Our latest adventure takes us to York, a medieval city in northern England. With a rich history dating back to before the Romans, it boasts a walled city centre, a giant cathedral and streets that look like they were lifted out of a Harry Potter book.
Getting to York is simple. An easy two hour train ride from London takes you right into York town centre. There’s no need for a car because the train station is right outside the city wall.
The City Walls
York has more miles of intact city walls than any other city in England. Extending for over 2.5 miles they encompass an area of 263 acres. With three main gateways into the city and 34 towers still in place this is a walk not to be missed. Walking the walls was probably my favorite activity. Along the walls you can get multiple viewpoints of the York Minster Cathedral, visit the two museums, get some exercise and even stop for coffee or tea at the Gatehouse coffee shop. It’s located in the Walmgate Bar entrance to the wall. We took our tea to their outside seating area that is actually on the wall itself.
The largest Gothic cathedral in northern Europe was built over a 250 year period between 1220 and 1472. It boasts the largest amount of stain glass in the world, towers, bells, an astronomical clock and my favorite gargoyles.
The Museum Gardens and St Mary’s Abbey
This is a lovely place to take a break. In fact if you are walking the walls, the wall itself takes a little break here. We visited in the spring so tulips and daffodils were blooming everywhere. As you walk through the garden’s you will find the ruins of St Mary’s abbey. It was originally a Benedictine monastery and dates back to 1088.
Clifford’s Tower is the remains of a fortress originally built in 1068. The tower was built on the site of a terrible massacre in 1190. In a time of rising anti-jewish sentiment about 150 Jews attempted to take refuge from a mob in the tower. Unfortunately, this led to a mass suicide and the remainder being massacred by the mob or being burnt to death in the original wooden building.
Although this is not the actual tower in which the massacre took place, it still has a connection to the event.
Local folklore says that the tower’s stones can take on a reddish tinge and will even “bleed” red on the anniversary of the event. Ghost stories aside, the red tinge has been traced to a fire that forced some of the iron ore out of the stone.
I am Canadian. Canadian towns don’t have a lot of history. An old building might date back to the 70’s, as in 1970. The Shambles is a pedestrian friendly street that dates back to the 14th century. The word “shambles” comes from an obsolete word that referred to meat markets and butchers or more literally “flesh shelves.” As recently as the 1870’s there were more than 20 butchers on this street. And, to make it worse, it was legal to throw all the blood, guts and offal right into the street after butchering. This fact also explains why the sides of the street are higher than the middle. It created a channel for all the blood to wash away.
I think I’m not alone in preferring the new version full of candy and souvenir shops and quaint tea houses.
The Vikings are Coming
Or, more specifically they came, they stayed, then they left. York was captured by the “Great Heathen Army” also known as the Vikings in 867 AD. They left behind evidence of their inhabitancy in street names like Skeldergate and Jubbergate. The “gate” is not referring to a physical gate, but derived from”Gata” meaning street. The JORVIK centre is the main Viking attraction in York. Unfortunately, flooding damage in 2015 has left the museum closed until spring 2017 and we couldn’t visit it. Fortunately, we now have a reason to go back!
Speaking of Flooding
York has a long history of flooding. York is built on a flood plain and the two rivers in York, the Ouse and the Foss, regularly flood. A great place to see evidence of past floods is a pub called The King’s Arms. Located right beside the river it feels like you are stepping back in time when you enter. The building dates back to the 1700’s and has been a pub since 1783! The pub has been flooded so many times that the beer is now kept upstairs.
We sat down for a pint with two local men who are regulars at the pub. They pointed out a giant wooden sign where the pub keeps track of the flood levels. You can see that the floods this past December are way above their heads.
Shooting a Scot
And finally, as with any old city, archaic laws can sit in the statute books unnoticed for years if not centuries. One such York law states that it is legal to shoot a Scot on a Sunday, but only if he is also carrying a bow and arrow. Alas, with our weekday visit we never did get a chance to find out if the law was still valid.
Thanks for reading!