Streets and Gates, Gates are Bars, Bars are Pubs...

Sunday, July 5, 2009

As I write this, I'm sitting in a pub, on High Petergate, just inside Bootham Bar. Which is York-ese for "I'm in a bar in High Peter Street just inside Bootham Gate"*. It's like they're deliberately trying to confuse tourists. Then again, York has been around since the Romans were here in about 71 A.D., so I suppose they can be allowed their eccentricities.

York has been quite nice, not least because I splurged (just a bit) on what has turned out to be a very nice, quite modern B&B, with nary a doily insight, but with a double bed, and flat screen tv and en-suite bathroom! Luxury indeed. I've been doing sink laundry every night.

Once again, my faith in local tour guides has been confirmed - on my first morning I did a "Essential York" walk with an engagingly quirky guide named Chris who toured us around the ruined abbey, the city walls, and the winding streets and snickleways of the main tourist area. Chris was particularly colourful, with a talent for florid prose and a hatred of Henry VIII (I believe the phrase he used was "bloated tyrant"). He also warned us against investigating the dry ditch (not a moat) surrounding the city walls, warning that "the people of York empty their dogs there every morning." And he had a proper Yorkshire accent, which is good practice for my ears in these last few days before I hit Scotland.

One of the things I like most about York is the walls - there are still really long sections of them standing, and most of it is built on the foundations of Roman wall from more than a thousand years ago**. On the afternoon I arrived I went for a run that circumnavigated all the sections of wall that are still standing, and it was bloody brilliant. In fact, it was so nice I did a second loop, for a total of about 10km. And then I had an enormous ploughman's lunch with EVEN MORE cheese than on Dartmoor, and two pints. It was a good night.

On my right: the city walls, on my left (not pictured): an Enterprise Rent-a-car and a Just Tyres shop.

Chris toured us around the ruins of St. Mary's Abbey, which in some ways was more interesting than the preserved churches.

The ruins

My favourite part was the rock garden made up of salvaged stones from the abbey. The square-shaped stones were mostly recycled into other walls and buildings, but the decorative stones couldn't be used for that. A bunch of them are here:

Nothing like a few medieval carved stones to dress the place up...

The trip into the tangled streets of the area inside the walls was fun too, especially ducking through the little "snickleways" between streets (I mean "gates"). Though they were only dubbed "snickleways" in the last few years, by an author who wrote about them in a popular guide. They're basically little covered alleyways between buildings that act as short-cuts between bigger streets, and have names like "Little Hornpot Alley" and "Mad Alice Lane" and stuff like that.

A snickleway

And of course we visited "The Shambles", a small lane best known for its astoundinug concentration of camera-wielding Japanese tourists. Ha! I'm kidding, it's best know for its tipsy architecture, with 16th century timber-framed buildings that lean out over the street.

The Shambles

One nice find was a snickleway leading to a little hidden church (15th century), with a nice garden where I sat to eat my lunch two days in a row. On the second day I was joined by a lovely man who was the former keeper of the church (Holy Trinity Church in Goodramgate) who was very chatty, and told me lots about the church, and insisted I go see St. Wilfred's in Harrogate when I'm there, and recommended a B&B in Prague. (I'm not kidding, he wrote the details in my notebook...) It was the longest conversation I've had in days.

The afternoon was a bit of a bust. I followed Rick Steves' normally sound advice and visited the Yorkshire Museum, which was a bit boring and had too many cases of unearthed Roman pottery shards and such. I guess I just wasn't in the mood, so I cut out of there early and went for a long run. I've now come to the conclusion that it's going to be really hard to get long long runs in while I'm traveling. It's not the time that's a problem, it's the distances. It's really hard to find a place where I can run for 10 or 15km before having to turn around. On this run I started on my "usual" wall-circumnavigation route, but deviated when I got to the banks of the river Ouse, because there was a nice paved pathway there. I settled in on the path for a while, hoping it would last for miles. Instead I had to double back twice and eventually took a fancy new pedestrian bridge to the other side of the river and followed a smaller path there. Eventually that path tuned into a dirt track, and finally it ran up against a fence. There were steps leading up and over the fence, so I asked some nearby dog-walkers if it was ok to hop it. They assured me it was fine, and I could run as far as I wanted; God bless the English and their public footpaths.

See? There really were steps, and a little dog-door too!

The path went through several overgrown fields, and got really narrow, and passed under a highway, and then finally popped out on a residential street.

If you look closely at that green signpost, it says "Public Footpath"

There being no apparent continuation of the path, and it being about an hour into the run, I turned around, grateful that I wasn't facing an hour of Dover cliffs to get back to where I'd started. That's when the psychology hit. As I mentioned when I tweeted about the run, the scale of this place is really deceiving. I felt like I'd seen so much and been so far that it was a real shock to get back into York proper in about 15 minutes. I had to do another almost complete circuit of the walls to make it up to 20km, so though the distance wasn't epic, it was hard on the brain.

On Saturday I headed to the York Castle Museum, which gets 3 stars from Rick Steves and has nothing at all to do with castles. It was quite excellent, with a recreated Victorian street scene and lots of well-annotated displays on everyday life in England. It was loads better than the Yorkshire Museum and I ended up being there for hours. I hit the Clifford Tower after that. It wasn't really worth the £3.50 admission, though it did give me a chance to take a picture of myself on the ramparts.

Me, on the ramparts, as I said.

After lunch, I headed to what surely must be the main event for anyone visiting York - York Minster. The minster is a huge cathedral built between 1220 and 1472. Yes, it took 252 years to build, but they did a really nice job, so those of you who haven't even managed to repaint the bathroom can just stop sneering right now.

York Minster (Ok, I did not take this photo - the Minster is way to big for my tiny camera...)

I'm not sure of the numbers, but York Minster certainly feels bigger and taller and brighter than Westminster Abbey, and it's less cluttered too. (Ok, wait a minute, Rick Steves says it's the largest Gothic Cathedral north of the Alps - 540' long and 200' tall). I took the 275 winding steps up to the top of the crossing tower, for a really nice view of York.

The city, viewed from above and behind the two west towers of the minster.

And the Minster, viewed from about half way down.

York Minster also has more medieval stained glass in it than all the glass in all the rest of England put together. Much of it is in the Great East Window - the largest expanse of medieval stained glass in the world. Naturally, it is scaffolded inside and out right now for major restoration work, but that meant that a few of the panels were on display at person-level, which might actually be a better way to view stained glass than from 100 feet away. I liked the Minster, and even stayed for the evensong service so I could hear the choirboys sing, and it was a really nice way to end my visit.

There's a bit more York on tap for tomorrow, then a quick train ride to Harrogate for my last bit of family before the wilds of Scotland!

*And I'm having steak & kidney pudding, which I haven't had in ages! Yum!

** That's a blogger shortcut because honestly I can't be bothered to look it up.


jst said...

loving the blogs Pam! It's like we're traveling with you. I hope you can keep it up. (the blogging I mean)
Good haircut too.
John t

Robert Hamilton said...


Watch out for Scotland - past Hadrian's wall it's all Barbarians North of there.

If you want someone to step out to the pub with for a pint in Glasgow, call my Cousin Anne and her Husband Gordon. They live downtown and would be pleased to tip a glass with you.

I will e-mail you their contacts.

Rob H.

Phonella said...

A brilliant post!!!


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