Bloomsbury. New York: B&b Is Examined

It is one of life’s ironies that hotel rooms don’t often encourage you to linger. You sleep and shower there. But laze around? Rarely. At the budget end, bedrooms are frequently stark, alienating shells with furniture seemingly designed to keep you moving. At luxury level, rooms can feel like pristine stage-sets – admirably chic but where do you flop down and put your feet up without worrying you might break something?

That the solution to this might be a B&B in York may sound absurd. The old image of a claustrophobic B&B, with cramped rooms and tyrannical owners beadily watching your every move, is a hard one to shake. The Bloomsbury, thankfully, is worlds away from that cliche.

Front door, The Bloomsbury, York

A three-storey Victorian terrace 10 minutes’ walk from York Minster (along a road on which WH Auden was born and Guy Fawkes educated), the Bloomsbury was taken on, late last year, by Matthew Townsley (son of the previous owners) and his partner Paul Johnson. Their welcome is warm and chatty and, if you need insight, they are experts on York’s attractions. Otherwise, they maintain a discrete – and discreet – presence. The house is calm and quiet of an evening. There is little road noise, no blaring TVs and a conspicuous lack of the clanking pipes and slamming doors that tend to disturb your sleep in larger properties.

Hallway at the Bloomsbury, York

The beautifully lit hallway is dressed with interesting antique pieces, but the eight bedrooms won’t win any design awards. They are a (not unpleasant) mishmash of furnishing styles and unfashionable textured wall coverings, which Matthew and Paul are gradually modernising (splashes of designer wallpaper and contemporary art; Freesia is one of the newer rooms). That homely style and the thorough heating, however, give the Bloomsbury an unusually cosy feel and there is no stinting on detail (iPod docks, safes, mist-free mirrors, UK-made Ebony toiletries). The rooms are well-maintained, too. My brass and enamelled iron bed is no rickety bone-shaker. The mattress is thick and firm. That these rooms, in pricy York, cost £80 or £90 a night further aid a restful night.

This does sound a bit Alan Bennett, but sitting in my room, Wisteria, in a (yes, granny-ish) armchair, with the Guardian, a pot of Yorkshire tea and a slice of Paul’s excellent lemon drizzle cake to hand, I was, for once, reluctant to go out. But York was calling.

Bedroom, The Bloomsbury, York

Despite its popularity – with endless dawdling tourists – York always feels magical. Way beyond the Minster and the Shambles, beyond the city walls even, it is a 360-degree architectural marvel, a riot of medieval and Georgian design whose every ginnel and gate reveals creeper-clad courtyards and buildings redolent with history.

It is also known for its pubs. I made a beeline to a newish one, Walmgate Ale House. A spin-off from classy restaurant Melton’s, this was, in the 17th century, a workshop producing nooses for York’s hangman (hence the ropes looped over beams). Now it focuses on Yorkshire cask ales (from £3.60 a pint), homemade pub snacks (good scotch eggs) and bar meals.

Walmgate’s burger – washed down with a pint of Mardy Merchant, a zesty session pale from Ainsty Ales – was a curious beast. Served in a toasted brioche with creditable skin-on chips, it was less a patty than a clod of mince, so loosely packed it fell out of the sides as I ate. Was it a clumsy attempt at a “smashed” burger? Who knows. The flavour was OK; the mushy consistency was not.

Breakfast room, The Bloomsbury, York

Thankfully, the Bloomsbury’s breakfast shone. There are homemade preserves and fruits, and the full English is distinguished by serious bacon and sausages from nearby butcher Neary’s. The breakfast room is defiantly old-fashioned (check the cream and maroon table linens) but as I sat at one of its generously spaced tables, looking out into the courtyard garden and listening to 1950s vocal jazz, it felt, like the Bloomsbury itself, a soothing space. If they did evening meals, you would never leave.

Accommodation was provided by The Bloomsbury (doubles from £80 B&B, 01904 634031, Travel between Manchester and York was provided by TransPennineExpress (, advance singles £12.50

Ask a local
Josh Overington chef-owner, Le Cochon Aveugle restaurant

The Phoenix Inn
The Phoenix Inn

• Eat
Chef Neil Bentinck’s Skosh is fresh and great fun. Its small plates menu is very creative and it’s a great addition to the York scene.

• Drink
The best places in York are the small locals’ pubs. The Phoenix Inn is a personal favourite. There’s no jukebox, TV or pool table, just great local ales, an open fire and regular live jazz. For a more sophisticated night out, Sotano cocktail bar is York’s best.

• Shopping
The Hairy Fig deli on Fossgate does a grand selection of artisan products. The Imaginarium is fantastic for gifts, with many weird, wonderful items.

• Walk
The best way to get a feel for York is to walk the walls. It takes two hours and the views are amazing. Or take a stroll along the river: to the Millennium Bridge and back through Rowntree Park is lovely.