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York, England

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Did You Know … ?

  • The city was called Jorvik when the Vikings were in control; the name morphed into York.
  • James Herriot’s “All Creatures Great and Small” and his other books are set in the Yorkshire Dales.
  • Constantine the Great was crowned Roman Emperor in York, in 306.
  • The dandy highwayman Dick Turpin was hanged at the local racecourse in 1739.
  • York is called the world’s most haunted city; its oldest ghosts are a group of Roman Legionnaires.

Where ‘bars’ are gates & ‘gates’ are streets

York is a must-visit city for those interested in the broad sweep of English history. It was in succession a Roman, Saxon and then Viking metropolis before the year 1000. In medieval times, it was the second-largest city in England after London, and even today it is often called England’s capital of the north.

There is much evidence in York today of that colorful past, particularly in faithful reconstructions of the Viking-era Jorvik and in the medieval cathedral and city walls. The well-preserved walls extend nearly three miles and visitors can walk much of their length. Even place names are unique: York’s city gates are called bars, and street names often include the word gate, based on a Norse word for road or way.

York’s historic treasures are highly concentrated, mostly within the old walls. The city has a unique way to deliver history “lessons,” too, in the numerous ghost walks on offer.

York appeals to the here and now, as well, with river trips for sightseeing, heritage taverns to sample local brews, an annual festival of food and drink, the famous Shambles and other quaint streets of shops and medieval houses, plus a unique theater experience — the quadrennial York Mystery Plays.

Visitors can see the city on a bicycle, but for those who want more activities and closer contact with nature’s drama, York is a gateway to the Yorkshire Dales. The area is characterized by beautiful green valleys known as dales crisscrossed by stone walls enclosing pastures of grazing sheep. The hills sometimes are steep rock outcroppings, and, because the underlying rock is generally limestone, the region has an extensive cave system.

Much of the area called the Dales is now encompassed by the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Inside or outside the park, the area is popular with cavers and with serious walkers. Britain’s best-known long-distance trail, the Pennine Way, passes through the Dales, as do others. Also, the Settle-Carlisle Railway — calling itself Britain’s most scenic — passes through the Dales.

Oh, yes, visitors can sample Yorkshire pudding in the place that gave it its name.

Things to do for Venturers

  • See York’s cathedral, of course, but also climb the central tower for your first overview of the city.
  • Take off on a caving adventure. The Yorkshire Dales are well known for their vast cave systems, just waiting to be explored by the active venturer.
  • YorkWalk offers an intriguing array of walking tours including the Historic Toilet Tour; the Graveyard, Coffin and Crypt Tour; the Saints and Sinners Tour; the Bloody Execution Tour, and the Historic Toilet Tour. The toilet tour includes “the opportunity to sample the dubious comfortsof medieval garderobes [privies].”
  • Take a hike, a very long one in the Yorkshire Dales. One choice, Britain’s most famous long-distance route, is the Pennine Way.
  • Go canoeing or kayaking — even windsurfing — at the Allerthorpe Lakeland Park Watersports Centre.
  • Take polo lessons at the White Rose Polo Club. Try your polo skills by playing with members of the club.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Look for ghosts in York, the town that is said to be the most haunted place on Earth. Roman Legionnaires, the most famous York ghosts, walk across the basement of the Treasurer’s House. There are multiple ghost tours on offer.
  • Spend a day at the York Racecourse.
  • Take a self-guided walking tour, searching out the sites associated with York’s medieval history, including the York Minster (the largest Gothic cathedral north of the Alps), Clifford Tower and the walls that surround the historic center. It is especially delightful to walk around the outside of the city walls at daffodil season; its banks are covered with the yellow flowers.
  • Also, walk on the town’s well-preserved walls.
  • Time your visit to see the York Mystery Plays, a cycle of religious dramas created by the city’s medieval guilds and now recreated every four years during the York Festival. These plays tell the story of mankind’s spiritual journey from creation to Judgment Day.
  • Stop for refreshments in one (or more) of the city’s numerous heritage taverns.

Things to do for Authentics

  • See a show at the York Theatre Royal or at the Grand Opera House.
  • Shop on the narrow and quaint Shambles, a traditional medieval passageway, with flag-stoned paths and overhanging timber-framed houses. Also, head to Stonegate, a pretty town street which is also known for its exclusive shops.
  • See the floodlighted York attractions on an evening cruise on the River Ouse. Or, take a daytime boat tour of the city.
  • Spend time at the National Railway Museum in York, the world’s biggest railway museum. For more about museums and for something quite different, see the Richard III Museum in Monkbar, one of the gate houses in York’s medieval walls.
  • Take afternoon tea in a traditional English tea room.
  • Get acquainted with York’s Viking roots and be entertained, as well, at the underground Jorvik Viking Centre. See reconstructed Viking-era streets as they would have looked in 975.  Also, with fortuitous timing, you can attend the February Jorvik Viking Festival for events like battle reenactments and saga telling.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Visit York at www.visityork.org