More Walks around the Medieval city of York

There are always two walks scheduled to start at the same time by Yorkwalk. I arrive on site to join the Graveyard,Coffin, and Plague Tour but being the only one who has shown that tour cannot go so instead I join a merry group of about 10 led by our very erudite guide, John. We start off through the lovely Museum Gates, where all of the tours commence. This is a wonderfully personal tour for although John was not born and raised in York, he has lived most of his active adult life here. His main quality is understanding what is interesting for the general public who are not themselves mostly historians but merely curious.

At the ruins of St.Mary’s Abbey (constructed 1270-1294) John shares with us how in the 1940s England requested cities to have performance festivals as part of the renewal of lives after the war. During this time the Edinburgh Fringe started as did many others including York’s Mystery Plays. Dame Judy Dench was one of the first actors to entertain audiences in front of this Abbey ruin, which has been repurposed as a backdrop ever since.

In another area of the gardens John points out the sone work use to contain flower beds. He pulls out a photo from the treasure trove he carries with him and shows us a drawing of the Abbey ruins perhaps over a century ago. As we can see, much of the rocks used in the gardens were pilfered from the ruins. But they don’t do that anymore, now they are more valuable as they are.

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Look at me with my healthy breakfast! It is, look carefully, my egg is poached and I had them hold the fried bread, baked beans, potatoes, and toast. I may need my cholesterol meds again after this trip with all the included English Breakfasts. At least my clothes still fit. Mostly.

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I stay just outside the back gate to these lovely Museum Gardens where all the Yorkwalk tours commence. Here you can see our guide, John, walking backwards as he narrates the history of the Roman wall ruin to our right.

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After showing us a drawing of what the Abbey ruins looked just over a century ago, John takes us nearby to see where some of it was pilfered to.

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You don’t have to look too closely at the flowerbeds to notice that many of the rocks used have been very much altered after being quarried. Ah ha. Pilfered from ruins. Ancient ruins had not been as cherished in the recent past as they are today.

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There is simply so much to look at everywhere, I had not even noticed this until John pointed it out. I had passed through this park nearly ten times up to this point. Remarkable. And that is why I am so pleased to enjoy these walking tours with a variety of interesting and unique guides. No, I do not work for them. Also, when travelling alone taking walking tours is a great way to meet locals and other travellers. It’s good to have the social interaction.

Along the city walls he tells us how the walls impeded the development of York throughout time, when other cities were becoming major trading places the walls of York hindered the coming and going of goods and inhibited growth. In the 1800s parts of the walls were disassembled to build roadways and to give the city new life. Like taking a tourniquet off a limb and allowing blood to flow.

We stop at the location of one of the main city gates where John shows us a photo of what it used to look like, quite a sizable tunnel-structure has been removed that would have disallowed a street to run along the wall. The photo is not of this gate, it is of another gate where the tunnel has been left in tact and he points out where there is evidence of the removal of this one.

Inside the gate, he points out some architecture that was redone in the 1900s. When the railways connected York in the 1830s, with it came tourists to enjoy England’s most complete Medieval city. They wanted to see the York Minster and the city walls. They expected to see gothic architecture here on the gate, so sometime in the 1900s they removed lovely windows from this space where a guard keeper would have lived and changed it with more harsh gothic defence-looking walls that visitors expected to see. But these arrow slits are pointing inwards, it would have been very unusual for the gate to have defences like these pointing towards it’s own. As for changes at York Minster, a group of homes were removed to have a clearing, opening the view to the Minster from much further. I had noticed myself that I had to go more than half a block away to be able to capture the Minster in my camera’s viewfinder. Before the clearing, I wouldn’t have been able to fully capture the front of the structure.

John went to University in Brighton, in the South of England. I don’t know how he ended-up in York, but I do know that for some time he worked in the accounts department of a bookshop under a Polish woman who was born during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. The offices of the bookshop overlooked the toilet shop that was later discovered to have some medieval innards and today is a type of small museum. He finished his career at the York Minster Library from 1994 to 2010. He shares a few fun stories from his years there as we stand behind the great York Minster from where we can see the building where he worked on the same grounds. A couple donated their “Wicked Bible”, a book that was printed in the 1600s and nearly immediately destroyed intentionally by fire due to it’s heresy. A printers error that could not be overlooked, the missing of one short word made so much difference. “Thou shalt commit adultery.” Oops. Obviously the missing word was “not”.

Throughout the tour I also enjoy sharing comments with an interesting woman from the West Coast. She is visiting York for her 50th University Class Reunion. She joined the tour a few minutes in having stumbled into us by the Abbey Ruins where John was showing us photos from the year he joined the Mystery Plays. Photos of the stage work set-up in front of the ruins. John played a demon.

I’m going to call her Judith, but I didn’t catch her name. Judith studied at what was the 3rd year of this young university. She has not visited York since her school days so she was in that blur of struggling to remember days so long past they nearly seem like they were from someone else’s life. We walk through an interesting compound where she actually had classes. I think she’s a bit stunned by it all, surprised by the unfamiliarity. I share with her that it took me some days to better remember my life in Edinburgh. It took some time and effort for memories to sift through the deep sand residue that has since accumulated. Such a different time, such a different life. I hope she is able to visit for long enough for the memories to flood back, she has much more sand to sift than I had. Although I have a lot of sand from having had a lot of variety in my experiences over the past 16 years. If I had lived in one city and had one main career I would have had much less to sort through myself. I have had very distinct shorter chapters whereas many people have one or two longer chapters.

I always think of Universities as being old, so I am quite surprised by the age of this one. But my first university was oddly old for being in Canada. Originally named Kings College, the University of New Brunswick is tied with Georgia State as being the oldest university in North America, both founded in 1789. Those were the very early days of formal education on that continent. (It was still Kings College during the era of the book series, “Anne of Green Gables” and was the setting for her studies.)

We end the tour with some overlap of my other tours and again visit the lovely owls. I really don’t mind having overlap, I only capture half or less of what is presented to me anyway. With ADHD I have a natural filter that automatically only captures the most interesting bits while my mind wanders during the presentation of minute details that might fascinate me were I a historian.

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Much of the walls we walk on today were recreated in Victorian times. This bit is Roman.

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Notice the tiny little window. We are told that this is located in a toilet. Well, not IN the toilet, but British also call the room in which a toilet is located the toilet.

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John asks us if we can guess what has happened here. Iron fencing removed for the war effort.

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“Judith” was excited when we rounded the corner to this building. Most of York University is located outside the city walls in newish buildings but she happened to have attended some classes here when she was a student during the University’s early days.

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During the poring rain last night whilst I was enjoying Verdi in the comfort of York Mister a university group was doing an outdoor play about Anne Boleyn. They have tarps for over the audience but the actors were soaked. We meet the director who lets us lift the incredibly heavy costumes to feel their weight.

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These arrow slits of the construction reconstructed to look “more Gothic” are facing into the walled city rather than towards intruders.

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With my hair it’s longest since high school, my facial hair (since November 2012), and full-time travelling, I think I may have become a hippy.

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I explained the purpose of this little plaque in my previous posting about York.

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A little ornamental devil in the middle of the colourful medieval streets of York’s centre.
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After walking past lots of crowded lunch spots, I settle on having lunch at the library. I have chosen this because of it’s quiet setting and being located directly beside where my next tour will commence in just over an hour. Lunch is simple and good and has the benefit of being cheaper than in the tourist restaurants. Sadly the fluorescent tube lights are too bright for me and I have forgotten those glasses, but I leave soon enough not to have gotten a headache.

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In the afternoon I join a tour called, “Guildhalls & Hidden Places” which has a largely English crowd in attendance. When I say “largely”, I mean 5 Brits and me. This is a well travelled group, three of them have been to Canada and are happy to share about their travels. In our conversations about England I have now added Chester to my list of places to visit, and it may even happen on this trip after Liverpool.

The other solo walker is a local nun, she lives a 2-minute walk away from the York Minster in a Maisonette. She too has visited Toronto, she stayed for a month there with some sisters in Willowdale. She enjoyed her stay.

We walk past a pub that once was the city dwelling of country folks who were the parents of General Wolfe. The Wolfe who defeated the French and took Canada for the British Empire.

Our first stop is to visit St.Cuthberts, a church that has been made redundant three times. The first time was during the reformation when nearly half of all Yorks churches were made redundant. The last time was more recently, the priest in charge decided he didn’t like the groups that were making use of the church and made them find another home. Now, empty and unused, it has less chances of survival from things like moisture damage and vandalism. It’s much better for a building like this to have people coming and going.

Our guide, Warwick, removes some carpet floor tiles, then wood, then support beams, to unveil a secret entrance to under the floor. Two of us climb down the fixed ladder to see the marked grave below. There are many, many unmarked burials below us and outside surrounding the church.

PHOTOS

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The Black Swan pub in York was once the city home of the parents of General Wolfe. (I was told that they spent most of their time in their country home.)

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St. Cuthburts has had been a church long in disuse and has been made redundant again recently because the person in charge did not like it’s uses. But any use is better than no use when it comes to preserving an old structure. It was being used by Christian groups, just not ones the person in control approved of apparently.

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Trying to save this structure, self-sufficient offices were built in the middle so the building would be used without touching it’s actual structure. They have been made empty recently though.

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Notice the floor tiles in front of the jacobean pulpit. They hide an entrance to underneath this modern sub floor.

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The entry opened, two of us venture down for a peak. General public cannot enter this locked church, and fewer people still have access to this area.

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Some views under the sub-floor.

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It’s not a beautiful church inside.

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Showing the patchwork of brickworks outside St.Cuthberts.

We visit part of the York City walls where we come to understand that most of what we see today are Victorian recreations of the walls. In this location we can see some of the original Roman walls, from the 200s. They seem very short but this is because the ground level has risen by a few meters.

Lastly we visit a Guild Hall that was once part of a priest’s commune. It was another case of the priests misbehaving and then being housed together under a watchful eye. Even then, it was known for the occasional priest to sneak in male tradesmen to do work who were in fact women in disguise. Naughty priests.

Today this is a modern guildhall, serving as the meeting place for several different guilds and being rented out for functions.

When I return to the hotel I am introduced to my new room. I had originally only booked to stay 3 nights. To increase my stay to 6 nights I need to move twice taking what accommodation they have available. The feeling at the Coach House Hotel is fantastic, very homey and welcoming so I didn’t want to move anywhere else. This is a wonderful home away from home and in a great location too.

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A section of York’s city walls.

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The walls high above are the Victorian reconstructions. The darkest part are the most modern ones, they are retaining walls holding the earth away from the unburied Roman walls, which our guide has trekked down into.

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There are numerous Guildhalls throughout York.
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Walking around the lovely city of York, Part One

Walking Tours of York

I joined my first walking tour of York the morning after I arrived. A very relieved Doris, originally from Scarborough she moved here in 1982, was happy to see me. A woman of about 70 years, it wasn’t me in particular she was happy to see. It was just if I had not arrived she would have made the effort to come into the centre of York for no purpose. The walking tours have a minimum 2-person policy. This is not for the financial aspect primarily but because situations have the potential to become awkward when it’s one-on-one. “I wouldn’t trust Doris alone either!” I laugh as she turns red and gives me a gentle elbow with a big smile.

I have enjoyed the few walking tours I have encountered over the past 7 weeks travelling in England so when I saw the elaborate collection of tours available here in York I was quite excited. Some tours are run more than others so I have strategically chosen one or two walks for each day I am here. It could be that I end-up with other plans, but I am happy to have these starting out.

Our tour, “Mansion, Cellar, and Priest Hole,” starts with a location that is only appropriate for a handful of walkers at best, probably four would be the most that could attend this one as a group. Our guide unlocks a gate, followed by a door, followed a small stair and then by another door at the back of The Parish Church of All Saints North Street. This is not something I could have stumbled upon on my own, I don’t have keys to this section of the church.

Up the stairs we stand in a small storage room with boxes, spare candelabras, a monitor, and active WIFI hub. It has lovely windows matching the church although this is a later addition. A small square trap door of perhaps just over a square foot opens into the church on it’s rear wall high above the floor.

Until the 1960’s, this church had resident hermits living here. The hermit could enjoy the services and comings and goings of the church without having to actually move amongst the people. Imagine, until so recently. Our guide, Warwick, describes Hermits as being religious recluses. Some hermits had a tendency to prophetic words so in some cases it was beneficial to have the services of a resident hermit to predict the death of kings or the overthrow of churches and such. He tells us that there are 6 such dwellings attached to churches within the city of York. But it is a bit rare to see inside one, he has not taken guests here in some months. Our group size dictated this inclusion on our tour.

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We don’t just visit this church, our guide has the keys to allow us entrance to the private areas attached.
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This odd little attachment to the church does not block any window while creating a living space for a hermit who can view church activities through a spy hole. (Called “Priest Hole”)
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Today, the hermit quarters is used for storage and such. However, this was a living quarter into the 1960’s!
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Also interesting in this photo is the pulley system to lift the elaborate font cover for when the font is needed for baptisms. Notice the dark square towards the top left of the window where the rope also meets the wall; that is the shuttered door into the hermits quarter from which the hermit could spy on the activity below.
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Main areas of the church.
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Here is another pulley system. This one lowers these ropes to within reach to ring the system of bells.
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A placard informs us that spectacles are very rare to be seen in medieval glass.
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Our tour continues in to a tudor building with the name place “Jacob’s Well”. This building had a varied history that Warwick explains to us and shows us by drawing diagrams as we sit inside sipping a coffee. In the Bible there is a story where Jacob went to a well where he met his future wife Rachel. In one of this building’s carnations it was a pub. The name of Jacob’s Well suggested that it was a place for gentleman to come for drinks and to find wives. Except not wives, in this case they also added some bedrooms upstairs to facilitate those meetings.

At some periods this building was used as church rooms, it has experienced various renovations throughout the years to become what it is today.

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“Jacob’s Well”
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This lovely front door was constructed in 1905, perhaps from reclaimed materials. A kitchen now stands on the other side of the original entry door.
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Here you can see the original exterior wall and exterior door which now leads to the kitchen at the side.
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This emblem and number place was originally on the exterior of the house. This was to show that the owners had paid for fire insurance. In case of a fire, a private brigade of that company would come to the rescue. If they couldn’t find the emblem they would pass on by.
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The original certificate that ties to the fire insurance remains.
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We have time for one more sight on this 90-minute walk. We now happen to the Mansion. Over the main entrance is the sign “ace York”. Warwick points out features from the street that could be easily overlooked. Slight non-symmetry of the windows. Holes where a second gas lamp would have been suspended. A cut-out in the iron work where coal could be poured down a chute.

Today this is a boutique hostel. He is known to reception and they are happy to let us take a look about. One could never happen off the street, be allowed to poke around and know all the odd little corners and hallways and doors he takes us through. Our guide shows us evidence here and there of this having been two homes combined to make one larger one. This was the city home of a family who had their estate in the country. They would have stayed here for a month or two at a time during their city stays.

We wander up the staircases to see the attic rooms where house-staff would have housed and wander through the now-finished basement that originally contained a kitchen of the smaller of the two joined homes, as well as storage rooms, wine cellar, and such.
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The front of this gentry pied a terre that was originally two smaller homes.
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Originally the dining room, now this is the dining hall.
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Who’s that? Oh, it’s me!
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The gorgeous main staircase with three variations of palisades.
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Wonderful ceiling details at the top of the main staircase.
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This view from one of the upper floors showcases the lovely York Train Station. *CORRECTION: I was misinformed, Dorris had told me and our guide agreed but they were mistaken. It is so easy to have these mistakes happen because how do you know someone is wrong with their information. Anyway, it is a nearby hotel, Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa. I walked past it the next day. When you see any such mistakes in my postings, please do point them out in the comments so I can fix them. It’s impossible not to have some mistakes when presenting information about different places all the time, it’s not like I am an expert on one specific place that I talk about over and over so that a mistake would be shocking. ((Sorry, I had several really rude correction notes from Indian residents who said I was lying about some facts (I was accused of lying about place names and some names of buildings. Not sure why I’d do that.) rather than accepting that I made a few mix-ups.))
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At the conclusion of our walk Doris walks me to the centre near to where we started and helpfully points me towards the information centre. I stop for lunch at Browns, sitting in an open central square where I key in this account before attending my next walking tour at 2:15. I hope I meet Doris again this week, she is keen to explore her city of 31 years. She too had not been to the three locations we visited today.
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This gentleman played the violin near my table where I had lunch in the square. Sadly, I had no coin left and my smallest bill was a £10 ($15) which was a bit too much to show my appreciation.
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After dining, I took this photo of the area as I left.
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Afternoon Tour

I joined a tour called “Snickelways” in the afternoon of my first day in York. The word Snickelways was coined in 1982 as a combination of three words that refer to the tiny little pedestrian alleys that exist here and there throughout the city of York. In Edinburgh they were called Closes.

We had a very dramatic tour guide who was passionate about history and historic details. In fact, he was so dedicated to showing us the wonderful attributes of this city that our tour went over by nearly an hour.
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This tour was far too long and too details to possibly remember all the things we saw. 90 minutes would have been a better stopping point.
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A bit of York University. This coat of arms currently being refurbished.
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An entrance into what was the walled city.
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Here is our first Snickelway!
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One comes upon the very imposing York Minister when wandering the narrow streets.
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According to our guide, this is one of two cathedrals in the world with it’s own police force. The other is the Vatican.
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What! Who’s that!
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I am sure he said something interesting here, but then there was fully two more hours of him presenting us facts and figures and my brain dumped much of what he said.
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That’s my excuse and I am sticking to it.
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Some shots around York as we wandered about.
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Most interesting to me about this medieval room is the fire area in the middle of the floor, fire places with chimneys were only invented in the 1500’s!
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Another snickelway.
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This lane was originally called “Groppe Cunte”. Yes, they did mean what it sounded like, it was a street of brothels and they highlighted that in the street name. Don’t blame me for being crass, I am just the middleman. (Later, another guide said that Grape was more simply changed from Grope and that there are Grape Streets all over Great Britain that have been changed from their initial spelling which was to help travellers find the local lanes of “women of negotiable affections”.)
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The reason he included this church wasn’t for the church but for what was in it’s front garden.
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No, not this, silly. This is just the back garden where they put the dead people. Who, according to our guide, number more than 1.5 million in York. That’s a lot of fertilizer.
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Oh my goodness, birds of prey on leashes. That little guy to the right behind the sign is a real owl!
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I was really surprised how calm these owls were to be approached and held.
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We are told that when walls sit on top of the floor boards overhanging the wall below, it creates a stress on the boards that keeps the floors within straighter and in need of less floor joists.
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At one point the many priests of York Minster lived separately. It became known that some of them were leading secular lives of playing cards and visiting ladies and such. At some point it was ordered for them all to live together here so they could keep an eye on each other. We are told that 50 or so priests had quarters here.
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The inner courtyard.
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Dutch House is entirely build with bricks from the Netherlands. Dutch traders used bricks as ballast in their ships coming from Holland to return home with quarried rock. Do you see the cute window detail, here because of the name of the street?
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Here it is, a little owl! Seems to be a theme today!
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York is no longer completely walled due to some removal to improve roadways a century ago or so. But most of the walls remain.
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Thank you for visiting http://www.Personal Travel Stories.com.

I hope you will visit some more of my postings, as of August, 2013, mostly of India, Great Britain, Manhattan, and a little Los Angeles.

I hope you will also follow my blog by clicking on “follow” at the bottom right of your screen. I try to share my current adventures every 4 days. No worries, you can unfollow with just a click if you change your mind.

Cheers!
Darren

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The Largest Medieval Cathedral of Northern Europe, York Minster

This posting is out of sync with my travels. I have placed it earlier than it should have been to increase the variety of my later postings. Roslyn Chapel, near Edinburgh, has been moved from this date to August 16th.

I sit in seat PP1 in the incredible structure of York Minster waiting for a performance of Verdi’s Messa da Requiem to be performed by York University Choir and Symphony Orchestra. I feel very lucky to have gotten a ticket only last night. They had been sold out online when first I checked yesterday, then they weren’t later. I didn’t notice it had been two different suppliers, the box office for York Minster was sold out but York University had a few left.

I am a sucker for overly-dramatic classical works sung in languages I can’t understand. Last week I was entranced by Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and this week it’s Verdi’s Requiem. I do prefer Pergolesi, but they both have incredible pangs of desperation in their music. Music cannot be written to be any more dramatic than these. If I understood the words it would take away from my experience entirely. Performed well, the passion and anguish and fever of the music itself conveys more emotion than words could ever do. I have never been one for words anyway. Even sung in English, my mother tongue, I usually miss them. This lent well to my own singing when I was easily passionate singing in German or Italian by just learning pronunciations. I had no idea what the words meant, but I felt their meaning from the composition. A “lyric Baritone” my classical voice coach called me when I was 16 years of age. I hum as I go about my day probably everyday, but I’ve not sang since I lived in Edinburgh 1997/1998.

According to my tour guide yesterday, York Minster is one of two Cathedrals in the world to have it’s own official police force. The other is the Vatican. This is also the largest medieval Cathedral in all of Northern Europe. This is one of the most impressive Gothic buildings in the world having been built between 1220 and 1440. This long span of construction meant that the structure has captured the various stages of Gothic architecture as it changed and developed over the years. There were other churches on this site from much earlier times as well.

I am so pleased to be visiting this venue for a dramatic musical performance, I can’t tell you how much so. I stop my writing when I am joined by a lovely Cheshire woman who arrives with her load of shopping. Looks like she has enjoyed some of the nearby boutiques, none of her bags have the large advertisements of chain shops. Turns out Ann spent 12 years living in my city of Toronto and the two of us catch like a house on fire. She sung a season with this choir but, “They were too good for me. Most of them are music students at the university and I couldn’t keep-up with the progress they made. They could learn the music so quickly.” She did enjoy singing in a village choir at some point, but here she is much happier to enjoy the performance from this side.

The concert is impressive, perhaps 300 voices and a large orchestra. With the reverberation some of the music is obscured into great mountains of thunder, but that’s not far off from Verdi’s intention anyway. There is a bit when the strings fight with the timpani drums that is somewhat lost because of how the sound blends in together. The dramatic stops and starts don’t stop and start because the echoes completely fill the spaces. It was a wonderful concert though and it was the kind of night when I couldn’t help but think, “I can’t believe this is my life.” In a good way, of course.

Click below to see the thunderous part I was referring to above:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=1woIv05rl1s

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I had to stand quite far away to capture most of the front of York Minster in my viewfinder.
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Excited to be attending a performance of Verdi in the York Minster!
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Inside the main area of this massive Cathedral keying in this entry as I wait until my amicable seatmate arrived to share some conversation.
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I couldn’t see the symphony but I could certainly hear them! The choir, on tiers, was fun to watch.

Earlier today I walked along parts of York’s city walls and wandered around the city.

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A little cutaway at a gate of the city’s walls.
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Clever sign, how did you know? (But what it didn’t know was that I needed it from Betty’s. Sorry sign.)

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I climbed up this gate, on Micklegate, to walk along the walls. But there are numerous entry points.

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Visitors have been walking along these walls since trains first introduced mass tourism to York in the 1830s. Locals, of course, have been walking along them throughout the ages.

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Notice the addition of railings so that visitors don’t fall to their death. Very clever.

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There are lovely views from the city walls too, and lots of nice garden areas.

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This large ferris wheel is only here temporarily. It stands very near to the train station.
The main tracks at the station stand on mass graves from a cholera outbreak. That was a while back though.

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This is when I passed this hotel and was able to correct a detail in my previous York posting.

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Lovely metalwork on this bridge I’m about to cross, it stands linking the city walls.

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Here it is closer where you can see the details of the city walls and tower-like structures on both sides.

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Looking up the Ouse river from the bridge. If people along the River Tyne are Tynesiders, I would suggest these people could be called Ousies. What do you think, people of York? Good idea?

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Interior view of Lendal Bridge.

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I just thought this was fun, a 500-year lease for one peppercorn per year!

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Most of the city walls we walk on are Victorian rebuilds. I will show in another posting a bit of original Roman remains.

There’s lots more to come about the wonderful city of York, a city stepped in rich heritage, history, and medieval architecture. My next posting will come along in 4 days. Don’t miss it, follow me today!

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