My Yorkshire: York's 'Mad Alice' tour guide on the best spots to visit, eat and drink in the city

Alicia Stabler is an historian and storyteller. Alicia, 40, worked for the National Trust hosting tours of York's The Treasurer’s House. She is now one of Britain’s top tour guides, in the character of Mad Alice – a real-life character from York.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

What’s your first Yorkshire memory?

Chocolate – or, rather, the smell of it, because as a child we lived just across the road from the Rowntree-Mackintosh factory (it’s where they now make Kit-Kats) and every day there’d be the delicious waft of baking wafting over on the breeze. It was a whiff on the wind. Smell is such an underrated sense, and it can trigger so many memories. As a child, I wasn’t aware that not everybody lived without that aroma, and when I used to go out into the countryside, I’d breathe in, and think ‘that’s weird, what’s missing, this air isn’t quite ‘right’?’.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why?

Alicia Stabler as Mad AliceAlicia Stabler as Mad Alice
Alicia Stabler as Mad Alice

The North York Moors can’t be equalled for their atmosphere, the area around Howarth is simply majestic in its beauty (and I have a very soft spot for the Brontes!) and, nearer home, I love the Museum Gardens, an oasis in the heart of the city. We have ten acres of superb botanical gardens, parts of a Roman Wall, one of the oldest observatories in the UK, the abbey ruins, and the museum itself. To think that I used to walk through it all as a child, on my way to school, and take it all for granted. Shame on me!

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What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire?

It would be wonderful to replicate those days out we used to have as children – piling into the car to head north to Whitby, past the ‘golf balls’ of the early warning base (I used to imagine that the giants were playing a game, and trying to hit them in to the Hole of Horcum), then climbing the steps up to the Abbey - our game to count every one as we went, and, if we got the full 199, we were treated to fish and chips! Then were went down to Scarborough for pudding – which was an ice cream sundae at the Harbour Bar.

Do you have a favourite walk – or view?

'Mad Alice' with Mark Addy, who presented her with an award'Mad Alice' with Mark Addy, who presented her with an award
'Mad Alice' with Mark Addy, who presented her with an award

Along the walls of the City of York, and particularly that stretch from Micklegate Bar down to Lendal Bridge, past the very sad little cholera graveyard. You can look across, and see the Minster from one particular angle, and it’s quite spectacular. A photographer friend took a picture of it, and I have the print at home.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, or past or present, would you like to take for dinner?

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Mark Addy, a lovely man and a very fine actor, and a friend of my parents. Mark was supposed to present me with an award (the only one I’ve ever won!) a few years back, and I was late for the ceremony in York. I managed to get to the after-show party, and Mark came bounding across, and all he said was ‘Alicia – your dad is ace!’, which was the sweetest thing, and so kind.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be?

How Stean Gorge, near Pateley Bridge. It’s an outdoor activities place – which isn’t my idea of fun at all, but a crowd of us went up there, and I had the time of my life. A slightly spooky atmosphere (I loved Old Tom’s Cave, where the legend has it that a highwayman used to stash his loot in times gone by) and, at night, the clearest of clear skies, where you can spot shooting stars. Magical.

If you could own, or have access to, one thing in Yorkshire for a single day, what would that object or place be?

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The Treasurer’s House, in York, where I used to work, and where I started my story-telling career. It’s apparently full of ghosts and spirits – quite apart from the infamous Roman soldiers who march through the basement. Someone once noted 35 apparitions who “live” there, ranging from one woman in a black dress to another entirely in white, one of the previous owners, and a little terrier dog.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity?

Our history – many thousands of years of it – the friendliness of the people, a sense of pride in the place, and the fact that nearly everyone will have a story to chip into the narrative of the conversation!

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub?

The Blue Bicycle, on Fossgate, their dumplings and goulash are to die for, and make sure that you have room for them before you sit down to dine! The ambience is just right, the people are wonderful, and the building has a very interesting history – it used to be a (shall we say?) place of pleasure for gentlemen in the Victorian era!

Do you have a favourite food shop?

Crumbs Cupcakery, at the back of the Minster. I start a lot of my tours nearby, and I hardly ever fail to pop in. They do the most amazing Red Velvet Cake, the best in the county!

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How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it?

Hen and stag parties tend to take over entire weekends, where the people who live in York shun the city centre at certain times. I’m convinced that, in 500 years, archaeologists of the day will dig down, and wonder why they are finding so many high heels, severed from the body of the shoes as the owner stumbled along. The heels of tomorrow will be the clay pipes they find today.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire?

Without a moment of hesitation, Richard III. Alright, he was born a few miles south of the county, but he spent most of his childhood at Middleham Castle, and has had long and very happy associations with the City of York – his beloved son was actually proclaimed Prince of Wales on a triumphant visit. He was the last English king to die in battle, and is much-maligned, especially by Mr Shakespeare who wrote what is a highly biased propaganda play about him. Richard loved Yorkshire, tried his very best for the county in every way, and our misfortune is that we lost a very good, and principled King.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work?

It is my job, and my passion, simple as that. I love researching the background to our history, and all our stories and legends – it never stops. Currently, I’m getting together a walk which will be relevant to an event of the day on which it takes place. And I haven’t run out of material yet!

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Name your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer.

Many years ago, I was browsing in a little shop on Gillygate called The Inkwell (now sadly vanished, I fear) and I found an old LP of the soundtrack to a 1972 version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It starred Ralph Richardson, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Fiona Fullerton, Peter Sellers, you name it, a brilliant cast. And the soundtrack was by York’s own John Barry, one of the best movie music-men ever. I still treasure it to this day.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be?

The Bar Convent, in York. A wonderful place, packed with so many treasures and unusual artefacts, and a fascinating history. It is the crucible of international feminine education, and their exhibition is enthralling. Add to that a great café a lovely garden, and the fact that I live nearby, and it’s a heaven on earth.

Mad Alice – the bloody tour of York. [email protected]