Travel Journal March 14, 1999
Exploring York


Olde York, olde York, it's a merrie olde town,
the Minster's up, and the Shambles are down,
the knights and lords battled over a crown
olde York, olde York - it's a merrie olde town!

(Talin filking as he wanders the byways of York)

I was surprised at how small York is. The city that was for many centuries "the capital of the north" is in fact smaller than Berkeley, California.

I'm also surprised at how many really, really old buildings there are. The center of town is surrounded by a city wall which dates back to Norman times, although you can tell that parts of it have been patched more recently.

It certainly feels different from London. All of the really old stuff in London has fences or walls around it, and you have to pay to see it. In York, there are bits of Roman, Norman, Tudor, and Victorian architecture intertwingled all throughout the city, and you can enjoy it for nothing.

York feels authentically old - there's no faux architecture or follies* here, many of the buildings that look like they date from the Tudor or Norman periods actually do. Part of the reason is that although York was once a thriving port town, as the ships got bigger and the river started silting up, York underwent centuries of economic stagnation, in which very little construction occured. Most of the economic and industrial action has long sinced moved to nearby Leeds (no relation to Leeds castle, which is in Kent). However, York has always been an important social center (i.e. gentrified). Today it is a Mecca for tourists - the streets are packed in the summer time, or so I'm told.

This is St. Peter's Grove, the street where I'm staying.

Hobbits Hotel

The living room and the breakfast table.

My room.

A shot of York, pointing away from the center of town. (Or should I say, "centre"?)

This is an elementary school about a block from Hobbits. Note the architectural style.

One of the four gateways that lead through the city wall.

Pictures take from on top of the city walls.

Towering over the rest of the town (there are no other tall buildings) is the Minster. "A window the size of a tennis court". The bells were ringing like mad when I shot these photos.

I just love that zoom lens feature.

Near the Minster, there's a surviving roman column.

Unlike most other cathedrals, they let you take photos inside - as long as it's not during services. How reasonable.

"The heart of York", so called because of the heart-shaped upper part.

The ceiling was repaired after a recent fire.

"The five sisters", the oldest complete windows in the Minster.

Some details of the choir seats.

I have to say that York Minster is now my official favorite Gothic church in Britain. Salisbury's stonework is marginally prettier I think, but like most British cathedrals it seems denuded, having little of it's former stained glass.

The foundations under the church. The four labels show "roman", "anglo-saxon", "norman", and "13th century". The present Minster was built on the site of a ruined Norman cathedral, which was in turn built on the ruined headquarters of the Roman sixth legion.

About 25 years ago, they realized that the Minster was slowly falling apart, due to poor foundations. Glass tell-tales, similar in size and shape to microscope slides, were cemented along a number of significant cracks. When these broke (which they did within days), it indicated that something would have to be done, and quickly. The supporting columns of the church are now sheathed underground by massive 20 foot diameter concrete collars, each with dozens of one-inch thick stainless steel tensioning rods running through them.

You can climb up to the very top of the Minster, for a small fee. It's 275 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (too narrow for two people to pass by each other, so once you start up you can't change your mind.) I nearly got leg cramps from the climb. If I had even the slightest touch of claustrophobia, I would have been in real trouble.

Half way up. Take a breather and look at the sights.

Made it!

Yup, yup, yup, you can tell it's a medieval town all right. Look at the street layout.

St. William's College is next door, serving as the information and conference center for the Minster.

The Starre, York's oldest licensed pub (est. 1644)

Some random street shots.

The river Foss, the smaller of the two rivers that run through the city.

Clifford's Tower, part of the old Norman fortress. The flowers are quite striking, reminds me of "The Lady of Shalotte".

"The York Story" is an old church converted into a historical museum.

The next series of shots is from inside the Jorvik Viking Center. (that's pronounced "Yorvick", which is where the name "York" comes from. The Roman city was called Eboracum.)

One of the costumed guides at the center, demonstrating the minting of silver coins.

One of York's numerous buskers.

The next series of pictures are from the York Castle Museum, which is an exhibit of everyday objects from the last 250 years. As per my usual policy with museums, I only have a few sample photos. Partly this is because I don't like going through a museum taking pictures of everything. Also, I'm actually less interested in stuff that's in museums than I am in stuff that's "in the wild" or in actual use. That's part of why York is so fascinating.

A Victorian parlour.

An automaton clock.

A replica Victorian street, inside the museum.

Another fancy clock.

The Anglo-Saxon helmet.

An exhibit of an Edwardian blacksmith's shop.

The river Ouse (pronounced "ooze").

Buildings which date back to Tudor times.

The Shambles.

This was a beautiful tea room called "Beams" which had just opened up last week. This 16th century room had formerly been an upstairs store room. To get to Beams, you have to go in through the Crafts and Woolens shop downstairs. The staff was very helpful and friendly. You can see the Minster out the windows.

The Merchant Adventurers Hall.

Folly: A building or structure built in one period, but designed in the architectural style of a much earlier period. For example, wealthy Victorian building "fake" castles. There's even a fake Stonehenge, which is also considered a folly.