The ancient city of York is about two and a half hours north of London by train. It was originally settled by the Romans in the first century and it’s been the site of many epic battles and power struggles since. York’s location at the junction of the Ouse and Floss rivers made it a wealthy trading center, and it seems that whoever sat on the throne of England at almost any point in time felt threatened by the powerful Yorkists. York was a walled city centered around the Castle of York. The Clifford Tower is about all that remains of the castle but the thick walls that fortified the city still remain relatively in tact and have become a favorite walking route.
There has been a church on the site of York Minster since 627. This gothic cathedral was started in 1220 and completed in 1472 and is one of the largest in Europe. The term ‘minster’ denotes a missionary or teaching church.
The organ in York Minster was built in the 1800’s after the original one was damaged. This one was also damaged when lightning struck the roof of York Minster in 1984 causing a fire. It was successfully repaired.
York Minster is particularly known for it’s exquisite stained glass windows. They are repaired regularly, with the black lead lines becoming more numerous as one piece of glass is replaced by two. This window was repaired in 1310, 1789 and in 1950 as noted by the dates worked into the glass in the bottom right corner.
St. Mary’s Abbey was one of the largest and wealthiest centers for Benedictine monks before the Reformation of England in the 1500’s when the prevailing Catholic religion was abolished in favor of the Church of England. The Abbey was destroyed by Oliver Cromwell, acting for King Henry VIII who then installed himself as the head of the new Church of England. So much for separation of church and state. We would see the crumbling ruins of many Catholic churches and abbeys on our trek through the UK and Ireland, and hear more than a few disparaging remarks about Oliver Cromwell.
Entering into the old city of York meant passing through one of the gates or ‘bars’ where a toll would be collected. This is Micklegate Bar where Richard, the third Duke of York’s severed head was displayed after he was killed at the famous battle of Wakefield in 1460. His head was put on a pike on the top of this gate, facing into the city instead of outward, so all residents of York would know the consequence of defying the King. This same Richard might have been the Grand Old Duke of the children’s nursery rhyme, marching his men up and down the hill, but there are at least three contenders for the official title.
This is the clubhouse for the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York – built by a religious fraternity of merchant men and women in York in the 1300’s as a place to meet, socialize and carry on business. It’s remarkably well constructed and endures largely in tact, if a little tilted. I’m quite fond the the term ‘merchant adventurer’ and think I would have liked to have been one, if I’d lived in these times.
It’s not an optical illusion. This floor has about a twenty degree slope which corresponds to an identical slope in the ceiling below.
The Ouse flows through the city of York. There’s little commercial traffic now but its walking paths are considered some of the most beautiful in the world.
The smaller River Foss joins the Ouse at “the blue bridge” just outside the city center. The Foss was damned in 1069 by William the Conquerer to feed the moat of his castle. These days folks here are quite excited to see voles returning to the river. This is one of the picturesque locks along the way.
We were completely enthralled by The Shambles – a warren of shops, taverns and eateries that looks like something out of a Charles Dickens play except for the kiosks selling mobile phone covers. We wandered this charming area for hours and probably re-traced our steps a dozen times but it didn’t matter. Delightful! We ate roast beef and Yorkshire pudding at a tavern here. What else?!
Big wheels seem to be the big thing these days and I think it’s wonderful. I’ve seen London from ‘The Eye’, Singapore from ‘The Flyer’ and now York from ‘The Wheel’. I hope this is a trend that continues as there seems no more exciting way to get your bearings in a new place. Riding The Wheel really gave us a sense of the majesty of York Minster.
On one of our many strolls around York we came across a tiny burial plot next to an equally tiny old church and this headstone for one John Palmer AKA Dick Turpin. He was hung for horse stealing but was romanticized in children’s literature in later years as a Robin Hood-like character.
And on that note we, too will end. We are on to Edinburgh, Scotland. I can’t wait to post about that astounding city. Stay tuned!