Too often, we do things in a hurry. I have walked the walls of York many times before, but I had never taken the time to stop and look at all the information boards, to think about all the people who had walked that way before. This time I was going to do it slowly.
It helped that we were doing it in January. Of course there were some tourists – a few Americans, a handful of Japanese – and several locals out for a quiet morning walk, but for the most part we had the walls to ourselves. A peaceful wander through the city’s history, enjoying the winter sun.
The walls of York are quiet at this time of year!
A Change in Perspective
There isn’t much left of the Roman walls, but York has been continuously fortified since AD 71. Today’s walls are medieval, a 2½ mile stretch of defences broken only by the river and an area of swampland that would have been impenetrable in the Middle Ages.
Baile Tower, a medieval fortification
Walking slowly, we stopped to look at the studs in the ground that show nearby places of interest – an old signal box, the Gateway to the Roman Fortress, and Jewbury (the historic Jewish burial ground). Today we were walking anti-clockwise, a change from our habitual direction, finding to our surprise that we had started to spot things we hadn’t noticed before – a statue on a tower, a different perspective on a familiar building.
I have often walked up to Clifford’s Tower, in the centre of York, but it was not until we read the information board at Baile Hill that I realised that the Tower and the Hill were twin fortifications, defending the river entrance to the city. Walking from this direction, the strategic position of the two hills is apparent.
Clifford’s Tower defends the entrance to the city
Towers and Gatehouses of the York Walls
One of the pleasures of the walls is the bars (gatehouses) and towers that you encounter along the way. These were variously used as houses and prisons in the past, and you can still see cramped cells and medieval garderobes (holes in the floor that were used as toilets). As we were taking our time, we stopped at the Gatehouse Café in Walmgate Bar and carried our coffee and warm scones to the upper room of this Elizabethan house that was lived in as recently as 1957.
The Gatehouse Cafe is built into an old house on Walmgate Bar
Our next stop was the Richard III museum in Monk Bar. This is devoted primarily to considering whether Shakespeare’s vilification of Richard III is justified, and whether he really was responsible for the murders of the Princes in the Tower. Visitors are invited to sign one of two books – Guilty or Innocent. We took opposing views on this, and made our entries in different books! On the way out we signed a petition for the king’s bones (recently discovered in a Leicester car park) to be returned to York.
A Final Diversion
We walked on, around the back of the Minster, enjoying the different viewpoint. Then we came to the final break in the wall, between Bootham Bar and Lendal Bridge. We walked through the Museum Gardens and deviated from the path to explore the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. Another first.
York Minster from the walls
The ruins of St Mary’s Abbey