Walking the Walls

Whenever I visit a new city, I look for opportunities to climb something—a tower, a set of stairs, a hill—anything to give me height over what I’m looking at. It helps orient me and boosts my confidence in navigating than if I just stayed at ground level.

York provides a great way to do this (and it’s free). Every city has its unique attributes and I’d say what makes York worth a visit (apart from its cathedral) is its walls dating from the Roman and medieval times. I was surprised at how well intact they still were, meaning you can walk them! It’s fun to do sections at a time so you can hop on and off and tour the nearby area.

My husband and I went there earlier this year as part of a road trip through the UK (more posts to come on the other places). York was our starting point and we loved it. Historic, quaint, walkable.

Ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey that date to the 13th century, part of the Museum Gardens.
A door knocker on one of the churches that was believed to protect whoever it was that reached it.

We did a 3-hour walking tour with White Rose York Tours, which included walking a portion of the wall from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar (crowded but worthwhilefor the back view of York Minster). I don’t think I’ve ever been to a place brimming with so many layers upon layers of history.

Bootham Bar, one of the 4th century Roman gates with the towers of the Minster poking out behind it. Simply climb up those steps and you can walk the walls.

In 71 CE, York was a Roman provincial capital called Eboracum. Constantine was proclaimed emperor here in 306 CE. There’s a statue of him outside the York Minster.

This section of the wall between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar is skinnier and has railings. I loved the flowers along the way.
View of York Minster from city walls.

Sections of the wall surrounding the city still date from Roman times, such as this one.

The picture below is of the Multangular Tower outside the Museum Gardens that the Romans built for military purposes. The small bricks in the lower half are Roman; the upper ones are medieval.

However, most of the walls you see today were the result of the invading Normans who destroyed and then rebuilt the city.

A morning walk on a much less crowded and wider section of the wall on the southeast end of the city.

So enough about the walls. The York Minster is one of my all-time favourite cathedrals (up there with St John the Divine in NYC). This is the largest Gothic church north of the Alps. We attended an evensong service there, which felt like we were in the company of angels singing.

York Minster sits on the remains of a Romanesque church but this version was begun in 1220 and took 250 years to finish. I love how tall and bright the nave is. Apparently it’s one of the widest Gothic naves in Europe and is notable for its wood roof rather than a stone one.

You can’t help but be amazed at the stained glass. Rick Steves says there’s more medieval glass in this building than the rest of England combined! The Great West Window below is a great example.

Nicknamed “The Heart of Yorkshire” for its heart-shaped stone tracery, this window represents the sacred heart of Christ and his love for the world.

Since we arrived in York shortly after my birthday, we took a celebratory high tea at the famous Bettys Cafe Tea Rooms (who were celebrating their 100th birthday). There are two locations—we opted for the Stonegate one that had less of a wait. Boy was it ever yummy and filling, especially that Yorkshire cream on those delicious scones!

To provide some contrast, I also ate this in York and am proud to say I finished it! Classic British cuisine right here.

For Harry Potter fans, a trip down The Shambles is a must for its Harry Potter stores. This was the street the filmmakers took inspiration from for Diagon Alley. It was less crowded when the rain came out and I had it all to myself for my Mary Poppins photo!

Here’s an example of the bench talked about on the sign above. Hard to see but just above the name you can make out hooks where butchers hung the meat.

And to finish off this post with a last bit of history, here’s a picture of the oldest houses in York on Goodramgate. They’re white-washed, timber frame medieval houses dating from around 1316 called “Our Lady’s Row” which now contain a Chinese restaurant and other businesses below. They are also England’s earliest example of houses with overhanging jetties, the upper floor wider than the lower.

Talk about a city with character!

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