York - The Walled City

Trip Start Apr 30, 2006
Trip End May 14, 2006

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Tuesday, May 2, 2006

Side trip to York - A City of Deep History
Click here to view my Pics from York

I arrive at York after a scenic train journey from Edinburgh along the Scottish seacoast and across the Scottish/English borderlands. The Scottish seacoast is an endless series of green, rolling meadows running parallel to the North Sea and dotted with hundreds of sheep. Only the occasional seaside town and lighthouse broke up my counting of sheep!

Exiting the York train station, I faced a huge fortress type wall that appeared to run forever to either side. My immediate concern was to get to the other side and inside York. I walked right along the wall until reaching an entrance called Mickelgate Bar. It is here that I climbed up and walked along the wide and thick walls towards York Minster and the city centre. These walls are, I estimate, about 15 feet or more thick and 30 feet high. It is easy to see how they would keep the undesirables out (or in - depending on your perspective!).

At York Minster, I arranged to go on a guided tour. However, I arrive 10 minutes late into the tour where a tour group is already listening to a stereotypical English looking chap with large eyebrows in dire need of trimming, a quivering yet stiff looking upper lip and wearing a tweed jacket (but without the elbow patches). He was explaining the long history of York and York Minster. From this point, the tour guide proceeded to give a detailed historical chronology for the next 30 minutes. You need to understand that the seating in this church is centuries old and was not designed for the comfort and relaxation of its users. So the 30 minutes seemed like (certainly felt like) an eternity. At this point, I excused myself from the remainder of the guided tour to explore the church on my own (after all I had a train to catch in several hours!).

In spite of the comprehensive history lesson, the York Minster itself was immense and truly amazing. I had never seen such a large church before; in fact, it is the largest in all of Great Britain. In addition to the several hundred foot high stained glass windows, altars, tombs, etc, there were a few oddities. For example, at the very top on the inside of the church (say 300 feet or more high) there are rows of statues of Catholic saints with no heads. The reason being is that Oliver Cromwell (in the 1600s) and his mates during the reformation took exception to the status quo and attempted to destroy all Catholic icons. So they knocked the heads off these statues. What is hard to imagine is how someone actually got all the way up there - it must have been a long ladder!

Another impact of the Reformation movement was the destruction of abbeys and monasterys across Britain. The following ruins of an old Abbey exist in York show what this may have been like:

York's long history has included visits from the Romans and Vikings. The Romans, during their occupation of Britain, founded York and used it as a base of operation for their Legions. The high point in Roman York history occurred when Constantine, while visiting York, was ordained as Emperor of the Roman Empire.

Signs of Roman York are visible today although mainly buried deep beneath the current city street level. Like most major British cities, different civilizations built their cities and streets one atop the other. These ancient civilizations are often discovered during construction of the current city, as was the case for the Roman Bathouse I visited. The pub currently above the Bathouse was performing renovations a few decades ago and during the basement escavation, they found the ruins of this bathouse. Therefore, instead of a basement pub they created a museum showing the rooms and artifacts of the bathouse.

The Vikings also had their kick at York (after sacking and plundering it). York is derived from the Norse name Jorvic and was so important to the Vikings that they established it as the Norse capital of Britain. Reminders of the Viking rule include current streetnames (most streets in York end in 'gate', which is Norse for street) and a cheesy tourist trap called Jorvik where 'vikings' with red hair and long beards run around screaming and waving Viking axes and shields.

Before catching my train, I head to the York Brewery where I order a tasting tray containing the five beers currently in season. The best of the lot was one called Centurion's Ghost Ale - obviously paying hommage to York's Roman past.

After drinking my beer, it is time to get back to the train station. I am off again. Although I have spent only 6 hours here, I was able to experience a millenuim of history and beer.
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