Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Footloose in York

Tour guide Richard outside the Treasurer's House
Much too long ago we took our then young children to York's recently opened Jorvik Centre, a state of the art 'experience' based around the finds from an archaelogical dig on the site which recreated Viking life, including a rail-car ride through a Viking village.
It was great and we planned to go back today – until I discovered that pre-booked tickets were all sold out and that the Centre has slipped to No 40 in Tripadvisor's reviews of York's attractions, mainly because of the crowds. So we gave it a miss. Best to keep those happy memories of our first trip.
Instead we opted for a guided walk round the city, which despite being entirely free was certainly not crowded – there were just 11 of us in our group.
Substantial flood gates protect riverside homes
But first, as we knew we'd be up on the dog-free city walls again, we took Brian for an unguided walk along the river front. We'd heard from the Naburn lockie about York's propensity to flood but it was still eye-opening to see the precautions on the riverside houses we passed. All had substantial flood gates set into solid brick walls barely six feet from their front doors. And that being above a pavement level which then sloped down six or seven feet to a lower walkway, which dropped down even more to a riverside walkway which dropped even more to the river itself. In short they were ready to face a river that could rise 20ft or more from its present level. Astonishing.
The ruins of the massive Benedictine Abbey destroyed by Henry VIII's minions
We met our walk guide, the amiable and knowledgeable Richard, near our mooring at the Museum Gardens and spent the first part of the walk there as he took us through the layers of York history that can be seen. It's a city rich in history, founded by the Romans as a massive fort to guard the north, invaded by the Vikings,  then by the Normans for whom again it was a northern citadel and significant once more in Henry VIII's time. Evidence of most of these eras can be found in and near the Gardens: the Roman walls and towers, enlarged in medieval times, the ruins of the vast Benedictine Abbey built by the Normans and flattened by Henry VIII when he created the Church of England and dissolved the monasteries, the magnificent Kings Manor that he 'acquired' when he hoofed the Abbot out. And all around are littered remnants of ancient stone from Roman coffins to decorative stone mouldings from the ruined abbey now used as garden edgings.
The tale of the city, its remarkable buildings and its history continued for a very entertaining two hours, at the end of which Richard, one of 105 voluntary city guides, was loathe even to take a tip. What a great service to the visitor.
We rounded the day off with another unguided tour along the river's west bank into the city centre where the restaurants and bars were heaving. It's York's Ebor Festival horse race meeting so there were a sprinkling of silly hats and stilleto heels beside slightly wobbly looking well dressed gents heading for the posh restaurants. We headed home to plan tomorrow's entertainment - less walking maybe?

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