Yes, after a long absence during my website remodel, Travel Pic Thursday is back. Sort of. To all my many new followers, Travel Pic Thursday is usually just a posting of one or two photos taken during my travels along with a few interesting facts regarding the history and lore of the place. However, sometimes I get a bit lazy and “borrow” longer posts from travel blogs I’ve started and abandoned. This week is one of those lazy times as I do a bit of recycling to take you on a stroll around the walls of York in northern England.
York’s Walls: A Little History
York’s original walls were built by the Romans when they were doing that whole Empire thing back around 71 AD. York, or Eboracum, as it was known, was a military outpost laid out in a tidy rectangular arrangement. Although most of the Roman walls were destroyed when the Vikings showed up, you can see portions of York’s Roman wall. Most of the Roman remains are simply lines of rocks and a few post holes, but the Multiangular Tower is still intact and makes a good starting point for the walk.
Once the Vikings showed up in 866, the Roman walls didn’t last long (after all, they hadn’t been maintained for at least 300 years). But the Vikings weren’t big into wall building – construction projects get in the way of raiding and pillaging. But they wanted a bit of security so they made dirt hill on top of the Roman walls.
Eventually, the Vikings (probably better to just call them “English” by now) wanted something a little more substantial than a pile of dirt around their growing city. Between the 12th and 13th centuries, stone walls were built.
Unfortunately, by the 1800s, the world was growing too fast and the narrow gateways of medieval walls across England weren’t wide enough for traffic. In London, the walls came down and in York, the walls were in such disrepair that they nearly came down as well. Luckily, many people in York realized the historical importance of their walls and fought to preserve them.
Although some areas of the wall didn’t make it, thanks to restoration work, a good portion of the walls are still in excellent condition today.
The Bars Where there’s No Booze
York has plenty of pubs, but on the wall walk you’ll visit a fair number of bars. But don’t worry about getting drunk because a “bar” in York is actually a gatehouse. The York walls have six bars:
- The Bootham Bar (with portions dating from the 11th century)
- The Monk Bar (four stories of 14th century stonework)
- The Walmgate Bar (watch out that the 14th century portcullis doesn’t drop on you)
- The Micklegate Bar that was once the ceremonial entry point for monarchs entering York.
- Fishergate Bar (opened in the 1300s, then closed in the 1400s and now a convenient pedestrian path)
- The Victoria Bar (the youngest bar, opened in 1838)
Walking the Walls
According to the Visit York website, there are 3.4 kilometers (about 2 miles) of walls to walk on. However, some portions of the wall are missing and you’ll spend a little bit of time on sidewalks and wondering how to get to the next portion of the wall – locals seem super happy to help out and also seem to recognize the confused looks on tourists faces.
You can start the wall walk at any of the bars, but the best place to start is to head over to the Multiangular Tower which is in the gardens next to the Yorkshire Museum (just off Museum Street at Lendal). Once you’ve taken a peek at this impressive structure, leave the gardens and head toward Exhibition Square (it’s where the tour buses line up). If you look straight across the street from Exhibition Square, you’ll see Bootham Bar. Climb the stairs and walk in whichever direction you choose.
Take your time on the walk to read the information signs on each bar. They’re filled with interesting tidbits of history and point out things you may miss if you just zip past trying to “do the wall.” And yes, you are actually walking on the wall along a passageway on the top of the wall where guards would have patrolled.
About halfway along the wall walk (from my starting point), you’ll come to a long section of the walk where the wall is missing. Along this portion, you’ll be able to stop by and take a look at Clifford’s Tower sitting high (very high) up on a hill. Clifford’s Tower was originally built by William the Conqueror, but the building you see today dates from King Henry III’s reign in the 13th century. Definitely take a climb up the steps and take a peek in the tower, but I wouldn’t bother coughing up the entry fee to go inside.
Allow at least two hours to do the walk. There are stairs to go up and down from the gates, but no portion of the wall is strenuous unless you have mobility issues. The wall walk is free and is open from dawn to dusk. The walls will close if the weather turns icy and the walk is closed on Christmas.Oh, and there are decent (free) bathrooms at the base of Bootham Bar.