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Published: August 8th 2007
& Constantine the Great
On the first weekend in June I met up with my mate Warwick, who had been doing the 'great castle tour' of Scotland and Northern England, in York. Was great to catch up with another Aussie friend, and to check out the walled city of York (I love a good wall!!).
Why does it have the wall? To keep the rabbits out, of course. Just jokes, the wall dates back to Roman times where they protected a Roman fort, but were later used when York was invaded by the Vikings and Normans ... and to protect against anti-tax rioters. Apparently, York has more intact city walls that any other city in England, most other cities having destroyed theirs when the town began to extend beyond them (good tourist value foresight by someone!). There are about 2.5 miles of wall that you can walk around, which is lovely.
After a much more packed train trip then expected, I met Warwick in time for a late dinner and a much-needed catch-up/cross examination (depending on your perspective).
The next day we were keen to check out the sights (and perhaps Warwick was keen to go somewhere where someone else was doing
the talking?) so we headed off to a free walking tour of the city run by the volunteer historical association. York's history goes right back to Viking times, so there is lots of it! I was, however, disappointed to learn that the famous 'York bars' are not cozy places for a pint, but the gates to the city ('bar' being another word for 'gate' and, confusingly, 'gate' being a word for 'street' - bloody Vikings).
We then headed to the Jorvick Viking Centre - where we 'went back in time' to a Viking village 'complete with sights, sounds and smells of the time'. Now, while that part of the attraction (kinda an inside chairlift thought a 'model village', with actual smells pumped through the vents in different areas) was not all that, what was cool was the staff who worked there. Not only were they dressed up in Viking costume, but they were a wealth of really interesting information - and really keen to share it (in fact, we thought that we might never get away from one of them....). Of course, all the important Vikings in York had really scary names, Eric Bloodaxe, Thorfin Skullsplitter and, well, Ivor
Hagrid, here we come
the Boneless (what the!?!).
We checked out York Minster, which is the largest Gothic cathedral in the British Isles (and one of the largest in Europe). The oldest parts of the cathedral date back to the 13th century and some of the medieval stained glass remains (now that is cool). The Rose window commemorates the joining of the houses of Lancaster and York, of War of the Roses fame. It's got a wooden roof, which means the ceiling span is much larger than other churches. Warwick was very brave and, despite his dislike of heights, joined me at the top of the Minster tower to take in (or in Warwick's case, avoid) the views over York.
Much less scary for Warwick, we then climbed Clifford Tower, part of York castle built by Henry III. It used to be made of wood, but is now built of stone. It seems kind of oddly placed as none of the remainder of the castle is left, so the tower is on its own, on top of a grassy knoll, lovely, but surrounded by a car park ... not so lovely. In spring the grassy knoll is covered in daffodils, but I’m
When I heard about the famous York bars, I was excited. Unfortunately, 'bar' means 'gate'.
not sure that even that makes up for the car park!
Sadly the grassy knoll was too steep for marching up and down as per the nursery rhyme (much to Warrwick's relief!). In case you are wondering, the rhyme is about the defeat of Richard, the Grand Old Duke of York in the War of the Roses. Basically, he stormed and took possession of Sandal Castle, a good move, because its position on top of a hill ('he marched them up') was perfect for defending it against the Lancastarians. Not content with that, he decided to fight to Lancasterians direct and 'marched them down' for battle. Unfortunately, he lost not only the battle but his life - not a good outcome.
Feeling a bit peckish, we went in search of the famous Betty's Tea Shoppe and found a bit of Harry Potter in the muggle world - 'The Shambles' is very Diagon Alley. It's a cool medieval street, 900 years old, which used to be the butcher and slaughter center of York. Butchers, after they completed the various gutting and cleaning procedures, would lay their meat offerings out in front of their stores on low, wide shelves known
Betty's tea house
Best afternoon tea ever
as 'shammels', hence the name. The houses all lean inwards of the street, and I've heard a suggestion that this was to shade the street so the meat didn't go off in the sun (hmmmm, sure that was not very effective).
Betty's lived up to its reputation and we had such a lovely afternoon tea that we went back again the next day!
That evening, we tried out the ghost tour - not so atmospheric when it is still light during the tour (one reason (at present, the only one I can think of) the long evenings are not great), but still a lot of fun, mostly because of our guide who obviously had acting experience/ambitions and had the cape and the voice perfect for the scary ghost stories (if only it had been dark!!!). Allegedly York is the most haunted city in Europe ... but still we didn't see any.
After a pub diner (in one of the haunted pubs of course, but without Yorkshire pudding - a failing I know) we sampled the York nightlife, where there were an array of amusing characters to say the least.
What else? Oh yes a boat trip
in the River Ouse (incidentally what a great name for a river), where we learned about the propensity for flooding in York when the river breaches its banks, and what do you know, two weekends later, there was severe flooding in York.
Of course, a visit to York would not be complete without a walk of the walls, which we duly undertook. I now have way too many 'wall' photos!
Sadly (but luckily for you, as the history lesson is over), it was then time for me to head back to London and Warwick back to Oz - thanks for a great weekend Warwick!!
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