A Bit About Britain is delighted to welcome author and traveller Darlene Foster, as a guest writer explaining her affection for the city of York.
The charming city of York in North East England is steeped in over two thousand years of history, harbouring many stories within its ancient walls.
Forty-four years ago, my first airplane trip took me from my home in Alberta, Canada to York, England to marry my Yorkshire hubby. I fell in love with the city, walked the medieval walls, visited the fascinating museums and enjoyed tea and cream cakes at the many teashops. At the end of my month-long stay, I gave friends from Felixstowe a guided tour of my favourite city. I have returned several times and it never disappoints.
Eboracum, the name the Romans gave the city, was the capital of the Northern part of what we know as England, two thousand years ago. Parts of the sturdy walls built by the industrious Romans still stand. I love walking the medieval walls that surround the old part of the city, offering fabulous views and photo ops. I believe anytime is a good time to visit, but my favourite time is in the spring when cheerful daffodils grow along these ancient walls.
It was also the capital of a Viking Kingdom later in the 9th/10th centuries, when it was called Jorvik. Many York residents can trace their DNA to Viking roots. A visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre is a must. This thirty-five-year-old exhibit of a typical Viking settlement, discovered during excavations for a shopping mall, was badly damaged during the floods of 2015 but has since been reopened and better than ever. It’s an amazing experience that creates an authentic Viking adventure. Viking-age streets have been reconstructed including the sounds, smells and sights of life in York more than a thousand years ago. When I last visited, the friendly Vikings directed me to a partial hands-on exhibit in the church next door where I viewed a Viking ship, a bakery and young folks trying on Viking apparel. I got to hold a shield and have my picture taken with a burly Viking!
Another excellent exhibit is the Richard III Experience in Monk Bar gatehouse where you can learn about the life and times of the ill-fated king and the War of the Roses. Then visit the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar to learn about the other side of the conflict. This war, between the White Rose of the House of York and the Red Rose of House of Lancaster, ended when Henry Tudor married Elizabeth of York and became Henry VII in 1486.
As a matter of interest, a bar is a fortified gate to the city. A gate, however, was a street in medieval York. It comes from the Norse word gata which means street or road. Hence you find streets like Petergate, Coppergate, Stonegate – and Micklegate Bar, where the heads of traitors were once displayed. My favourite is Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate, said to be the shortest street in York. It used to be called Whitnourwhatnourgate, meaning ‘neither one thing, nor the other’ in Anglo-Saxon, and was the site of a pillory, a post criminals were tied to for humiliation.
It´s worth spending time wandering the cobbled Dickensian streets lined with Tudor style buildings. You just might come across the Shambles, a narrow street of timber buildings that overhang the street and almost meet at the top. This enchanting street dates back to the 13th century. The Shambles means the place where animals were slaughtered and butchers traded. Today the misshapen buildings house charming boutiques, gift shops and tearooms.
You can relax in many cosy tearooms such as The Earl Grey Tearooms and the Teddy Bear Tearooms but my favourite is the iconic Bettys Café Tearoom in Stonegate. I always stop in at least once every visit and it is where we bought our wedding cake. There is nothing like sitting down in the elegant surroundings and enjoying a Fat Rascal, their signature scone, and a lovely pot of tea served with linen napkins and from a silver tea service. So civilized.
We like to stay at the Dean Court Hotel overlooking York Minster, in the very centre of the city. The Hotel was originally built in 1865 to house the Clergy of the Minster and is situated on the corner of the main Roman road that once ran through the city. Waking up to the sound of the lovely bells and opening the curtains to a stunning view of the amazing cathedral, is such a treat.
There are guided tours of the impressive minster or you can check it out yourself. We were lucky enough to have a neighbour of a relative, who worked there, take us around. He was even able to take us into the crypt!
Clifford’s Tower is the largest remaining part of York Castle, once the centre of government for the north of England. Although there has been a tower on the site since William the Conqueror, the present 13th-century stone tower was once used as a treasury and later as a prison. Its dark history includes the scene of a mass suicide by the imprisoned Jewish community in 1190.
For museum buffs like me, York can keep you busy for days. The Yorkshire Museum holds many historic treasures including the famous helmet found when the Viking village was discovered. In the museum gardens are the picturesque ruins of St. Mary´s Abbey. York Castle Museum has a living Victorian Street and interactive activities for the whole family. This is just naming a few museums.
During one January visit to York, I braved the cold weather and joined an evening ghost walk. A city with such a long and rich history is bound to have ghosts lurking about. In fact, York is known as the most haunted city in England. Our informative and charming guide took us to places where ghost sightings and paranormal activity have been reported. We began the tour at the Minster and continued down streets and snickelways shrouded in mist. We stopped at an old stone house where the face of a young girl who starved to death has been reported to appear at a small window occasionally. Her entire family died from the plague and no one was willing to go into the house to get her. Sad times. There are a number of ghost walks in York and well worth joining.
York is the birthplace of Guy Fawkes and, some say, is also where he is buried. However, as a traitor whose body was dismembered and distributed to various places, he is unlikely to have had a grave. Anyway, his ghost apparently wanders the Shambles at night, looking for his head. I didn’t encounter him, although I did find an inn named after him and the house he was born in.
An interesting place is the well-preserved Merchant Adventures´ Guildhall, with its enormous wooden beams and creaky wooden floors, dating back to the mid-1300s. This is the place where merchants of old congregated and is now used for weddings and special events. If those walls could talk, what stories they would tell.
York, with its unique pubs, teashops, museums, cathedrals and churches, and home to the likes of Dick Turpin and Guy Fawkes, is loaded with stories around every corner. It is indeed a storybook town and a must stop when visiting the UK.
Darlene Foster grew up on a ranch in Alberta, Canada, where her love of reading inspired her to see the world and write stories. Over the years she worked in rewarding jobs such as an employment counsellor, ESL teacher, recruiter, and retail manager, writing whenever she had a few spare minutes. She is now retired and has a house in Spain where she writes full time. When not travelling, meeting interesting people, and collecting ideas for her books, she enjoys spending time with her husband and entertaining rescue dogs, Dot and Lia.
Darlene is the author of the popular Amanda Travels series, featuring a spunky twelve-year-old who loves to travel to unique places where she encounters mystery and adventure while learning about another culture. Readers of all ages enjoy travelling with Amanda as she unravels one mystery after another. Darlene´s books include: Amanda in Arabia: The Perfume Flask, Amanda in Spain: The Girl in The Painting, Amanda in England: The Missing Novel, Amanda in Alberta: The Writing on the Stone, Amanda on The Danube: The Sounds of Music, Amanda in New Mexico: Ghosts in the Wind, and Amanda in Holland: Missing in Action. Amanda in Malta: The Sleeping Lady will be released in May 2021.