went to Bristol for the afternoon shopping, and I recall the main destination was always two of the large department stores, which stood side by side close to the University.

Of course, I always wanted to go to the toy department, or the book section, rather than have to sit and wait while my Mum tried on something in the Ladies' Wear section. (To this day, I can not abide going into women's wear sections in stores). And one of the real treats was going to see Father Christmas in his grotto every year. The reality was always a bit of a disappointment, of course - usually because the gift was uninspiring, and after all that queuing you only had a minute or so with him. But I don't recall any of the horror stories my friends had at the hands of an inept Santa with bad breath or clumsy hands. (Maybe it was because my Dad always stood guard?). Anyway, it was something I looked forward to.

Now, however, many places seem to have lost their department stores completely, and the departure of Barkers is just one more statistic in what seems to be an inevitable trend. But there's no doubt that I feel personally that its departure has taken away an intangible something - especially at Christmas. Where is Santa going to locate his grotto now?

Monday, 27 October 2008

Autumn to Winter

And there was I, looking out of the window and admiring the leaves in the Square turning an autumnal gold when we get news of an imminent cold snap, which will undoubtedly catapult us into feeling all wintry.

But at least at the moment it is cold and sunny, which is among my favourite weather: it's dry, so you can enjoy a brisk walk in the sunshine without getting all hot and sweaty in the process. And about time after after our drearily damp summer. Wonderful.

Which is more than can be said for the experience of those poor souls who went on the Original Mountain Marathon in the Lake District over the weekend. If you've not seen the news, this was a major mountain race with 2,500 competitors, which had to be called off for the first time in its 41-year history, because of appalling weather: over two inches of rain (nearly three in some parts) fell over the first day, along with fierce winds. Many streams became impassable, and hundreds spent the night in farms and other hastily improvised shelters, while others toughed it out, camping on the mountains.

Now, of course, there's lots of fuss about why it was allowed to go ahead with such a grim weather forecast looming. And yet, I'm not quite sure what all the noise is about. The competitors were all experienced and well equipped, and there are bound to be some casualties in an event on this scale in any case.

And besides, what do people expect in the Lake District in late October? Snow, sleet, hail, rain and wind strike me as par for the course, a comment echoed by some of the competitors. Just don't expect me to be entering any time soon...

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The British and their gardens

I was writing a review of the Royal Horticultural Society's gardens at Wisley earlier today, which got me thinking about the relationship between the British and their gardens.

The RHS for many epitomises this relationship. Founded in 1804, it is dedicated to promoting and developing horticulture in all its forms and to encouraging gardening. And, on one measure, this seems to be as relevant as it ever was: Gardeners' World and Gardeners' Question Time remain very popular programmes, and the annual Chelsea Flower Show is always packed.

However, a stroll through any suburb these days will demonstrate the extent to which we're losing the tradition: gardens paved over for parking, some looking more like rubbish tips, and others simply neglected. And yet, garden centres have become popular destinations for a day out - with more people than ever wandering around the rows of plants and shelves groaning with gardening paraphernalia. But does this, and the popularity of the TV and radio programmes, show that we've become a nation of armchair gardeners instead?

Quite possibly.

I'm not quite sure why this has happened. I suspect a major reason is that we simply have more choice of what to do these days: in the past, people didn't have cars or necessarily the resources to go out regularly, so cultivating their little patch was itself an important leisure activity, as well as a source of pride. I know of many friends who simply can't find the time to spend in the garden, and simply pay for someone else to keep it all neat and tidy. And yet, when I had a garden, I used to find it incredibly cathartic to spend a few hours every weekend digging over the borders, weeding and generally getting my hands dirty.

Perhaps it's time to rediscover our love of gardening?

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Shop till you drop

It may be a case of unfortunate timing in the wake of news that we are now in a recession, but next Thursday sees the opening of the huge new Westfield shopping development in Shepherds Bush.

Built by the Westfield Group, this is - by any standards - a huge development. Situated on the former 1908 Exhibition Site near White City, this £1.6 billion development has been 10 years in the building. It covers 43 acres, with 265 shops and 40 restaurants set around a central atrium the size of a football pitch, under a vast undulating glass roof. The emphasis is on clothing outlets, with 16 brands new to the UK and a 'village' of smaller designer boutiques. On the south side is a traffic free 'boulevard', with 300 metres of restaurants. It's also been built with eco-credentials, such as a partial 'green roof', rainwater harvesting and facilities for waste separation and recycling. It will be Europe's largest in-town shopping centre, and the third largest in the UK, after the Gateshead Metro Centre and Bluewater in Kent.

And, as I reported in a previous blog, the developers have funded a huge investment in the local transport infrastructure to ensure that visitors can get to the site with ease: two new railway stations, one rebuilt underground station, a bus station, a new flyover from the A40 link road, and new pedestrian access. In preparation, London Transport have also diverted a number of bus routes to serve the area.

It'll be interesting to see what happens, on two counts: the first, and most obvious, is how it fares given we now seem to be in a full-blown recession. Recent news reports from the new shopping centre in Bristol have shown it to be busy with visitors, but a more careful look shows them not to be buying much: window shopping seems to be the order of the day.

The second is what it does to the rest of Shepherds Bush. Despite the asset of the green, Shepherds Bush has always had a rather mixed feel: lots of independent shops, as cosmopolitan as London gets, but decidedly down at heel, especially compared with the neighbouring parts of West London. The conundrum here - if there is indeed a ripple effect of prosperity - is whether the wider area can benefit without becoming another faceless High Street clone.

Certainly, the better public transport links should make a difference, especially tying the area into the rest of West London in what has been, until now, a decidedly hard-to-reach destination. (As recently as six months ago, there were no direct public transport links from Chelsea and Earl's Court to Shepherd's Bush). But will people simply walk straight through to the new centre? Will the two actually mix? Will someone buying a £1,500 Gucci bag really go on to sample the colourful chaos of Shepherd's Bush market?

It will also be interesting to see what impact the new development has on nearby High Street Kensington. In the last few years this has lost its major anchor store, Barkers, and some of the buses that used to come here have now been diverted to Shepherd's Bush. It already has some of the chains that are opening in Westfield, and until now has only had to compete with Hammersmith down the road - yet another area that could find itself undermined. Watch this space.

But for now, all eyes are focused on the opening event next week. The promotional video has already created waves with its images of 'human moths', shown fluttering in their thousands towards the bright, white light from that huge undulating roof. Only time will tell if a more appropriate analogy is that of moths flying too close to the flame...

Thursday, 23 October 2008

A local excursion from West London

You know how it is when you want to go somewhere for an afternoon, but don't want to organise a great trek? That's when you need to know what's in your own back yard.

It's funny how people often don't visit things on their doorstep. My mother lived in Cardiff for 26 years and has never visited the Castle - which is slap bang in the middle of the city centre, and which she passed on her way to work for several years. I've now lived in London for 14 years, and usually only go to places when I have visitors: I only got around to the a trip on the London Eye a few years ago, when my brother and family visited.

So it was a pleasant surprise to spend an afternoon along the Thames in Putney recently - or should that be Fulham? Now, I'd been to Putney High Street before, for shopping and to meet friends there for drinks, but I'd not seriously thought about it as a destination for a non-shopping afternoon. But what a revelation!

Firstly, there's the river banks around Putney Bridge. The river is actually quite interesting here - a greater variety of buildings, lots of boats moored around, and the odd canoeist too (something you don't get in the centre). On the north bank is the delightful and historic church of All Saints, Fulham. Although rebuilt in the 19th century, its tower dates to 1440 and it is full of interesting memorials and monuments from the Tudor period to the late 18th Century.

Next door is Bishop's Park - a large and really delightful space. Wrapped around the impressive grounds of Fulham Palace, it has both a Thameside walk and an historic Moat walk, areas of formal park, ponds, a skating area, tennis courts, bowling greens and lots of green space for kids to let off steam (and lots of benches for granny to sit down, too. And me, come to that). There's s small cafe at the Putney Bridge end for a cuppa afterwards.

And then there's Fulham Palace itself. Once a summer retreat for the Bishops of London, parts date back to 1495, although the Bishops used it from the 11th Century onwards. The grounds are very attractive in their own right, and the Palace is used for art exhibitions as well as conferences, corporate events and weddings. The grounds still contain allotments - a relic of efforts in World War II to grow more food domestically - as well as the remains of Britain's oldest botanical garden.

Crossing the bridge back into Putney, immediately on the left there's the tower of the church of St Mary. The tower is again late mediaeval, but the interior is largely the result of Victorian rebuilding and a major reconstruction after a disastrous arson attack in 1973. It now includes a cafe and community centre, as well as an exhibition on the 'Putney Debates'. These were discussions held in the church during the English Civil War when Cromwell's Army was stationed here. They revolved around the potential forms of Government that could be adopted to replace the Monarchy. Although they had limited impact at the time, in retrospect they probably influenced the development of modern parliamentary democracy and may have influenced the content of both the Declaration of Independence and the United States' Constitution.

After all that, you'll probably need some refreshment: apart from the cafe at St Mary's, Putney has several nice pubs.

Or - you could go shopping...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Putting the clocks forward..

As if to make up for our lousy summer - or maybe to taunt us - now the weather has turned cooler and more autumnal, we're having lots of sunshine. I suppose I shouldn't moan - I could do with some nice sunny days to brighten up the approach of winter.

As ever, I'm dreading the change back to GMT. I'm firmly one of those who would rather stick with Summer Time all year round, and have double summer time in the summer. Not only would we then be in the same time zone as our European cousins, but we'd also get the extra light in the evening: I thinks this makes a real difference in the winter evenings, and there's plenty of evidence that it would reduce road traffic accidents, as it is the evening when people are tired that the darker evenings take their toll.

I can recall when I was a child there was much discussion about the undesirability of children going to school in the dark, but this seems to disregard the fact that they have to come home at dusk under the present arrangements. And apparently, the longer summer evenings should help the economy by extending the length of time people can undertake outdoor activities (there's not much value in having sunshine at 4am in the morning for most people).

Of course there are always complaints by the Scots and farmers. I can understand the Scots' point to some extent, but now they have their own Parliament, surely they can weight up the pros and cons of holding on to the same time zone as the rest of the UK? (Plenty of other countries work perfectly fine with different time zones). And the Norwegians and other Scandinavians manage with even shorter hours of winter daylight.

The farming question I have never understood: surely they can simply order their day around when there is daylight, regardless of what the clock says? After all, that is exactly how the livestock will behave.

Anyway, don't forget that the clocks go back this Sunday. At least we'll get that extra hour in bed...

Friday, 17 October 2008

An autumnal bounty

After the washout summer we've had, it's quite a relief to get some cool, dry weather for autumn.

Autumn - or fall as our Transatlantic cousins call it - has been consistently voted America's favourite season for many years. If you've ever been to New England, you can understand why: nature's famous display of autumn colour there really is something to behold. But there's something equally captivating about autumn in Britain. We may not have quite the brilliant reds and golds, but it's still beautiful, and after the excesses of summer it can be quite nice to have some cooler, breezier weather, and begin to look forward to cosy winter evenings by the fire.

It's undoubtedly my favourite season. And I'm in good company - the poet John Donne famously wrote, "No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace, as I have seen in one autumnal face".

For children, a potent memory is kicking autumn leaves on the pavement or footpath, and for me the thrill has never entirely disappeared - I sometimes find myself, when there's no-one looking, kicking a big pile of fallen leaves just for the fun of it! However, a recent CBBC poll found an overwhelming majority of British children choosing summer as their favourite season, although the reasons given - no school and the prospect of summer holidays - provide a fairly predictable analysis!

But for me, autumn brings another added bounty: mushroom hunting. Now, this really is something we Brits are shy about. We seem to have a primeval fear of toadstools, being all too aware of the potentially deadly consequences of eating poisonous ones. Now, I have to confess here that I studied fungi as part of my PhD and am a member of the British Mycological Society. But even so, I'm not actually that great an expert when it comes to identifying wild fungi in the field - more a case of knowing when to admit that I can't identify it, and erring on the side of caution.

But some of the most poisonous fungi are easy to identify if you know what you are looking for, as are some of the best: the great Giant Puffballs (Calvatia gigantea), when young and fresh, are astonishing to look at and just as astonishing to eat: the size of a football, with a creamy interior resembling a fragrant, savoury marshmallow, they can be cut into slices and fried like steaks to great effect. Or some giant Parasol Mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) - again with caps the size of dinner plates - have been simply delicious.

My best ever experience - although some find it a indigestible - was a cache of the wonderfully named 'Chicken of the Woods', Laetiporus sulphureus (sometimes known as the Sulphur Polypore). This vivid, almost fluorescent yellow and golden bracket fungus, is found on living broadleaved trees, and the younger and fresher golden part has a wonderful, rich taste, not entirely unlike chicken, and perfect for casseroles. It's a delicacy in parts of central Europe, and Germany especially, where they are more accustomed to gathering fungi. Even in Catalonia, the part of Spain I know best, the markets are full of brightly coloured fungi, and frozen and tinned versions are available for those who prefer easy preparation.

For those thinking about going mushroom hunting and with no experience, the best place to start is the website of the Association of British Fungus Groups. There, you can find a local group and join a fungal foray with experts who know what they doing. They will also advise you on which field guides to buy, and learn the ropes of identifying some of the commoner fungi, as well as which to steer clear of. You can even go on a residential course to learn more. They will also advise on conservation: as with all aspects of nature on our islands, this is an increasingly important issue (the rule of thumb is always to leave a proportion of what you've found to provide the next generation).

Even if you don't care to eat them - and many are not edible anyway - it can greatly increase your enjoyment of autumn walks in parks and the countryside when you see a little clutch of fungi, and many are great to photograph!

With luck, you'll discover another dimension to one of our best seasons.

Note: Although the proportion of fungi which are poisonous is relatively small, some species are deadly poisonous in small quantities, and medical intervention is not always successful. Only pick and eat fungi if you have enough knowledge and experience to make a positive and safe identification. If in doubt, leave them alone. Better still, join a properly organised foray. If you feel unwell after eating fungi, seek medical help immediately (ideally, with some uncooked samples if you have them).

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Sacred Music by the Sea

Want to learn to whirl like a dervish? To chant with Japanese Buddhists? Or just search for some spiritual inspiration from major world religions?

All this and more can be found in Brighton this week, hosting its fifth Annual Festival of World Sacred Music, a programme which aims to contribute towards greater understanding between people of different cultures and belief systems, through five days of sacred music from around the globe.

As well as the aforementioned whirling and chanting workshops, there are also performances from a wide range of religions; including Buddhism, Sufism, Judaism, Hinduism, and Bulgarian Orthodox Christianity, to name just a few. There are concerts, workshops, musical art installations and musical dance dramas.

The festival started off with a specially-commissioned piece of bell ringing at the ancient parish church of Brighton, St Nicholas, one of the pieces to come from a Christian background: there are also some spiritually-inspired pieces by Haydn and Mendelssohn from the Solstice Quartet, as well as the and mezzo-soprano Alessia Mankovskaya and violist José Gandia performing early Christian music from Spain and Eastern Europe. This will include the 13th-century Cantigas de Santa Maria, 16th-century Belarusian songs for family celebrations, and early Russian Orthodox Christian chants.

Last Sunday the London Bulgarian Choir (Winners of the BBC Radio 3 Open Choir of the Year 2006) performed an acclaimed repertoire of Bulgarian folk music and orthodox religious chants, in the wonderful setting of St Bartholomew's Church. A number of other churches and religious venues are hosting the programme, including the Chattri Memorial, high up on the windswept setting of the South Downs.

The memorial, which commemorates the Hindu and Sikh Commonwealth soldiers cremated there during World War I, hosts a daily performance organised by environmental arts group Red Earth. Each performance (by a different artist each day) will take place amidst sacred arts installations created specially for the festival.

So, broaden the mind and free the spirit - or just enjoy some live music that you might not otherwise get to hear...

The programme runs until Sunday 19th October. See website for details.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

New railway stations in West London

It's not often that new stations are an item of news - for years we've been more accustomed to station closures, but there's a whole raft of them currently appearing in West London - including one opening today.

The stimulus for all this work - at least around Shepherd's Bush - has been the development of the huge White City shopping development by Westfield. Included as part of a £200m package of transport improvements, financed by the developer, are two new stations and a refurbished one.

The first to open, on 29th September, was the brand new station on the West London Line at Shepherd's Bush, adjacent to the existing Central Line station. Part of the 'Overground' service and now operated by London Transport, the station features fully accessible platforms and a light and airy ticket office. There were teething troubles in its construction - a mistake on the platform width led to some expensive rebuilding, as well as delaying the opening - but it should now be a huge boon to the area. It will be served by the half-hourly Willesden Junction to Clapham Junction service.

Second was the re-opening of the Central Line station next door, which has been closed while the station was enlarged and refurbished. As well as the Westfield development, the station will also act as an interchange with the new Overground station 200 metres away. It has new escalators, a shiny new silver metal entrance block and lots of additional ticket gates, to help cope with the additional passengers anticipated once the shopping centre gets into full swing.

And today, a third station was opened in the area, this time a completely new one on the Hammersmith and City line at Wood Lane. Built on the western side of the Westfield development, this will be additional to the existing Shepherd's Bush Hammersmith & City station, which will be renamed Shepherd's Bush Market to avoid confusion with Shepherd's Bush Central line station. Wood Lane is again fully accessible, with four lifts, and a modern steel and glass structure enclosing the existing Victorian brick arches. Indeed, it claims to be the first new station on an existing tube line for 70 years.

Finally, a bit further south, another new station is beginning to take shape on the West London line at Chelsea Harbour, as part of new housing and hotel developments at Imperial Wharf. The station is not due to open until 2010, but will radically improve access to what has been a bit of a public transport dead end in West London for many years.

With all these new stations, the West London Line will move from being something of a Cinderella line to an integral part of West London's transport infrastructure. However, there are already questions about its capacity, given that peak-hour trains are already full. Plans are in place to help tackle this, with new air-conditioned trains on order, with four rather than three coaches, and a new timetable planned for 2011 which will see four trains an hour rather than the current two.

So - some good news for a change!


Occasionally, I see something advertised that I would like to have gone to, but can't, and I curse myself for not being better organised.

One such event starts tomorrow at the Albert Hall: Bill Bailey's Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra. I'm something of a fan of Bill Bailey - maybe it's the West Country connection, or because he clearly doesn't worry about his looks. But I really like his oddball sense of humour and the streak of essential humanity beneath his humour (I find many contemporary comedians rather cruel when they are doing live performances). For me, he was an essential part of 'Never mind the Buzzcocks', and it's not quite the same without him.

What many may not know is that he is a classically trained musician in his own right, and this production is a collaboration with Anne Dudley, one of the UK’s most celebrated composers and arrangers. The theme is essentially an irreverent guide to the orchestra, including popular TV and film themes - all with Bill's unique take on life.

I suppose I'll just have to satisfy myself reading the reviews afterwards.


Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to the Orchestra is showing at the Royal Albert Hall on October 15th, 16th & 17th 2008.

Monday, 13 October 2008

A patch of green in West London

Kew green is a lovely spot that almost has the feel of a village green, with its elegant Georgian houses, pubs, pretty St Anne's Church and even a cricket pitch (home to the local Kew Cricket Club).

It was mentioned in a Parliamentary Survey of Richmond taken in 1649, described as 'a piece of common or uninclosed ground called Kew Green, lying within the Township of Kew, conteyning about 20 acres.' Cricket was first recorded being played on the Green in 1737, and the Green itself was enclosed by a private Act of Parliament in 1824, preserving it in its current form. The Green is beautifully maintained, with mature trees around the perimeter. In one corner of the Green is an old horse pond, which has a small island and planted pond edges, enabling a range of water birds to nest in peace and safety.

Alas, it would all be nicer still were it not bisected by the A205, better known as the South Circular. It's a hopelessly busy road, and entirely unsuitable for the amount of traffic that now uses it. (An apt comment I once heard is that, while the North Circular really is a road, the South Circular is just a collection of signposts). Crossing it in the area of the Green requires taking your life in your hands. (It also means that the park is only suitable for children who are fully aware of traffic.)

Still, the Kew Gardens end is a lovely enclave, the church of St Anne is worth a visit in its own right, and the sound of the traffic soon quietens down as you walk towards the entrance to Kew Gardens.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Up and down to York

Every year, my motorbike club has a final event of the year called the 'Birthday Bash', which commemorates and celebrates the founding of the club over 30 years ago. It's a chance to meet up with old (and new) friends, visit a part of the country you might not otherwise visit, go on a bike run with a different mix of people, and generally enjoy some good food, drink and company.

This year's event was in York, which meant quite a trek for me - I keep my bike in Brighton rather than West London, as I got fed up of it getting knocked over in the streets by ignorant motorrists here. (But that's for another blog).

Unfortunately for me, the week-end in question just happened to be unseasonably cold, with a grim forecast, so I decided to break the journey: a round trip of 600 miles on my own over three days in the cold and wet did not seem to so appealing (not that I'm a fair weather biker - more a case of making things a bit easier - after all, it's supposed to be fun!).

So I decided to break my journey at Peterborough, which is roughly half way on the route, and stayed with the very jolly people at the Sibson Inn on the Great North Road. It's a lovely old converted farmhouse, with many of the rooms arranged around a courtyard in former outbuildings. The food is excellent too - dinner was really good, and it's nice to have a cooked breakfast made to order rather than serve yourself from a hotplate.

Before setting off the next day, I headed to the lovely little village of Castor for a look at its famous church of St Kyneburgha. This is well worth a short detour if you are ever in the area, for its astonishing array of Norman carvings and the 15th century painted angels (over 60 of them) which adorn its roof.

And then to York, staying at the hostel at York Racecourse; this provides very decent budget accommodation for groups, with good traditional cooking; everyone was impressed by the evening meal of steak pie (or veggie lasagne) with plenty of fresh vegetables. It certainly lived up to the image of generous northern hospitality!

York itself, of course, needs no introduction, whether you like history, railways, churches or all three. The downer was that it was packed, with a particular emphasis, it seemed, on large organised tour groups. Still, both the National Railway Museum and York Minster live up to expectation - though, oddly, the former is free and you now have to pay to get into the latter!

The run back started with a quick visit to the legendary Squire's Cafe (well, legendary in biking circles): this former pub, taken over as a milk bar in the 1960s, is a biking mecca: literally thousands of bikes a week visit during the summer months. It was a great opportunity to say farewell to our friends before heading off back to the four corners of the UK.

And I even got home without getting wet!

Friday, 10 October 2008

Holy Trinity Church in York

OK, more old churches: this time, from a recent visit to York.

Phrases like 'atmospheric', 'hidden gem' and 'perfectly preserved' often get bandied about when talking about old buildings, but this church, tucked away from the busy, touristy streets of old York, fits them better than most.

For a start, it really is hidden: the churchyard lies quietly secluded from the busy streets of York, accessed by narrow alleyways. It would not look out of place in a remote village. And it is exceptionally well preserved: such restoration as was undertaken by the Victorians seems to have been extraordinarily sensitive. It is about as close as you can get to how a church would have looked after the Reformation: dark, quiet, homely, with uneven floors, high box pews and plain walls. With candle-light it must perfectly evoke the late 17th century. It is rightly a Grade I listed building.

The church actually dates back to the 12th century, although the current building owes rather more to the 13th-15th centuries. The box pews are recorded as being repaired in 1633, and new ones added in 1700-1725. The pulpit dates from 1695.

But the church's most notable feature - as is so often the case in York - is its mediaeval stained glass. The windows are Decorated and Perpendicular in style. The best is the late Perpendicular east window: this dates from 1470-71 and was presented by the then rector, John Walker. The glass depicts saints, including St George and St Christopher, as well as heraldic shields, around a central panel in which a representation of God as the Trinity holding the dead Christ, with the donors at his feet.

Other features include a simple 15th century font and wall plaques recalling Lord Mayors of York, including the infamous 'Railway King', George Hudson.

Whether you just want ten minutes' peace and quiet, or some spiritual solace from the touristy rush that is modern York, a visit is a must.

The church is in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust.