[ … Part One … ]
A spontaneous opportunity took me on a day trip to York, a city in North Yorkshire, England, some 200 miles away from London. You must be probably thinking, 200 miles? A day trip? Wahnsinn! Yes, I was wondering the same but it turns out there are occasional efficiency to railway operators and a direct train to York takes only 2 hours on the relatively new Grand Central line. Yet there is a reason I called it the ‘occasional’ efficiency, we were an hour late. But still ok for a day trip, I was hoping.
Upon the arrival at the main station, once upon a time after its inception in 1839, perceived as the largest in the world (as I was told), a well qualified tour guide was patiently awaiting us (considering our delay.) With no more time to waste, we took off on our exploration of the originally Roman city lead by the emperor Constantine the Great, the Viking’s capital, the chocolate city, host of the third largest Cathedral in the world and a city in possession of one of the oldest, still in tact defensive walls.
As expected, our walk was initiated by climbing up the few steps to the York City Walls (impressively dating back to the 12th – 14th century), only few minutes after passing the travelling Wheel of York, aka the Yorkshire Wheel or the York Eye (as we “Londoners” called it), shamefully (in my opinion) stationed in the parking lot (apparently there is some residents complaints history at fault.) As soon as I reached the top step, I halted in my feet for few seconds and enjoyed the semi-vantage point.
My head followed a 360 degrees spin to take in the open view of the elongated stoned wall with no railings to be protected by from falling down, the flowering beds and chirping birds pretending it’s spring (it was actually a nice day so I should not complain), the majestic York Minster with its towers peaking out in far distance, and to breath in the crisp air on a nearly blue sky day! Yes, no rain at all even though a snow fall and hail hit us along the train ride. Miracle.
Passing the five star Cedar Court Grand Hotel and Spa, we stop by the river Ouse to listen to the first story, how has the chocolate business established itself in York. First question we were asked was “Why were there so many chocolate family businesses around England, the Rowntrees and Terrys of York, the Frys of Bristol or the Cadburys of Birmingham. Did they have something is common?” The answer was quite simple. Yes they did, their religion, they were all Quakers. As such, banned from universities and most professions, their natural move was to establish a business. So why chocolate? One other belief associated with this religion was the resentment of alcohol so the next best substitute was to drink hot chocolate and this is how it all started. I completely approve! Today’s England ought to cherish such precedent more dearly.
Walking across the bridge, we make our way to the grounds of the former Roman City border, currently the Museum Gardens. But just before we arrive there, we make a quick stop in front of the River House to listen to yet another short story, this time about this former Gentlemen’s Club.
In its days, it was thriving. Even the infamous George Hudson, the Railway King and fraudster, was a member. Apparently there were three conditions to be fulfilled in order to be accepted into the club; 1) must be a man (oh well) 2) must be a Yorkshire man and 3) must be a gentlemen. As a result of the third condition, standing joke was circling around that the club must have very few members. The joke was naturally coming from the Lancashire men, as an inevitable aftermath of the Wars of the Roses.
Stepping into the Museum Gardens, we pass the ruins of the former St. Leonard’s Hospital, in particular the remains of the morgue. Stone coffins are serving a decorative purpose today while semi-rooted into the grounds or scattered around , surrounded by lusciously green bushes and spring signalling daffodils. I preferred to think of them as flower pots.
Continuing our walk, we arrive at the location where the weathered yet beautiful ruins of the St. Mary’s Abbey are modestly standing. In its proud days, it was considered to be the wealthiest abbey in the north, surrounded by a stunning wall almost three quarters of a mile long. Unfortunately, its thriving years ended under Henry VIII as a result of his Reformation of the Church and St. Mary was closed and left to deteriorate but its original beauty can still be imagined.
Just by the river Ouse, south of the abbey’s wall remains was a well preserved, timber layered Hospitium referred to so in the medieval days as a place of hospitality offering shelter to traveling pilgrims. I have only later noticed the shape of heart attached to its door. I do think it’s attached to the door but it could just as well be hanging from a branch, you choose.
And now it’s finally time to head to the cathedral, the abbey, the stunning York Minster, I am thinking. But not just yet. We make our way towards the only preserved walls and towers of the original Roman fort. It was built in a typical rectangular shape with grid-like system of streets, baths, forums and of course the royal palace in its centre. Passing the Multangular Tower on the west corner of the former fort and walking along the only remaining Roman wall, we are reminded that they were built around the year 250 AD and I just thought of the ugliest building by my neighbourhood in London, the Trellick Tower, and how not impressive we will appear some 2000 years from now (if, of course, we don’t self destruct ourselves first.)
The bottom part of the Multangular Tower was built in the Roman days yet the top part was added in the middle ages, some 1000 years later. Below is a photo of the City Wall to the left of the tower, also built around 1250, as one can see by the shape of the bricks compared to the top of the tower. The wall to the right of the tower (not in this photo) on the other hand was built in the Roman days and is made out of small bricks, just like the bottom part of the tower. Someone as logical as me certainly appreciated such consistency. And lucky tour guide, otherwise he would have been facing several questions from me.
And here she/it/he is, the York Minster. First peek through a wall window. I lost my group for few minutes trying to take the below photo as a person stood right in the view TEXTING for ages! What were my options, hmmm, ask her to leave, remove her in Photoshop or patiently wait till she leaves. I chose the latter. Now I had to run to catch up. What did I miss?
Not much, just a rooftop filled with pigeons. Interestingly, all were gathered on one side only. It was south facing and that was enough of an explanation for me. Humans or animals, we are all craving the sun and the spring to come in full scale!
And this will conclude the part ONE of my day trip to York, Northern England post. I could be going on but figured the attention span needed for the whole story would be unrealistic to expect (especially on my first post!) so I am going to give you all a good break and perhaps something to look forward to, part TWO, which will be more about the York Minster, Shambles, the streets of York and tea.
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… to be continued