York and York Minster, England

The next stop on our UK trip was York, several hours north of Stratford-upon-Avon. After driving all morning, we arrived at our hotel about 1 p.m. and got all our stuff unloaded. Then we set out for lunch and a walking tour with Nigel.

During our walking tour, Nigel explained some of the history of York.  York has been a city since Roman times, when the Romans built a large fort.  Emperor Constantius I died in 306 during his stay in York, and his son Constantine the Great was proclaimed Emperor by the troops based in the fortress.  When the Romans left, York decreased in size. When the Normans invaded in 1066, they made York one of their seats of power.  In the 7th century, King Edwin of Northumbria made York his chief city.  The Vikings captured York in the 9th century and made it their capital in Britain.

York Minster

After a rebellion, William the Conqueror sacked York.  Then he rebuilt it, including two palaces incorporated into a wall which he also built around the town.  Much of the wall was on the same site as the Roman wall, built 1,000 years previously.  About half of the Normal wall still stands and a few pieces of the Roman wall and Roman Fort are visible.

We started in the Shambles, an street inhabited by the butchers of the city in medieval days. Today there is a market in the area as well as lots of quaint shops.  The buildings look like they might fall down any minute.  They lean and sag, but they are still standing and being used every day.

Dominating the skyline of York is York Minster. The cathedral is the seat of the archbishop of York,
the third-highest office of the Church of England.  The first record of a church on the site dates to 627.  The minster undercroft contains re-used building materials from 1160, but the bulk of the building was constructed between 1220 and 1472.  The minster retains most of its medieval stained glass, The east window, which depicts the Last Judgment, is the largest medieval stained glass window in the world. The Five Sisters window, consisting of five narrow sections is over 53 feet high.

Nigel, took us around the outside of York Minster, and then led us to one of several Norman gates built into the wall around the city.  He gave us a few minutes to walk on top of the wall, then we walked on to the Roman Fort.  We also saw the ruins of the Abbey of St. Mary which were pretty impressive considering they have been ruins for 500 years.

Roman Fort

Tom and I left the tour after the Abbey and returned to York Minster. Even though they charged admission, Tom and I wanted to see inside this great church. I am very glad we went back. The inside was even more amazing than the outside. Everything is so over the top that I couldn’t stop saying “Wow!”  It is the largest
medieval cathedral and the oldest one in England.  The elaborate crypts of the rich and (in their time) famous were fascinating. Every piece of the cathedral was intricately carved. Even the Chapter House was opulent.

After spending more than 90 minutes walking around the church, Tom and I headed back to the wall.  Tom wanted to walk all around the city on the wall, a distance of about two miles.  In order to do that, we had to climb up and down a lot of stairs.  Every time there was a gate, we climbed down one side and up the other to get back on the wall.  We started close to York Minster.  By the time we reached Fishergate, a little over halfway, my knees were crying for mercy.  The walk was beautiful.  If we had been able to stay on the top of the wall, I would have walked the whole thing.

Walking on the wall

When we got to Clifford Tower, we left the wall behind. Clifford Tower has a rather gruesome history.  In 1190, 150 local Jews were murdered in a pogrom in the timber castle keep.  Most of them died by suicide in order not to fall into the hands of the mob. Henry III rebuilt the castle in stone in the middle of the 13th century, creating a keep with a unique quatrefoil design.  The keep is still standing and is called Clifford Tower after another person who was killed there.

Clifford Tower

Having finished the extensive hike, we headed back to our hotel for supper and bed. It was a wonderful day in York, especially at the cathedral.  The weather was perfect and we had plenty of time on our own to explore an interesting place.