Old York, Old York

Trip Start May 22, 2009
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Trip End Feb 16, 2010


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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Cycled into town early this am along a myriad of cycle paths.  A town so cycle friendly, there are more signs guiding you along cycle ways than there are street signs!  At one point in the city there were more non-motorized vehicles on the road than there were motorized!  We felt right at home. 

Finally a place to see for a day or two.  After a week of struggling to get here, we’ve arrived. York is a fascinating old city build on Roman remains.  One of the first areas settled by the Romans, it dates back to 71AD.  So much history is here that you must be careful when you start to build on a new site.  If you find any remains, your operation could be shut down for several years while they excavate.  We walked along old Roman streets which are still the main thoroughfares of the city surrounded by the old walls.  Viewing the walls, you can see the layers of different bricks from various centuries of people rebuilding and fortifying. 

My favourite part of York was the old streets.  Houses and buildings are very old here - some dating back as far as the 1300’s, although most are 1600’s.  These timber framed homes have twisted and warped over the years and have formed these wonky mis-shapen similes of buildings.  To save on taxes (you were taxed on your land space), each floor of the building extended out above the one below.  This gave more floor space and allowed you to shake hands with the neighbor across the street on your topmost floor!

The most interesting street in the old town is the Shambles.  This was the butcher’s quarters of the city.  Meat hooks still hang below the eaves and extra large gutters run through the center of the street to carry away all the nasty bits.  Tall buildings on either side of the road sheltered direct sunlight from the windows of the shop helping to preserve the meat. 

In between all these buildings are various snickets and ginnels.  Like Edinburgh’s closes, they serve a similar purpose - get to the other street.  Snickets are alleyways between buildings or fences, and ginnels actually go right through a building.  A 20th century writer combined the two and coined the phrase ‘snickelway’ and it’s stuck ever since. 

Later we went on a guided historical pub tour (highly recommended if you’re in York).  Met up with a strange man with shaggy hair, odd mannerisms, and a lisp.  But he was a great storyteller and was completely mesmerizing as he spilled multitudes of information our way.  We hobbled around the streets after him as he pointed out tiny details of the city (the devil of Stonegate, fire brigade crests, and bell claps used as roof supports).  Occasionally he would tempt us inside of historical pubs (many 200-300 years old) and told us various stories about the building as we sampled different hand pulled cask ales from local micro breweries.  Strange ales with names like Black Sheep Bitter, Old Specked Hen, Timothy Taylor's Landlord, and Fun Fair.

After our tour, our guide was giving a talk at the Guy Fawkes Pub about ‘The Man Behind the Legend’.  Guy Fawkes was born in one of the houses in that row of buildings (they don’t know exactly what one) in 1570 and was christened in the church across the way.  After the lecture, we sat around and chatted with some Guy Fawkes sympathizers.  It was very interesting, but made me fa=ear for y safety as we exited the pub…

Then it was off to the centerpiece of town - the York Minster.  Heralded as the largest Gothic Minster in Northern Europe.  Talking over 250 years to complete, this building is always under restorations.  It also holds the largest Medieval piece of stained glass (as large as a tennis court).  Unfortunately, this was the area of the Minster under restoration right now and all we could see was a scrim.  The rest of the building and windows are still wonderful to see.  We toured around down in the basement where they’ve exposed old parts of the Roman building which occupied this site, and later the Norman Cathedral that were there before the current Medieval Minster.  So many remains and sculpted bits that have been buried until the 1970’s when they had to go down and re-do the supports and foundation so the central tower didn’t collapse. 

Had to take the trip up the steps to the top of the central tower.  275 stone spiral stairs which are quite narrow and steep and provide no place to rest.  Reaching the top, there are sweeping views of the countryside for miles and miles around. Part of the climb takes you outside across a precipice where you can get some close-up views of the amazing flying buttresses. 

One of the most impressive rooms to be in was the Chamber Room.  This is an area where the great officials of have met for centuries to discuss various church matters.  A circular room full of stained glass windows to the 100’ ceilings with echos that picked up even the slightest shuffle on the floor, it’s hard to imagine having a meeting here. 

But the best part of the Minster was sitting through the Evensong when the choir sang.  As their voices rose higher and higher, the sounds echoed upwards and lingered onwards.  Songs have been written to compliment and harmonize with this echo as the song continues.  Very beautiful to behold. 
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Where I stayed
Poplar Farm Caravan Park

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