This year because I’m not going away on holiday, I decided to do some day trips. I’d always wanted to go to York but had never managed to organise it. Doing some investigations, I realised York was do-able in one day (cutting out the need to pay for overnight accommodation). Plus, a friend lives not far from there and kindly offered to meet up with me in the afternoon, so I wouldn’t be Billy No-mates all day.
Pre-empting my 4.45 alarm clock, I crawled out of bed at 4.25am, had breakfast and made sandwiches for lunch. My train departed from Kings Cross at 7.08am, arriving in York at 9.25am, which gave me enough time to find my way from the station to the Yorvik museum, pre-booked for ten o’clock.
It was fascinating to sit on the ride and see what life in Viking York would have been like, including the smells. Small wooden thatched dwellings, some single storey, others two storey had a hearth at the centre of the room for heat and cooking, space for working and space for play. I was amazed at how much information archaeologists and historians have gleaned from just from excavating and analysing finds. The end result is a very vivid and real three dimensional portrait.
It must have been quite a journey, especially for women and children, to sail across the North Sea in longboats from Scandinavia to England and then up the Humber and Ouse to York, bringing their craft, culture, knowledge and wealth to the North.
After the Yorvik museum, I walked towards the castle area, stopping off on route at Fairfax Hall, which was purchased in 1762 as a dowry for Anne Fairfax, child of Viscount Fairfax. One of the finest Georgian houses in Engand, it was rescued by the York Civic Trust and has been refurbished to look very much as it would have in the 18th Century.
Next on my list was a climb up the steep steps to Clifford’s tower. This is where, in March 1190 the Jews of York took shelter when there were riots against their community. However, they came under heavy attack from the citizens and local knights. Rather than be captured and killed, around 150 Jews (men, women and children) set fire to the tower and committed suicide. Those who survived were later massacred by the rioters.
From Clifford’s Tower, it was a short walk to the York Castle Museum, which featured a reconstruction of a Victorian Street. Seeing these shops and back alleys, it was easy to imagine life for the wealthy and servants in Victorian York. The 1980s kitchen, old toys and technology brought back lots of memories of childhood. The other half of the museum took me through the former debtors prison.
Eating my lunchtime sandwich as I walked, I headed for the shopping streets of York, finding the Shambles, which is a wonderfully quaint, narrow street full of tempting shops with facades that reflect York’s long and varied history. At the top of Shamples is Kings Square and the market, though there weren’t many stalls open. I did fancy doing the chocolate story tour but they were fully booked. Something for my next trip along with the sweet history tour and the York dungeon.
Instead I went to look at York Minster, a truly impressive Gothic cathedral with awesome windows. I didn’t pay to go inside but was able to stand at the entrance and look around the inside, which gave me a good sense of its reverence.
Back in the narrow streets of the old city, I visited Barley Hall, originally built in 1360 as a townhouse for a priory. Over the years it was altered and extended and in the 15th century became the home of Alderman William Snawsell, a goldsmith and Lord Mayor of London. In more recent times, the hall was bricked over and hidden and it was only in the 1990s when the then owner wanted to knock down the building that the original Great Hall and an exterior stairway were discovered and extensively reconstructed by the Barley Hall Trust. It gave a wonderful insight into life at the time, from eating habits, what bed chambers were like, the impact of the plague in York and the sorts of herbal medicine that was used.
Having walked around non-stop since early morning, I was very glad to meet up with my friend and go for a coffee and chat. This was followed by a couple of pleasant hours strolling round the shops and finished naturally with a well-earned glass or two of wine and dinner before it was time to catch my train home.
I really loved York but will have to go back to see the bits that I missed this time. What appealed particularly was its compactness; everything contained within the city walls and all in easy striding distance. A lot of thought has gone into preserving and reconstructing their ancient buildings and for me was a great learning experience. It is important to recognise our history, learn from it and preserve it for future generations. I was also impressed by the knowledge and enthusiasm of the guides or hosts I met. Many were pensioners, who were very warm and welcoming as well as keen to tell visitors about the places and answer any questions.
Full marks for York.