Monday, December 5, 2016

Historic Places: York

There are volumes of books written about the amazing city of York, so I will not attempt to cover its entire history here. What makes York so unique is that most of its history is still right there for you to see. From the medieval city wall, to the towering minster overlooking the city, to the tilting Shambles, York invites you to come in and experience history firsthand.

I had been anticipating this stop since we first planned our trip. This was what I had been waiting for, a city that allowed me to experience settings that have retained elements from the time period that I write about. It was tempting to run my hands along the walls on the off chance that a famous Plantagenet might have once placed their hand in that same spot.

To enter York, we passed through an arch in the medieval wall. I was astounded to learn that great portions of the wall were demolished in 1800 to create space and easier access to the city. Of course, the medieval gates were inconvenient for a modern city and the wall had long since fallen out of use for defense, but it is still a sad story. Thankfully, those who fought to preserve the wall saved what they could, and York displays the most complete medieval city wall system in England.

Now the city's efforts go to preserving and restoring the wall instead of tearing it down. Two of the gateways, called 'bars', include small museums that I was eager to see. We made our way first to the Richard III Experience at Monk Bar.
My husband, who is a solid 6'2" felt a bit claustrophobic making his way through the tiny doorway and up the narrow stairwell. I was thrilled. Not only am I much smaller, but I knew that these passageways had been designed for people of another time, and here I was walking in their footsteps. I hadn't expected to learn anything new about everyone's favorite villain/hero king, but I read every line of every display . . . just in case.

Our intention had been to then make our way to the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar, just to keep things fair, of course. Unfortunately, we were there on a day that it closed early and had missed our chance. Instead, we walked along the wall where I imagined soldiers standing guard and armies camped out in the distance laying siege to the town. The kind city of York now provides a fence along the open side of the walkway to ensure proper safety for the wall's modern users.

One does not need to be standing upon the city wall to see York Minster. The huge cathedral dominates the city skyline and dwarfs all other structures in the vicinity. To imagine this giant, beautiful structure built before any modern technological advances is mind-boggling. Each surface of the building boasts intricate carvings, ancient stained glass, soaring towers, and unimaginable beauty. Folks, they just don't make them like this anymore.

Of particular interest was the Rose Window in the south transept. Displaying red and white roses crafted in the early 1500s to celebrate the wedding of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, this window has been painstakingly restored to preserve the centuries old glass. During a fire in 1984, the window was severely cracked and damaged but remained in place, making it possible for careful detailed repairs to be made.

(See those tiny people down there? I couldn't even fit the entire side of the church in one picture!)

I can only imagine how inspiring it must have been for the people hundreds of years ago to see this wondrous building. It does not fail to awe modern visitors any less.

I could go on and on about the interesting places to see and historic fun facts about York, but I will settle for one more must see area if you are visiting. The Shambles is a little street straight out of the 14th and 15th centuries. I was first struck by how narrow the 'street' was. We would not consider it a street now, and I am not sure a single car could fit between the tightly packed buildings, but this would have been the norm when these shops were first built. Again, my imagination of historic settings was reinforced by reality, and I just wanted to stand there and soak it all in.

No, it's not just you. Those buildings really are leaning in toward each other across the street, sideways into each other, and every which way. They may look like they are about to fall down, but the buildings in the Shambles have been carefully preserved to maintain the historic structure while keeping it safely intact. It's so wonderful to see an area like this preserved instead of torn down for another boring modern structure. It would be impossible to build anything new that could match the charm of the Shambles. Just as they were hundreds of years ago, these shops are open for business to the curious people strolling down the cobblestone street.

This is a city that I simply must make my way back to someday.


  1. Hey Samantha, a beautiful blog post of my favouritist city in England!

    1. Thank you, Paula! It was my favorite stop as well, though my husband preferred Scotland's Edinburgh.

  2. Loved reading this! I missed the Tudor rose stained glass in the Minster back in 2014, however I can't wait to return in July 2017 to find it after reading this. Thank you!

    1. Thank you, Jamie! I would love to go back with more time to explore, and it would be amazing to attend a service at York Minster.

  3. When you go next, go and have a pint/glass of wine at the Roman Bath in Sampson Square. Attached/underneath are the remains of the Roman legionary bathhouse!

  4. I've also been told that I must get treats at Betty's. More than enough reasons for a return trip!