£11.95 for a Kit Kat?

November 25, 2019

A real Yorkshire manor house

I’d like to tell you that my reason for choosing York as our next destination after Scotland was because I knew it was the geographical setting for Downton Abbey. After all, I was going through the series a second time with Carol (her first), and we had seen the movie together at the start of this trip. But it was only after traipsing around York for a couple of days, and then watching Downton episodes courtesy of a Smart TV with an Amazon Prime app in our York accommodations that I said to Carol, “Hey, Mrs. Patmore is talking about going to Thirsk. We saw that road sign on the bus today!”

A great railway museum in York and a freebie

It’s a tribute to…Yorkers? …no, probably just Yorkshiremen… that the city seems not to have tried to capitalize on Julian Fellowes’s improbable tale of the upstairs downstairs goings on in an English manor house. We saw no tours, walking or otherwise, being hawked at the tourist office or travel agencies. No Downton Abbey merchandising of any kind was visible anywhere. It was quite refreshing from a crass, commercialization point of view, and we admired York for it, until we discovered they wanted £11.95 to tour the chocolate factory that made Kit Kat famous.

Model of the North Sea’s Murchison Oil Platform at the Aberdeen Maritime Museum, also a freebie

Also, just to tour the grounds of the Yorkshire manor house, Castle Howard, was £9. The manor house was closed, as it was preparing for its Christmas exhibition, which gins up the admission to £22. (Add about 30% to these figures to get the dollar equivalent.) In other words, almost $30 for what you can see in a Macy’s for free (and that includes a snootful of throat-gagging perfume as you walk in).

A handsome village in the Yorkshire countryside

Both Paul Theroux and Bill Bryson occasionally sang shrill about steep admission prices in Britain, and I would now like to join that choral group. Happily, Carol shared my parsimony when it came to seeing Other People’s stuffed armchairs and tableware, and she led the turn away from many a museum and historic site’s ticket window. (How about $30 each to see the crown jewels and a Beefeater stomping about at the Tower of London. That one was such a quick pivot, I thought Carol might have thrown a heel. I didn’t even have to raise the usual foregone argument on maybe her seeing that one alone.)

Yet, all this is countered by the very impressive National Railway Museum, which is free and where I saw more father and son and grandpa and grandson combos than anywhere else. The Maritime museum in Aberdeen was also free, and featured a detailed model of the Murchison Oil Platform that helps visualize the story of the greatest North Sea oil rig disaster (Piper Alpha) prior to our own No. 1 in the Gulf of Mexico (Deepwater Horizon.)

A final word about Downton Abbey country. It was our bus trip out to Castle Howard that provided us with a bucolic visual to Yorkshire’s passage from feudal aristocracy to social democracy. There were the rich pastures and farmland now all privately owned, amidst the small towns and villages that once housed the tenant farmers wholly beholden to the lord of the manor for subsistence. And finally, there is the manor house, hulking and impotent, relying on tourist handouts who come to admire a time and a system doomed from the beginning by its own inherent inequality. The era’s only saving grace is in providing a context for some of the best lines Maggie Smith has ever been given to utter on screen.



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