York

It feels a little silly to be a proper tourist in my own country but, knowing York even less than I do Lincoln, I set aside a whole day for sightseeing. So much of the medieval heart of the city remains intact within its magnificent city walls that I am rather reminded of Brussels. At first glance York provides a cornucopia of cultural experiences and shopping opportunities all packaged up for the visitor within easy walking distance of their favourite coffee shops. These narrow little streets with quaint colloquial names such as Peasholme, Jewbury and the incomparable Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma, even boast their own share of speciality lace and chocolate shops.

At least, this might have been how I was thinking until I staggered out of the Yorkshire Museum and later the Minster this afternoon after six hours of intensive history lessons. Zoltan was spared some of the most challenging cultural pursuits since he was sharing Molly’s care and went off at times to explore the lanes and markets on his own. He did join me for a climb up the cathedral tower, however, and surprised me afterwards by asking “but what about the Viking Museum?” I managed to wheeze out enough breath to tell him that it was on the other side of the city (which didn’t seem quite so bijou now) and he headed off alone to view it for both of us.

I think he must have found a pleasant pub because it’s now nearly nine and he hasn’t come back to our guest house yet. Tomorrow’s itinerary involves quite a bit of driving and I have promised myself enough rest and recuperation to be able to enjoy this trip so I don’t think I will be able to do justice to the history of the City (or even the Minster) tonight. Just getting the town’s names straight in my head is quite a challenge:

Roman – Eboracum

Saxon – Eoforwic

Viking – Jorvik

and by the comparatively recent eleventh century – Yorke

Summarising its past two thousand years is quite beyond me. A few modest pieces of advice from the Ladies of York have lodged themselves in my memory though.

Don’t wear your best gold earrings to the bathhouse unless you want them to disappear down the drain for the next nineteen hundred years.

Don’t marry someone named Eric Bloodaxe and expect him to help with the household chores

Try to avoid any man offering to bedeck you with white roses unless you want your family tree to be dissected down through the centuries by small groups of earnest historians.

Don’t steal the heads of executed traitors from the city walls for re-burial in consecrated ground unless you would like to see the inside of a dungeon yourself , complete with fixtures and fittings.

York cathedral actually is bigger than Canterbury or, as Zoltan proudly told me, the largest in Northern Europe. I joined the 1 o’clock tour given by a kindly volunteer named Jean. Her rather quiet and nervous delivery gradually giving way to a passionate love of her subject matter as the less enthusiastic members of the group drifted off to see the cake stall or the gift shop. After all, what is the appeal of the finest collection of 12th century stained glass in the world when compared to a rubber duck wearing a Bishop’s mitre.

So remarkable is the detail of the stone carving in the chapter house that I had to ask whether it had been restored but, no, it has been like that for seven hundred years: the foliage fresh enough to invite you to reach out and pluck a sprig and the sly cat forever chasing a tiny mouse behind the nearest column. In contrast with the cathedrals of East Anglia, York Minster suffered very little damage during either the reformation or the Civil War. The latter was apparently due to the intervention of one General Thomas Fairfax, who seems to have been a Yorkshireman first and a Parliamentarian second, for he threatened to hang any man who caused damage to this lovely building.

However delightful the sights and stories that are starting to come back to me, I must stop writing and get ready for bed soon as we leave York tomorrow to head off into the wilds of Northumbria.

 

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