Yorkshire is the largest county in the British Isles and within its borders can be found some of the most beautiful countryside in England. Nicknamed ‘God’s Own County’ it embraces two National Parks, the Yorkshire Dales and the North Yorkshire Moors, the magnificent Pennine Hills, miles of rugged coastline, high cliffs and sandy beaches, and many fine towns and cities. With a rich historical legacy this county of the ‘White Rose’ has a unique culture, humour and dialect all of its own.
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that at the centre of this county stands a jewel, the city of York. A historic walled city and a destination high on the ‘to visit list’ for both overseas and domestic visitors alike. Whether you are visiting for just a few hours or staying for several days York offers many attractions, sights and sounds which will please and capture the hearts of all. A city of 200,000 people York is easily accessible by road and rail and a very ‘walkable’ city destination.
The founding of York, a brief history
For over two thousand years the ancient city of York has been attracting conquerors and visitors alike. From the Romans who founded a northern outpost and called it Eboracum in 71AD, to the Saxons who made it their capital of the kingdom of Deira , the Viking Danes who renamed it Jorvik and to the Normans who sacked the city in the 12th century. Out of this melting pot of early years and on through the Tudor, Stewart, Georgian and Victorian ages York has grown and flourished to become one of the truly great city destinations for visitors in Northern Europe.
The City Walls, Minster and Clifford’s Tower
The ancient city walls, with 45 towers and the medieval gateways of Micklegate Bar, Bootham Bar, Monk Bar and Walmgate Bar, stretch for 3 miles around York and are the finest and most complete example in England. Dating back to the thirteenth century they make a great place to start a tour of the city. There is free access to the walls at all the gateways and several other points too and a walk offers magnificent views of the city past and present, its narrow streets and the river. Visitors with limited time should walk between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar one of the oldest sections of the walls which gives good views of the Minster and Treasurers House. The ancient 4 storey gatehouse, Monk Bar, is home to the Richard III museum. In springtime the embankments are a sea of golden daffodils.
York Minster, built between 1220 and 1470, needs no further introduction other than to say it is one of England’s greatest architectural treasures and a ‘must see’ for visitors. The second largest Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe the Minster is 158 metres (518ft) long, with three towers 60 metres (200ft) high. The interior height of the choir is 31 metres (102 ft). Some of the stained glass windows date back to the twelfth century, and with the Great East Window, Rose Window and Five Sisters Window the largest examples of medieval stained glass in the world.
Clifford’s Tower is all that remains of the medieval Norman castle originally constructed on the orders of William the Conqueror. Standing on a huge raised mound this two storey tower formed the keep of the original motte and bailey castle, although the present tower dates from the thirteenth century. The view from the ramparts over the city of York is worth the climb. The tower is in the care of English Heritage and there is a modest admission charge.
Old Buildings and Museums
As you would expect York has more than its share of ancient buildings and those worth visiting include: Cliffords Tower, the remains of the original Norman castle; Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, a medieval timber-framed hall; Barley Hall, a medieval house once home to the Mayor of York; the Treasurer’s House, a fine 17/18th century period residence. The Shambles is a complete narrow medieval street dating back to the 14th century lined with overhanging timber-framed buildings, many which used to be butchers’ shops.
There are many museums to visit too. Foremost amongst these is the Jorvik Viking Centre which tells the story of Viking York. Other museums include the Castle Museum, which includes a reconstructed street of shops; the newly refurbished Yorkshire Museum which tells the history of York through the ages with an emphasis on the city’s Roman occupation; the York dungeons, a trip into the darker history of York; and the National Railway Museum which houses the largest collection of railway locomotives in the world.
Snickelways, the Shambles, High Street shopping and The River Ouse
York offers the visitor much more than history and fine old buildings. Exploring the old streets and alleyways, or ‘snickelways’, is a great way to discover many smaller shops offering all manner of items to interest all tastes. The most famous old street of all is the Shambles with its overhanging timber-framed buildings dating back to the fourteenth century. The name derives from the Anglo Saxon ‘fleshammels’ and refers to the external shop shelves and meat hooks once used by butchers to display their wares. The usual High Street chain shops and department stores are to be found there too. York is also noted for its many pubs and numerous places to eat from restaurants and cafes to coffee shops and the world famous Betty’s Tea Rooms. Hotels, large and small, guest houses and bed and breakfast establishments offer accommodation to suit all. There is also a lively entertainment scene with Theatres, live music and cinemas.
Finally, York is a city built upon the banks of a river, the river Ouse. There are many nice walks through gardens and along the river banks with boats for hire and sightseeing trips available. York is truly a city destination with something for everyone.