Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Tuesday, 12th September - York

We set off to “do” York today – we walked our feet off, but saw a lot and enjoyed it all. It is a fascinating city with a long history dating to Roman times. York was the Roman centre of administration for the north of England, and also was the Viking Capital a few hundred years later. The Normans had a stronghold here, and it has retained much of its medieval architecture because it had become a forgotten backwater during the industrial revolution

We stopped first at Clifford’s Tower, the only bit remaining of the Norman York Castle. Its major attraction was the excellent views of York, although you had to climb to the top of the walls, a somewhat hair-raising experience, to appreciate them.

Next was the York Castle Museum, a really excellent display of everyday life throughout the ages. It is a huge collection and we didn’t have time to do it justice. There were rooms from different periods of history (e.g. Victorian drawing room, Jacobean dining room), and a whole recreation of a Victorian street which was really well done, complete with sounds of horses & carts, people’s voices and changing from day to night, even a thunderstorm. Sounds cheesy but it was so well done it worked. There was a whole room devoted to the history of cleanliness, with everything from soap to vacuum cleaners to plumbing.

Jorvik is a Disney-style ride through a Viking town. It was cheesy, but still interesting. It is on an authentic Viking site, and the faces of all the life-sized models in the village were based on actual skulls found on the site. They have recently found a collection of skeletons of around 35 men from Roman times and there was a truly fascinating exhibition on the detective work involved in trying to get information from these skeletons. There was a young woman (an archaeologist?) there who was very knowledgeable about the excavation and she was entertaining a group of people with real-life CSI.

From Jorvik we walked through the old streets in the city centre, with names like High Petergate, The Pavement, St Saviourgate (‘gate’ means street in Viking) and The Shambles – narrow lanes with half-timbered shops and upper storey overhangs that look like they come straight out of a Brothers Grimm storybook. The shop interiors are modern, but the streetscape is delightful. The whole city centre is closed to cars so it’s pleasant just to stroll the streets.

Last but very much not least was York Minster, the largest Gothic church in England. It is enormous (they said you could fit an 18-story building inside the central tower). On the recommendation of our guide book, we took binoculars to study the stained glass – and we needed them. We also took a tour of the Undercroft, where they have excavated the remains of previous Roman and Norman buildings on the site, and we saw some of the reinforcement of the foundations of the present structure put in place in the 1970s when the tower was in imminent danger of collapsing. We stayed for Evensong, and enjoyed listening to the organ & choir in such impressive surroundings.

We ate dinner at a Tea Room on the plaza right next to the cathedral, then walked along the ancient city walls which still surround the old city. We strolled along the River Ouse back to our B&B in the balmy evening – and now that I have written all this I understand why we felt a little weary!