As we made our way south away from the Scottish border we put our heads together to decide where our next adventure would be. We knew we were heading back to my in-laws and we both had a desire to go to York again so we decided it was on the agenda for the day.
Photo: entering York from the south through the Micklegate Bar- this was the traditional ceremonial gate for monarchs entering the city.
In previous posts I've mentioned that I had been to England 12 years before this trip so I had some places I wanted to revisit. York was the top of the list. It's an enchanting walled city steeped in ancient history. If you're in the medieval walled portion of the city with the Minster and the Shambles you would never know you were in a city with a population of 200,000, which is my kind of city indeed. The city was founded by the Romans in AD 71 as the capital of the Roman providence. York has always played an important role in history. Not only was it the Roman capital city, but later it was also the capital of the kingdoms of Northumbria and Jorvik, as well as the major wool trading center in the Middle Ages, 19th century railway hub and to this day is the northern seat of the Church of England.
Photo: me in front of the Minster, 2016
The site of the original Roman military fortress which housed 6000 soldiers now lies under the foundations of the York Minster. The important site which witnessed the death of Constantius I, the proclamation of Emperor Constantine the Great, and hosted the court of Hadrian and Septimus Severus was all but abandoned by 400 AD due to periodic but disasterous flooding. While it stayed inhabited (namely by the Angles who moved in after the Romans abandoned York), it wasn't properly reclaimed until the 7th century under the direction of King Edwin of Northumbria. In the 9th century York was captured by the Danish Vikings and became their major river port for trade with northern Europe. In 2017 you can explore this part of the city's history at the Jorvik Viking Centre, which immerses you in 9th century life in York (complete with smells, ick). We were fortunate enough to experience this in 2004, but it is currently closed due to major flooding in 2015. Even modern York can't escape flooding.
In 1068 the people of York rebelled against the Norman conquest of England by William the Conqueror, which was futile, though they tried it again in 1069. This rebellion badly damaged the first stone minster church, which proved fateful as it directly caused the construction of the cathedral that in time would become the current Minster. The York Minster is truly awe inspiring. At this point I've seen quite a few cathedrals and it's actually not my favorite because it's too crowded, but its location and the way it dominates the enclosure of the walled city is lovely.
I think my favorite things about York and the reason I will return again and again are the medieval warren of narrow streets and the city walls which you can walk. There are beautiful views all along the walls and ocassional benches and skirts (there is probably a proper name for these widened areas in the walkway but I coulnd't find it.), where you can stop without hindering traffic on the narrow walkway. Parts of the walls date from the Roman times but the majority of what we see and walk today date from the 12th-14th century, which is pretty impressive when you think about the fact that thousands upon thousands of people have been walking and climbing those walls for 900+ years and they're not a crumbling mess. I'm in awe of the history and grateful that it has been preserved, like much of England has. The thing that really struck me as we walked the walls was seeing ancient history and the modern world living side by side. There are homes that butt up against the walls- like the ancient walls are the boundary for their back garden-and I just marveled at the fact that people live so close to something so old and so historically significant and it's no big deal. I know that modern life needs to move along and that the business of life needs to exist without much thought to this or nothing would ever get done, but I kept thinking about the people who live in those houses; who probably pay no mind to what's outside their back door and take for granted that they live, literally live, on a historic site. I would lose my mind if I was ever able to live in one of those houses- or live that close to a historical site- Daniel would probably start wearing noise cancelling headphones to block out my exclamations of, "Can you believe...?" And "have you looked outside...?" I suppose that's the difference between an American whose town was founded in 1913 and their closest historical landmark/building was completed in 1813, and a European that has spent their life most likely only be a stone's throw away from an ancient landmark or structure.
Walking the narrow city walls
Modern York just outside the wall. You can see part of Multangular Tower- the most intact structure from the Roman walls
View of the street and hillside while leaning over the city walls
Photo: view of the York Minster from the city walls. This is somone's back garden which extends al the way to the city walls. What a living space! Their Minster in front of your house and the ancient city walls to the back!
After walking the walls and enjoying the elevated view of the Medieval city of York we decided to wander down The Shambles towards the market at the heart of the walled city. The Shambles is a Medieval street mentioned in the Domesday book making it over 900 years old. It is Europe's best preserved Medieval street and certainly York's oldest street. The word shambles derives from the medieval word "shamel" which mean booth or bench. It was also once referred to as Flesshammel, a word meaning "around flesh"- this was due to the fact that the Shambles was historically a street of butcher shops and houses. The street was constructed for practical purposes; the pavement is raised on either side to create a channel down the center from which the waste and byproducts of slaughtering livestock could be washed away. Also, the buildings lean into the middle of street with their roofs practically touching, creating an overhang from which the butchers wares would be hung as well as sheltering the meat from direct sunlight; some of the buildings still have their meat hooks attached.
The Shambles was also home to a Saint. St. Margaret Clitherow was beatified in 1929 by Pope Pius XI though her martyrdom (by the horrendous act of being crushed to death while pregnant with her 4th child) occurred in 1586. Margaret converted to Catholicism during the reign of Protestant Elizabeth I (who criticized the citizens of York after the execution and condemned the act as a horror) and risked her life to harbor priests who performed secret masses. Her home is located at what is now No. 10 Shambles, which currently houses a cuff links shop, although there is a shrine to her in a house which was originally thought to be hers. Apparently the numbering of the houses on the street was changed in the 18th century which led No.s 35-36 (Margaret's home) to become modern day No. 10, so the current 35-36 which houses St. Margaret's Shrine is not actually her home. A small green plaque denotes the Shrine and I'm sad to say that I completely missed it and missed the opportunity to tour it. Another thing to add to a future visit.
The Shambles Market.
The Shambles. If you look closely at the window for the W.Hamond store you can still see the meat hooks. W.Hamond is at No. 9, next door is No. 10 the original home of St. Margaret Clitherow. (I had to lighten this photo as the original is quite dark from the tops of the building being close together.)
The Shambles, Via Vecchia Bakery is at No. 6
Leaving The Shambles. Bootham Bar in the background.
Photo: The Hole In The Wall restaurant/pub and Bootham Bar. The Hole In The Wall was originally the "Board Inn" which is said to be haunted. In 1816 excavations revealed a hole which lead to a dungeon with chains and manacles. A bricked up tunnel was also found.
During this trip I threw my usual healthy eating out the window and decided that I would eat fish & chips, Cornish pasties, and sausage rolls at every opportunity, so with this in mind when it came time to eat lunch we made a beeline for a Cornish pasty shop, called The Cornish Bakery on Colliergate St. It was located across the street from a little square with benches and open space- the perfect place to eat. Daniel got lamb and mint- a popular English flavor combination- and I got cheese, mushroom and mashed potato. Here's a word of advice when purchasing Cornish pasties- pay close attention to which flavor is handed to you. They look identical from the outside. I am not a fan of lamb, or mint unless the mint is with chocolate so I really didn't want mine mistaken for Daniel's. He tucked in right away and was halfway through his before I even took a bite of mine. Almost at the exact moment that I took my first bite Daniel said something like, "These all taste the same. I can't even taste the mint.", to which I replied as I chewed, "Funny, mine tastes of mint." I couldn't get that taste out of my mouth fast enough. I looked with real sorrow at my half eaten pasty in his hands and his nearly whole one in mine. We did our unequal trade with the promise that he would buy me cookies later to make up for the fact that I was only getting half of my lunch. At least the half I got was delicious.
Photo: looking towards the Minster from our spot on the little square where we ate our Cornish pasties.
After our pasty fiasco and some very unimpressive cookies from a chain bakery we decided to walk back to our car which happened to be parked in the lots directly next to Clifford's Tower. On our previous trip we got to have Clifford's Tower almost completely to ourselves, but this time there was a group of schoolchildren already there, making it way too crowded to go into. I was satisfied this time with just taking photos. I've often seen photos of Clifford's Tower surrounded by hundreds of yellow daffodils but have not seen it that way in person. The first time I visited York it was in May of 2004, there were no daffodils in sight, but here we were in mid-March and they were everywhere. What a glorious sight! So bright and cheerful, which is in stark contrast to the tragic history of this lone tower on a hill. In 1190 Clifford's Tower (the surviving keep of York Castle) was the site of a pogrom (a massacre of an ethnic or religious group) of 150 local York Jews. The 12th century was a period of rampant anti-semitism throughout Western Europe; stoked by the fervor of The Crusades and riots were common. At the time of the massacre, rioting had already wrecked havoc on the towns of Norwich, Stamford and Lincoln. Fearing for their safety the local Jewish community of York sought refuge in the castle keep. Once in the keep the Jews locked out the royal constable, warden of the castle, fearing he would turn on them once inside. This was seen as a hostile act and a direct insult to the king's authority. The royal constable charged with protecting the Jews from the angry mob now demanded the castle be captured by force. The day ended in mass suicide of the Jewish community who, rather than surrender and convert, set fire to the keep after killing the women and children. King Richard I held a royal inquest, which did not result in any of the instigators being held responsible for the massacre, but the city of York was levied a very heavy fine and had to live with the shame of that day. A plaque commemorating that sad day was placed at the tower in 1978.
Clifford's Tower as seen from the car park. Yes, this is how close you park your car.
The daffodils on the hillside
Clifford's tower, the vibrant daffodils, the many stairs and the plaque commemorating the 1190 Jewish Massacre.
Another view of the tower and daffodils
Photo: Me in 2004 inside Clifford's Tower
We decided to wrap up our time in York and head back to my in-laws in Scrooby/Bawtry for a few days before it was time to say goodbye to the UK this visit. I wasn't sad to leave the beautiful city of York because I know I'll be back. It's one of those special places that will just always be on our list when in England.
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