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York campaigns to end romantic clichés in 2016’s Leap Year

2016 may be a Leap Year, but why should women only have one day (29 February) every four years to propose, and why stick to the same romantic clichés? As a champion of romance, the City of York is calling on women in love to make this Leap Year last the whole year.

Most Leap Year statistics are depressingly conventional. Back in 2012 (the last Leap Year) two thirds of women said they would prefer the man to propose, while only 5% of marriages are a result of the woman proposing. Now Make It York is setting out a challenge to change that.

In the interests of women across the UK, York has devised some unusual ideas to help make popping the question memorable in this (Leap) Year of Romance: from kissing under the Heart of Yorkshire window, to appetising aphrodisiacs and the original ‘love’ jewel worn by the gods!

Michelle Brown, Tourism Marketing Manager, Make It York, said, “We're confident there'll be no shortage of romance in the air this Leap Year and we hope women from all over the UK will love our ideas for where to pop the question in York and North Yorkshire. York is one of Europe’s most romantic cities and is surrounded by some of Britain’s most spectacular countryside in its little ‘kingdom’ of Ryedale, so it’s the perfect place for romance.”

Make It York’s ideas to help women take the romantic lead, and create their own, original traditions are:
• Forget diamonds – amber is the real love gem
• Make a honeybee happy for love: propose in a wildflower meadow
• Seal your love with a superstition
• Get starry-eyed as you wish upon a star
• Kiss in a tree
• Oh, Heathcliff … embark on a Brontesque adventure
• On a bicycle made for two!
• Inspire your knight in shining armour
(see notes for editors for more information about all these ideas and more.)

To plan the romance of a lifetime (or a day of hearts’ desires), visit or, consult an expert at York’s Visitor Information Centre on Museum Street (near York Minster); for ideas while you’re already out and about in North Yorkshire, there’s free WiFi, maps and guides at Visitor Information Points in Helmsley, Malton and Pickering.


Further information about York’s romantic ideas for women in love…

Forget diamonds – amber is the real love gem

Diamonds are relative upstarts: they were only introduced in the 1930s, when US jewellery cartel De Beers needed to boost their revenues. By contrast, amber was the sacred stone of Freya, the Viking Goddess of love, lust and fertility: she wore an amber necklace called Brisingamen that made her irresistible, and the amber washed up on the Yorkshire coastline was thought to be Freya’s tears. York’s medieval workshops specialised in amber jewellery and it was highly prized in York’s ancient Viking City of Jorvik. Today, York and Ryedale’s passion for this unusual jewel has not faded and their nearby coastline is the UK’s best source of this beautiful fiery jewel - the ultimate love-stone:

• If you want to beachcomb for your own amber, take a romantic steam-train ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, from Ryedale’s market town of Pickering across the rugged moorland to the gothic coastal splendour of Whitby.
• If you’re looking for an engagement ring buy handcrafted, locally-sourced amber at boutique jewellers in York, and Ryedale’s market towns of Helmsley, Malton and Pickering. As amber is much cheaper than diamonds, you can even create your own bespoke designs at W Hamonds on York’s Shambles, or commission your own jewellery masterpiece with husband and wife team at Helmsley’s Saltbox Gallery. For a little piece of history, you can also find unusual amber jewellery in the Antique Emporia of York, Pickering and Kirkbymoorside.
• Explore York & Ryedale’s ancient tradition of jewellery in the Yorkshire Museum in York, or Malton Museum, with their stunning examples of ancient craftsmanship.

Make a honeybee happy for love: propose in a wildflower meadow

If you make a bee happy then Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love will smile kindly on you. Bees were Aphrodite’s sacred creatures - in fact, she was known as ‘Melissa’, meaning Queen Bee. Honey also has a long love affair with romance: mead, made from honey, was meant to have aphrodisiac properties and newlyweds would drink it during the first moon of their marriage – their honeymoon. Fortunately, in York and Ryedale you can find some of the UK’s happiest bees to give you a head start – and it’s all linked to flowers, not in bunches but in meadows. British bees have been struggling to survive in the UK, as wildflowers have declined in our cities and fields. But not in York and Ryedale! The region’s countryside is celebrated for its wildlife, the tranquillity providing a haven for many rare creatures. So, to help the honeybee, wildflower meadows are being planted as a main garden attraction in the area: with their exuberant explosions of blooms, they’re not just beautiful places for a romantic wander, but help honeybees to thrive.

The best examples can be found at: the Yorkshire Arboretum at Castle Howard, where they are creating vast, colourful vistas of wildflower-rich meadows to support British bees and butterflies as part of a national conservation project; Nunnington Hall (National Trust), where honey from their apiaries is used in their tea-rooms; Terrington Lavender Farm has acres of lavender gardens (and even a maze) making delicious honey which is sold in their shop; Ryedale Folk Museum near Kirkbymoorside has a pioneering ‘cornfield’ meadow nurturing wildflowers that are nearly extinct; and at Helmsley Walled Garden, you can even meet the bees in special events, while honey is used not just in the tea-room but in therapeutic recipes! Wildflower meadows are at their peak in May and June.

Seal your love with a superstition

Kiss under the ‘Heart of Yorkshire’ – the West Window of York Minster - and you’ll remain together forever, according to local superstition. The ‘Heart of Yorkshire’ window, Britain’s answer to The Blarney Stone and one of the most famous stained glass windows in Europe, sits in the Great West Window of York Minster, northern Europe’s largest gothic cathedral. The distinctive heart shape of the window is becoming a destination in its own right as love-struck couples put faith in local legend that kissing your partner beneath the window means you’ll stay together forever.

Get starry-eyed as you wish upon a star

This little corner of Yorkshire boasts the UK’s most impressive starry skies, where lovers can escape on romantic trips to the Milky Way (much better than Gretna Green)! This rare star-gazing phenomenon can usually be experienced only in the most secluded landscapes when there are dark skies but Ryedale’s five market towns of Helmsley, Kirkbymoorside, Pickering, Malton and Norton shelter right on the southern edge of the North York Moors National Park, their proximity making them unique in the UK: within just a few miles you can be gazing at the edge of the Galaxy – experiencing something breathtakingly beautiful and unusual - but still enjoying the indulgence of luxury accommodation, and comforts of great food and drink. To dig a little deeper into universal truths, there are observatories in York’s Museum Gardens, or at Sutton Bank close to Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside, or Dalby Forest close to Pickering, Malton and Norton – all have an exciting programme of events, including annual Dark Sky Festivals in February, coinciding with Valentine’s weekend. Dark, clear winter nights are the best time to see the starriest skies in Britain, including Winter Solstice in December.

Kiss in a tree

In ancient folklore, many trees like birch, mistletoe and apple were symbols of love and fertility, and York’s countryside – the rural retreat of Ryedale – has more trees than the New Forest, so you’ll be spoilt for choice. In fact, the area also has the oldest and largest trees in the UK, and the longest tree-lined avenue in Europe:

• visit Keith the Stickman in Helmsley, who handcrafts magic wands for Nanny McPhee - an option if that proposal isn’t quite going to plan? – as well as bespoke walking sticks and Bishops’ crooks.
• Adam and Eve it in an orchard - Ryedale and York have been the North’s Apple Country for centuries, with orchards at Beningbrough Hall & Gardens and Nunnington Hall (both National Trust), Helmsley Walled Garden, Husthwaite village, and Ampleforth Abbey producing delicious juice, desserts and cider from native Yorkshire species.
• explore the ancient woodlands of Duncombe Park near Ryedale’s market town of Helmsley: some of the forest in the area is thought to have its roots in the last Ice Age, over 8000 years ago.
• stroll hand in hand down the longest lime-tree avenue in Europe at Britain’s finest stately home, Castle Howard near Malton. The glorious tree gardens in its Yorkshire Arboretum span 120 acres of spectacular historic parkland. In spring, the area’s woodland glades are famed for carpets of fragrant bluebells or daffodils, and in autumn – especially the month of October - its gentle patchwork of multi-hued leaves ripple over the hills and dales to the horizon.
• It is not surprising that Ryedale is famed for its woodcrafts, as well as its woodland, including the 20th-century artistry of ‘Mousey Thompson’ whose woodwork can be discovered in many of the area’s historic houses and churches, and also York Minster (the Mouseman workshop in nearby Kilburn is still celebrated for its master oak craftsmanship). Malton is one of the area’s woodworking wonders with furniture-making workshops, and also Britain’s best cricket bats and rocking horses! Hutton-le-Hole near Kirkbymoorside specialises in hand-turned ‘Greenwood Crafts’. The historic estate of Duncombe Park in Helmsley is a celebrated source of local wood, and its restored sawmill manufactures a range of high-quality wood products, including garden furniture and many of the footpath signs and stiles you’ll see on a country walk.
• Retreat to a secluded, luxury woodland cabin (or even a Finnish loghouse near Malton), do some forest glamping or even stay in a luxury treehouse in Ampleforth.

‘Oh, Heathcliff…’

Embark on a Brontesque romantic adventure. York and Ryedale make the best starting points because at their northern edge are the wildest moors in England, but don’t think bleak and desolate: in summer and autumn the moorland is clothed with colourful carpets of heather, stretching to the horizon – a spectacle of global importance, because there is less heather in the world than tropical rainforest, and this is the best place in the world to wander through it.

The purple blush of the distant moorland can be seen from miles around: find a viewpoint during a country walk along one of the 1400 miles of footpaths and bridleways in the area, especially from the hill-tops of the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, around Castle Howard or Nunnington Hall; or from York Minster’s West Tower, the city’s highest point. From Ryedale’s market towns of Helmsley or Kirkbymoorside, cycle or horse-ride up the ancient ‘riggs’ and bridleways onto the moor-tops; or experience the splendour of the heather moorland from the comfort of a vintage train carriage on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering. The heather is at its peak in August.

On a bicycle made for two

Find out how well matched you really are by riding a tandem. York and Ryedale have some of the UK’s most tandem-friendly country, with cycle paths meandering along riversides, and quiet country lanes through traditional farming villages - and barely a hill in sight. Pedal at a lazy pace with plenty of secluded picnic stops, or tea-rooms with delicious home-baking. You can hire a bicycle made for two from Get Cycling, conveniently located near York’s Millennium Bridge on the city’s traffic-free cycling routes. Alternatively – and if you’d like something with a few more downhills (and uphills) - you can enjoy a romantic escape by cycling through some of the UK’s most breath-taking scenery. The countryside around famed stately home Castle Howard, is an undiscovered treasure: called the ‘Howardian Hills’, it has been officially designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, with secluded by-ways you won’t be sharing with anyone. There are memorable viewpoints over the historic parkland of Castle Howard and nearby Nunnington Hall, which are perfect for a passionate proposal. Detailed route suggestions – for both road and off-road biking - are available at

Inspire your knight in shining armour

There’s only one place to go – Helmsley Castle is celebrated as the ‘Cradle of English Chivalry’ and the fairytale ruins, now in the care of English Heritage, evoke the Golden Age of medieval romance, with its ancient jousting field overlooked by the lords and ladies’ gallery. There are many more secluded romantic ruins across York and Ryedale, perfect for popping the question, including Newburgh Priory – now a picturesque stately home and luxury wedding venue - and the secluded riverside ruins of Kirkham Priory. Or there’s Rievaulx Abbey, once one of Europe’s greatest monasteries, and within easy walking distance of Helmsley Castle via the Cleveland Way National Trail – you might even hear ghostly bell-ringing to wish you luck. The monks of Rievaulx Abbey also loved their medieval romance, hiding Arthurian tales in their monastic library alongside their religious manuscripts. York is also England’s medieval city, with its famous Minster – the largest gothic cathedral in Europe - iconic city walls, the 1000-year Clifford’s Tower on its curious mound, museums dedicated to medieval kings like Richard III, and rambling narrow streets like the Shambles. Many of the region’s historic castles and abbeys run special events in July and August, exploring medieval life, so you can get hands-on with your history!

And if you’re a sucker for a romantic cliché how about these fail-safe ideas?

The world’s oldest Valentine?

One of the biggest collections of Valentine cards and love messages in the UK can be found in York’s Castle Museum. A thousand or more messages of love are in the archives including possibly the oldest printed Valentine’s card in the world. This was published on 12 January 1797 by John Fairburn of 146, Minories, London. It includes a verse printed around the edge: ‘Since on this ever Happy day, All Nature’s full of Love and Play Yet harmless still of my design ‘Tis but to be your Valentine’. The card was sent by Catherine Mossday to Mr Brown of Dover Place, Kent Road, London.

Ryedale’s museums – Ryedale Folk Museum in Kirkbymoorside, Beckside Museum in Pickering, Malton Museum – together have the UK’s most extensive collection of folk history, with heart-warming love memorabilia in their exhibitions spanning centuries.

The food of Love

In York and Ryedale, you can satisfy any appetite or desire. This is an extraordinary food-producing region, which inspires chefs to the highest standards: enjoy fine dining in award-winning and Michelin-starred restaurants like the Star Inn at Harome near Helmsley, or the most exclusive hotels like the Park at Marmadukes in York, or Hudsons at the York’s Grand; cuddle in a cosy corner of a historic pub – there are 365 in York alone; or create your own fantasy picnic hamper at one of the many farmer’s markets, farm shops and food festivals taking place throughout the year across the area, to be enjoyed in a secluded spot. You can even share a candlelit platter in the intimate boudoir of a former brothel, at the Blue Bicycle in York.

York - The Chocolate City

York is the UK’s home of chocolate, and chocolate is both scientifically and historically celebrated as an aphrodisiac – an essential ingredient to any successful romance. With its hormone-inducing chemicals, it’s no wonder that Aztec kings consumed chocolate before visiting their harems, or that Casanova believed that it gave an added boost to his romantic liaisons. Take a mouth-watering wander through York’s Chocolate Trail, exploring the history of chocolate pioneers and famous confectioners including Terrys of York, before sampling a chocolate-box of independent chocolatiers and boutiques. Start at York’s Chocolate Story, then explore Chocolate Heaven on the Shambles, Bettys Café Tea-rooms, or Goddards – the former home of the wealthy Terrys family. Regular food festivals in the city, including the Easter Festival in April, Food & Drink Festival in September, and York St Nicholas Festival in December, also showcase the region’s chocolate innovation and excellence, while many producers tantalise the taste-buds with special tastings and chocolate-making workshops throughout the year.

The region’s passion for chocolate is shared in the local Ryedale countryside, where milk and cream from local dairies are often used in recipes. The area’s chocolate piece-de-resistance is ‘Ampleforth Plus’, which handcrafts anything in chocolate from artisan chocolates to sculpture masterpieces; and even better it supports charity, being an Autism Plus social enterprise. Malton, Yorkshire’s food capital, celebrates confectionery in its monthly food markets, with Mennells – both a traditional sweet shop and handcrafted chocolatier - as a favourite sweet-stop; Pickering’s Birdgate Chocolatiers sells exclusive handmade chocolates and magnificent chocolate celebration cakes; the chocolate of Ryeburns in Helmsley is crafted by a Belgian-trained chef (they also sell award-winning ice-cream), and Hunter’s in Helmsley is an emporium of gourmet chocolate; meanwhile shops dedicated to handmade chocolate can be found at the Chocolate Factory near Kirkbymoorside, and Beadlam Grange Farm Shop near Helmsley.

Romantic places to stay the night

Live in the lap of luxury with your own butler at the Grand Hotel; book the Marmaduke Hotel’s Loft Suite in York and not only can you enjoy a two person double ended bath but also a large double shower and even a barrel sauna! Or share a spa experience rated as one of the UK’s best by Tatler magazine, at the Feversham Arms in Helmsley. Enjoy roaring log fires and four-poster beds, rooms with views, rooms steeped in history, cosy cottages, city mansions, secluded treehouses, leave-the-world-behind glamping, and even a train station.



For more media information please contact:

Nicola Bexon, Pyper PR:
01904 500698 or
Samantha Orange, Pyper PR:
01904 500698, or

Notes to the Editor

Make It York (York’s Destination Organisation) has an overarching remit to market the city and its surroundings – nationally and internationally - as a vibrant and attractive place to live, visit, study, work and do business. The remit covers leisure and business tourism, city centre management, festivals and events, business support and inward investment.

Visit York is a part of Make It York and is the leisure tourism brand. Under the brand Visit York, Make It York’s aim is to market York as a must-see world-class destination to the leisure visitor and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in York.

Key York tourism facts: 6.8 million visitors annually, £608 million total visitor spend, supporting 20,300 jobs

Visit Ryedale is supported by Ryedale District Council and over 700 tourism businesses and works in partnership with VisitYork, Visit Hull & East Yorkshire, Welcome to Yorkshire and Visit England.

Visit Ryedale's aim is to market Ryedale and its market towns as a must-see destination to the leisure visitor, and ensure investment to develop the quality of tourism in Ryedale. Visit Ryedale is responsible for leisure marketing, visitor services (running the district's Visitor Information Points) and ensuring a quality visitor experience.

Key fact tourism facts: 5 million visitors annually, £209 million total visitor spend, supporting 7,000 jobs