The many stories of York

Last updated on August 23rd, 2023 at 11:28 am

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.

Shambles, YorkThe 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.

York City WallsIt 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!

Darlene Foster, JorvikAnother 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.

Whip Ma Wop Ma Gate, YorkIt´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.

York Minster, A Bit About BritainWe 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.

Clifford's Tower, A Bit About BritainFor 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.

St Mary's Abbey, YorkDuring 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.

York, Merchant Adventures HallAn 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.

York, skyline

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.

You’ll find Darlene Foster on her blog, her website, Twitter and Facebook.

123 thoughts on “The many stories of York”

  1. A superb post my favourite is the Shambles and Betty’s Tea rooms (scones to die for) tje minster and the yorvic center too. The soldier ghosts you hear marching (you really can) were a surprise to this sceptic. My son lived and worked there so it was once explored by me thoroughly. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. Darlene, thank you for taking me back to gorgeous York. I visited in 2018 and absolutely loved this city. Your writing described it perfectly and made me long to return and explore it a lot more.
    Thank you Mike, for having Darlene as your guest 🙂

    1. Thanks for dropping in, Gilda; I hope you had a good explore while you were here and visit again. Darlene gave a lovely, personal, introduction to a fascinating city; I’m chuffed she wanted to be a guest! 🙂

  3. York has long been on my “next time” list — what a fascinating city! And this post did nothing to curb my enthusiasm, but rather increase it! I love the fact that both sides of the Roses have their museums! I am charmed and I am quite certain York has a future guest. (2022, maybe?)

    1. I do hope you get to York once we can safely travel again. We were due a visit last year as well but had to cancel. Maybe 2022! Glad this article sparked your interest.

    1. It definetly is worth spending time there. A great place to use as a base too as there are many interesting places to see in the surrounding countryside.

    1. I was lucky to stay there for a month the first time. There are many interesting things to see in the surrounding countryside as well.

    2. Thanks for dropping in, Liz. Yes, as Darlene says, there’s a bunch of other places to see around York as well, or a short drive/train journey away. Let me know if you need any ideas – when you come!

  4. Thank you to Darlene, for this great journey. I think the time i will visit the aisles, i will rent a car, and will drive from every direction through the country. Lol Michael

        1. Well, it’s easy enough to drive on the right, which I have done many times, though navigating through towns can be stressful at first. Most people’s brains adjust quite quickly, though it’s also easy to forget at junctions etc.

          1. That’s right, Mike! But when turning, I would certainly have problems driving on the left. But you have such nice cabs – with famous cab drivers – in the big cities, and finding a parking space is impossible in cities, anyway.

            1. I will try testing out, Mike! As soon as we will be allowed visiting the UK. Have a nice day! Could be an idea, but which country will give me diplomatic immunity? 😉 Maybe i will find one.

  5. That was a splendid ‘tour’ of York, Darlene! We visited for a memorable weekend many years ago and were impressed by the authentic atmosphere. And, of course, tried Betty’s delicious pastries… xx

  6. Wow – so much to do and explore (and learn about) in York! My guy and I only had a day there once many years ago and we loved walking around the city. You know it so well. If we ever get to go there again, I’m going to follow your suggestions, including where to stay and where to get an amazing scone!! 🙂

  7. York has always featured in my plans to travel to England. You just whetted my appetite for going there. Thank you.

  8. It is lovely to see Darlene here with this engaging post. I visited York in 2019, but I see we missed a few places. We were only there for two full days on our way to Haworth. Visiting the Bronte Museum was on my bucket list for years so it did take priority. The story of Clifford’s Tower is chilling.

  9. What a great intro to York! I love the history and the explanations of the different areas and words and what occurred there. I’m a museum buff too. Thanks for the wonderful trip through York, Darlene. And thanks for hosting, Mike.

  10. York was the first city we visited on our second trip to England. What I remember most was how teeny-tiny the trash can was in the bedroom and how HUGE was the cathedral, Yorkminster, which went on for blocks. I remember Clifford’s Tower too because my husband’s name is Cliff!

    Thanks for resurrecting pleasant memories of this charming place. 🙂

    1. Thanks for dropping in and supporting Darlene’s wonderful article, Marian. I wonder if York’s Tourist Office realises that at least one visitor’s memories of their city include the size of waste bins? 🙂 🙂 Hope you come back!

    1. I think that was what blew me away that first time, the history and the age of the buildings! Not hundreds of years old but thousands! Of course we do have the First Nations history in North America, but not the physical evidence in buildings.

      1. Yes, American Indians were nomadic so didn’t establish permanent structures. I also wonder if that had to do with their respect for the land. Now I’m going to have to dig into the why.

    2. Thanks for dropping in, Jacqui. Darlene did a lovely job for us. Have you visited Britain? We have a shared heritage, of course – and your buildings probably have better plumbing!

    1. I took so many pictures, and that was before digital cameras. I think I had 12 rolls of film to develop when we returned the first visit.

  11. Fantastic post Darlene and thanks for hosting Mike. I have fond memories of York and spent six months there setting up a crystal shop for the company I worked for.. those narrow cobbled lanes were a nightmare driving down with a load of glass in the back of the car..will share in a blogger daily this week..

      1. lol… actually was in the shopping centre and partly underground.. the biggest drawback was the football riots in the early 80s and one Saturday we just managed to bring the shutter down in time having just rescued a supporter from the other side… York has certainly had its moments…xxx

  12. Thank for the introduction to Darlene, Mike.
    Darlene, thank you so much for the wonderful tour of the city of York. I haven’t visited York for years but my daughters went there for a days sight-seeing and shopping a couple of years ago and enjoyed a sumptuous tea at Betty’s.

  13. Thanks for a stroll down memory lane. I used to work below and above the Teddy Bear Tearoom 20 yrs ago.

  14. Hi Mike – thank you for introducing us to Darlene – sounds like she’s had an interesting life – ideal for Amanda’s various adventures. I’d love to spend time in York at some stage, so thanks for highlighting some interesting points of history and views etc … all the best – Hilary

    1. Thanks, Hilary. I never think of my life as that interetsng but when I look back, I have had some interetsing times. I hope you can enjoy York soon.

  15. Burly Viking, indeed! Your pictures made me think of Avignon, France – maybe the cities are of the same era. And I really wish I could travel again, like so many people:) Nice to revisit a place you’re so fond ot.

    1. Thanks, Jan. You would love this city. My hubby is from York and a bit of a hunky Viking himself. This fellow played his part perfectly and kindly posed with me.

  16. bars and teahouses – what more do you need. this was thoroughly enjoyable learning about York, now I want to visit there as well. I may have to stop reading your posts for a while, or my list of places to visit will grow too big!

    1. This is aplace you would love, Jim. And i only touched on a few of the wonderful things to do there. There is also a fabulous train museum for train buffs.

      1. I just checked the distance between London and York – looks like a little bit over a three-hour train ride. That is certainly doable. We hope to be in London in two years..

  17. Hello Darlene, thank you for this well-written guest post about York – and thank you, Mike, for hosting it!
    York is truly unique and special. The museum with the Victorian street is one of the best, if not the best, museum I have ever visited.
    Usually, I spend my summer holidays in Yorkshire, having family in Ripon, but due to the pandemic, was not able to travel last year. By the looks of it, this year won‘t be possible, either – but one day I will be back!

  18. artandarchitecturemainly

    Thank you. I had no idea that the Norse word gata meant street or road. Finally it makes sense with names like Petergate, Coppergate, Stonegate. I used to think there were heaps of gates in the city!

  19. Darlene! This was a fabulous history and tour of York. I was ‘with you’ at every site. Thank you! Mike, Darlene is one of my favorite bloggers and writers. Thank you for having her as a guest on your blog.

  20. A fascinating post. Your photos are wonderful. York is truly a beautiful and fascinating city. The ghosts are a bit chilling, though.

  21. Thank you for this terrific introduction to York. I am always amazed at the layers — Roman, Viking, Norman, etc. — of history Britain contains. Now I wish i were walking along the ancient wall overlooking all the daffodils, which must be about to bloom!

    1. Thank you. I agree, Britain has so much interesting history based on the many different cultures that have inhabited it. The daffodils should be out soon.

    2. It’s such a pity that so many tourists don’t venture to the north, but stay in London and visit Stratford-on-Avon. There’s so much in the north.

      1. Every time I´ve been to York, there have been many tourists about. But, I agree, London is usually the first and often the only stop when visiting the UK.

  22. Darlene Davis

    This was a charming look at a place I would love to visit! I’m going to buy some of your books for my nieces! Thank you.

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