Day in York

Speaking of short trips, we briefly visited York this past September on the same tour as Wales. We were there for about a half day since we wanted to have several days in London at the end. I had never been to York before but it was worth the trip.

Our first stop was Clifford’s Tower, the only section of the castle that remains. Apparently, the rest of the castle blew up in an accident with gunpowder. (A nod to the indifference of Pont St. Benezet!). It’s a small fortified structure on top of a hill. We ascended to the parapet, which gave a nice overview of the city. There isn’t a lot to see inside but my rule is that old buildings, especially medieval ones, are inherently cool.

Clifford's Tower Elisa Shoenberger (c) 2013
Clifford’s Tower
Elisa Shoenberger (c) 2013

Then we went into the center of town to go the crowning glory of our trip to York: Yorkminster. It’s quite the cathedral. We paid a little extra so we could go to the top of the cathedral. While we waited for our designated time, we wandered the cathedral. It has soaring white walls with shining gold decorations in the ceiling. There were incredible wall sconces in the shape of dragons and stone tombs with effigies of their owners. There were wooden machines where you put a pound in and the machine would move. There was one of a man working on stained glass while a monkey nearby works with tools.

The stained glass is under restoration so there was an exhibit explaining the creation and restoration of the stained glass. They did showcase a few panels in a weird cave structure at the nave of the cathedral. There was something lovely about seeing them face to face as opposed to vaguely seeing them high up on the wall.

Finally, we got to ascend to the top of the chapel. It’s a bit of an expedition up to the top, up narrow staircases. It’s a total of 276 stairs. At one point you come out onto a lower roof and meander by the gargoyles. When you get to the top, you get a lovely view of the red roofs of York.

Our next stop was at the Richard III museum in Monk bar, one of the medieval gates. We’re fans of Richard III and think that Tudor propagandists maligned him. (If you are interested in a fascinating and approachable book on the topic, read Josephine Tey’s The Daughters of Time. It’s the most compelling novel about someone reading that you’ll ever find). So we naturally wanted to check out the museum in York, where he’s actually rather liked. Earlier at Clifford’s Tower, the lady in the gift shop gave a different perspective on the whole thing, “ Well, it’s not like he’s the only who killed princes out there.” Which is not a point of view often offered in his defense but there is something to it. I still think he is innocent of their deaths.

The museum was…interesting. It has a lot more argument than actually substance; I would have liked to see Richard’s personal artifacts or even period artifacts.  The museum is dedicated to his defense.  They put together some fake headlines of various incidents in the case as if the Daily Mail or some other rag was reporting on it. You do get to wander around the gate, which Richard III may have added himself. You can shut yourself up into these tiny rooms and get a sense of what it was like to live in the medieval era. There were mannequins, which I tend to find troubling.

Afterwards we went to the Yorkshire Museum that covers prehistoric York to the 20th century. It’s a lovely overview with Roman artifacts, dinosaur bones, and much more. They found a pin of a silver boar, which was Richard III’s device or badge. I was most impressed with a recreation of a 19th century library on the third floor. There were cases with stories about English explorers and their companions exploring volcanoes and other exotic places.

Next door, there were the ruins of the Abbey of St. Mary, a former Benedictine abbey. It started in William the Conqueror’s time until Henry the 8th’s Reformation. Now only a wall remains surrounded by a beautiful garden.

Abbey of St. Mary's, York Elisa Shoenberger (c) 2013
Abbey of St. Mary’s, York
Elisa Shoenberger (c) 2013

That evening, we went a ghost tour of York.  Our tour guide was in late Renaissance clothing with a giant swashbuckling hat with a feather. One story of note was about a young plumber in the 1950s who was working on the basement of Treasurer’s House. All of sudden, he heard a horn and then ancient Romans started coming out of the walls. What was even more peculiar was that they  all  seemed to be walking on their knees. This young plumber was not one to believe in ghosts, as well. Apparently, when they did archeological work on the basement, they found an old Roman road that was just below the basement level, thus accounting for the knee level.

Another story included an old passageway between houses. One night a man saw someone lighting a lamp on a ladder in the old-fashioned way and didn’t think much of it. However, he then realized that those lamps were electrical and didn’t need fire. When he looked next, they were gone.

It was a fun tour, even though it was a little short. It was a fine trip to York. I look forward to returning there sometime in the future.


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