We had ordered up a cab upon check in to take us the train station in Edinburgh. The driver arrived early and there was no traffic whatsoever. We had plenty of time to kill at the train station but were surprised to find that our train was there early too, waiting for us. We were able to board a half hour before the scheduled departure time. We were awfully glad that we had reserved seats; the first class coach was completely full. By the end of the journey some people that boarded at later stops had to stand.
We rode the rails for quite a while to reach York from Edinburgh – about 4 hours. We were on the Virgin Eastcoast trainline and of all of the trains we have been on in the past week, this was by far the nicest. I had read on the company’s website that they did not serve hot breakfast on the weekends so was not expecting anything other than coffee, tea or soda. I was pleasantly surprised that food was offered; just not hot food. I had a pan au chocolat and a coffee even though I had eaten earlier. I just can’t pass up free food, especially when chocolate is involved! Later on the trip we were offered sandwiches and crisps (potato chips) for lunch. In between the meals we ate biscuits (cookies). We arrived in York at 2 pm, stuffed to the gills.
We would be staying at Marmadukes Hotel for the next two days. It was located about 0.7 miles from the train station. We decided to take a cab for a couple of reasons: it was raining and we didn’t want to take a chance on getting lost while hauling our suitcases. We are finding that it is easiest to take a cab, even if it is a short distance, when we arrive in a new town.
Our room was not ready until 3pm; the normal check in time. We were led to a comfy room to relax in until housekeeping had finished with our room. We settled into the room and then headed in to town. The hotel is about a half-mile from where all of the sites in York are located. I really wanted to attend evensong at York Minster. The service started at 4 pm so we had plenty of time to find the cathedral. Normally a person pays 10£ for entry to the church but since it was Sunday, the church was open for worshipers. I think quite a few people take advantage of that fact to tour for free – there were quite a few people wandering around the interior taking pictures. I asked one of the staff where evensong would be taking place. We were directed to the center of the minster to the “choir” area. At least, I thought that is what she said; it made sense since evensong is a sung service. However, it was actually the quire area we were being directed to. There were a pair of ornate doors that people were lining up in front of prior to the service. We could hear the choir warming up. When warmups were complete, the doors were opened and we were able to enter.
The pews all face each other; an arrangement never seen in the USA where typically pews face forward. An usher seated us in the back row on the right-hand side of the church. Each person had their own curved, upholstered seat. No photography was allowed so I am unable to show any pictures of the quire area. The nice seats all filled up and the remaining people were directed to folding chairs that had been set up.
Evensong is a relatively short service. My own church does an evensong service monthly; this church has evensong daily. There are multiple choirs (quires?) that alternate singing at these services. I was really intrigued as the choir processed into the church. There were numerous young girls and young women that came in first, a few looked to be as young as 6 or 7. Following the girls were adult men. Very interesting composition. The quality of the music was first-rate; I was tremendously impressed with the musical abilities of the younger girls. I did notice a slight imbalance; not enough alto to balance out the sopranos. All of the music was done in 4-part harmony so the slight weakness in the alto section was apparent. The sermon was based on 1 Corinthians 13 and the priest made quite a few political statements embedded in the message. I was fairly surprised. Brexit came up as did social justice.
I attend an Episcopal church so spent a little time looking at the Book of Common Prayer to see what the similarities and differences between the churches were. There were some wording differences; the English here is definitely not the same as the English we speak in America. The most glaring difference was found in the prayers for the queen and royal family; you just don’t find that in the prayer book we use at home! Another major difference was that all of the hymns in the hymnal were melody line only; no harmonies whatsoever. The choir sang harmony on the one hymn that the congregation sang. I really enjoy singing the harmony parts so was a big sad.
After the service I chatted with a couple of the many volunteers that were on hand. I asked about the composition of the choir and was told that tonight it was the children’s choir’s turn to sing. I still don’t understand why they added the men in with the children; no one could really explain why. I am sure it has to do with the music that was selected for the service needing to have tenors and basses.
As we walked out of the cathedral I took a few pictures. I assumed we would not be returning the next day and paying for entry so wanted a few visual souvenirs.
It was dinnertime now so we wandered around the charming streets of York until we found a place to eat. We settled on York Roasts. We both had Yorkshire Puddings; a new experience for both. We both really enjoyed our dinners. When we got back to our room later I re-read Rick Steves’ suggestions for York. He highly recommended the restaurant. I concur!
We were staying a couple of days in York so were planning on doing our major sightseeing the following day. We headed back to the hotel to relax for the remainder of the evening.
The hotel room we stayed in is really charming. The furniture and décor was much nicer than what we experienced at the castle. The bed was a little small (narrow and short) but other than that, the room was beautiful. Breakfast was outstanding as well. A waitress took our order. You can choose either a full English breakfast (including blood pudding) with your choice of poached, fried or scrambled eggs or an “express” breakfast which is either a ham or sausage breakfast sandwich on grilled ciabatta bread. There is also yogurt and fresh fruit and warm pastries as well as a selection of cereals. Everything was quite delicious.
We planned on taking in a free walking tour that started at 10:15. We weren’t sure whether this was a “free” tour where you were hit up for a tip at the end or a totally free tour. Since it was still pretty early we figured we would wander towards town and see if we could find the train station to decide whether or not we wanted to walk or take a cab when we checked out the next day. We missed a turn for the train station so ended up in town instead. Fortunately there is free wi-fi in town so we were able to connect to Google Maps and get directions to the train station. On the train station was a section of the medieval wall that you could walk along. We walked along the wall for a bit, located the train station, and wandered around the area until about 9:30. We headed back to the meeting place for the walking tour (the art museum) and sat on one of the benches until it was time for the tour to start.
There were two guides so we ended up being split into two groups of about 10 each. Our guide was Jim. He had a really thick Scottish accent and a relatively quiet voice which made it a bit difficult to understand him at times. It turns out he is from Glasgow which explains his really thick accent. He was very knowledgeable about the history of the area and we learned lots of information from him.
Our tour started at the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey. The walls here are the walls of the old abbey; not the city walls. In 1644 3 different armies laid siege to York. One laid land mines under the tower. If you look carefully at the picture of St. Mary’s Tower you can see where it was damaged. This was the only time any force made it through the wall. Behind the abbey ruins is a church that is a replica of the 15th century church that originally stood there.
Back in the day, abbeys were big business. The Chapel of the Abbey of St. Mary’s (built in 1083 or 1084) was one of the biggest in England. The abbey earned money several different ways. They had plenty of sheep and sold the wool. The church sold “indulgences” which were essentially a means of paying for your sins in advance; you paid the fee, the church absolved you of your sin. The third was by employing a chantry priest to avoid purgatory. This was what the wealthy did. They would have their own chantry priest. The abbey would bring in 2000£/year this way. In today’s dollars, is about 1.5 million £/year. There were 60 monks that provided this “service”.
When Henry VIII split from the Catholic church he destroyed the abbeys in England. He left the churches alone but he sold all of the abbey parts (windows, chalices, relics, even the stones they were made of) to get money. Old Henry was quite the spendthrift and owed lots of money so did this as a way of paying his debts.
We continued on a tour of the abbey grounds. The abbey was taken over by the crown but the crown eventually gave the land back to Yorkshire. They created a lovely garden here as well as a museum and small zoo. The zoo only lasted two months. One of the resident bears escaped. . .and the zoo closed. The animals were shipped to the London Zoo. There is also an observatory on the grounds as well as an astral clock. Before the railroads existed, people really didn’t need to know what time it was. But, when the railroads started up and people needed to catch a train at a certain time, they needed to know what time it was. So, pocket watches became popular. The problem was that there was not a way of synchronizing those watches. Enter the astral clock. People were charged 6p to set their watch by the astral clock.
We saw the multangular tower which is a twelve-sided tower. You could also see on the tower that it was built of 3 different types of stone – early Roman, later Roman and medieval. The red bricks are from the later Roman time. There were also 3 walls alongside the tower. One was modern, one was early Roman and one was later Roman. This area used to be the headquarters for the Roman military. In 422 the Romans left. Rome was crumbling and the armies were needed there.
Not much is known about the Dark Ages (which is why they are so named). In 700 the Anglo-Saxons showed up. In 866 the Vikings showed up. I think Jim said that the Viking chief was called Ivan the Boneless. I will have to look that up! The Vikings couldn’t pronounce the name of the city so called it Jorvik (Yorvik) which eventually became York.
By now we had walked back to where we began the tour. We entered the King’s Manor (built in 1500’s) which used to be the Abbot’s house and is one of the first brick buildings built in Europe. Part of it was constructed from stones taken from the abbey. It eventually became a royal residence (thanks, Henry VIII) and was lived in by Henry VIII, James VI of Scotland (aka James I of England) and Charles I (prior to his beheading, obviously!). It is Charles I’s coat of arms above the door. Like every royal residence there is a courtyard. Since York was located 5 days ride from London a royal Councillor of the North was appointed to keep an eye on things; his residence was here. Unfortunately he decided to put his own coat of arms above one of the doorways. Apparently it is treason to do so. He was beheaded to punish him for his crimes.
We went back out into Exhibition Square (where the Art Museum is located) which was created by knocking down portions of the abbey.
We were now ready to head into the actual old city of York which is surrounded by its own wall. The Vikings built this wall on mounds of dirt with wood walls on top. The wooden walls are now gone and the Victorians built stone walls to replace them. There are 4 “bars” around the city; you would probably call them gates. You could only enter the city by paying a toll at one of these bars. We entered through Bootham Bar which is from the north (Scotland is to the north). The most important gate is Mickelgate which is the southern gate (London is to the south). Even royals had to ask permission to enter through this gate. There are two heavy metal doors that are apparently to keep the pigeons out. You can also see the portcullis from inside the gate.
We exited the gate to walk on the esplanade built by the Victorians. The original wall did not have a walking path along it, but apparently the ladies of the time did not like getting their hems dirty walking along the grounds so a raised walkway was built for them.
We were able to get some excellent views of York Minster from the esplanade. This is one huge church! It has been rebuilt several times but the current abbey was built between 1220 and 1472. It is the largest gothic cathedral north of the Alps and the 4th largest in Europe. As a matter of fact, it is twice as large as Westminster Abbey. The leaning tower of Pisa could fit inside the central tower.
We exited the esplanade at the Monk Bar which had been rebuilt to become a fort. It has had various uses over time: a prison for Catholics, the city constable’s house, a library, Boy Scout headquarters, and others. It is now a Richard III museum. At the top of the fort you can see statues of men hurling boulders. The original metal gate is visible. The last time the gate was lowered was for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. It took 3 hours to lower the gate but 3 weeks to raise it back up again! It has not been lowered since.
As we walked through town Jim pointed out that the upper parts of the house stick out further than the lower floors. One of the reasons for this is because waste used to be dropped out the windows.
We passed by the Chapter House of the Minster which is where the business of the church takes place. Its conical roof is held up by a single wooden beam. Did you know that the Minster has its own police force?
The east wing of the minster has the largest stained glass window in the world. At least it would if the glass in there was actually stained glass. The stained glass is currently being renovated and has been replaced with plain glass while the work is taking place. The stained glass was removed during WWII to protect it. It took 10 years to replace! The abbey was never bombed during the war; it was too useful to the Germans as a navigation point so they left it alone. When the abbey was being built the black death wiped out all of the glaziers in the area. A glazier from Coventry was brought in to finish the project. It took him 40 years at a cost of 46£. He finished the work a year early so was paid a 10£ tip. This magnificent window cost a total of 56£!
In 625 this area was the capital of Northumbria. The King, Edwin, was a pagan but wanted to marry a young lady that was a Christian. The marriage could only take place if he converted. The minster was built to baptize him (a minster is a place to teach people what Christianity is about). He was killed 2 years later and the people in the area reverted back to paganism. However the minster was allowed to remain without being damaged which was a bit of a miracle apparently.
A building called St. Williams College is across the street behind the Minster. It was built in 1465 because the Chantry priests were out carousing and causing problems. The College was built and the priests were locked inside at night to keep them in.
Our two-hour tour was now officially over but Jim still had a couple of places to show us. We passed along some houses known as ladies’ row. Rich families lived here and had their own private church which is now known as Holy Trinity Goodramgate. And yes, they had their very own chantry priests. Notice the uniquely shaped Georgian pews here. Each family owned their own pew.
We passed through King’s Square, former site of the Viking King’s Palace. Although the Vikings were only here for 70 years their influence remains. There is a museum here that you can go to and learn about Viking history (the Jorvick).
Our final stop was the narrow lane known as the Shambles. The Shambles used to be a street of butchers. The butchers would live above their shops. Below, their products would be hung on hooks (they are still there) or displayed on shammels (where the name Shambles comes from). The street is narrow to keep the sun off of the meat; houses overhang for the same reason. There are two channels that run along each side of the street for blood and offal to be washed down. Diagonally in the Harry Potter books was inspired by the Shambles.
After the tour we headed back to York Roasts. I tried a Yorkshire Pudding wrap this time; it was scrumptious. Clayton had the regular Yorkshire Pudding. We spent the afternoon wandering around the streets of York. It is a very cute town. I can definitely see why it is a popular place to visit.
For dinner we ate at the Sheep’s Gallows, supposedly the most haunted location in York. No apparitions appeared. I had lasagna and was very amused to find that it was served with chips (french fries). Carb overload! No, I did not eat the potatoes.
We really enjoyed our visit to York. We will be heading to London for the last few days of our adventure. I can’t believe how quickly the time has passed!