Sunday, 7 February 2016

York: the City walls

Bootham Bar

York first had walls under the Romans in about 71AD, but the ones you can see today mainly date from the 12th to 14th centuries and were reinforced during the Civil War. By the 19th century they were felt by some to be an encumbrance and there were calls for their demolition. This produced a campaign for their survival and the outcome was that a programme of restoration coupled with some new gaps being introduced to allow easier access for traffic.

We started our walk at Bootham Bar, with the Minster towers in the background. Just as York's streets are confusingly often called Gate, its gates are know as Bars. Bootham Bar is one of the four main gates and the lowest storey dates from the 11th century, the upper storeys from the 15th.

You climb the stairs visible in the photo and walk through the tower to join an initially very narrow walkway. We had to wait while a tour party came the other way - what must it be like in high summer? This section of wall was built in Victorian times on the original ramparts.

At the north corner the wall turns sharply right and there are clearer views of the Minster, with the back of the Treasurer's House in Minster Yard in the foreground. The pointed roof belongs to the wonderful Chapter House which we visited yesterday.

In the next section, alongside Lord Mayor's Walk, there is a nice view across to the Tudor-style buildings of the York St John University. Soon after, you reach the second main gate, Monk Bar, the tallest and strongest of the four. It was built in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Not long after this there is an interruption to the walls and you have to descend to ground level at a busy road junction - suddenly you could be anywhere. This area was once a large marshy lake, which prevented wall building and attack alike. There is however a wonderful industrial survival, the massive chimney known as the Destructor, which belonged to an incinerator for the city's rubbish.

The path follows the River Foss for a while and the walls resume at the unprepossessing Red Tower. This was built round 1500 and is the only one built of brick. The land level was raised here in Victorian times, making the tower seem more squat than it originally was.

This section looks over rather suburban housing, but soon leads to a medieval gem Walmgate Bar. The view from inside the walls is very surprising with a rather lovely loggia-like Elizabethan extension, now housing a cafe.

Outside, there is the one remaining barbican (the other Bars had theirs removed in the early 19th century).

At Fishergate Bar, a little further on there is a handsome plaque to commemorate repairs completed in 1487.

From the next section of wall we spotted this old shop front with art nouveau style lettering.

The wall ends briefly at Fishergate Postern Tower, which was built to defend a narrow pedestrian entrance.  We were now near the site of York Castle and we had a fine view of Clifford's Tower, the ruined keep of the original Norman castle, which we saw yesterday from the town side. It seemed to be very popular.

We crossed the River Ouse and rejoined the walls, to soon reach a long straight section, with grassy banks on both sides. These are planted with daffodils which apparently make a famous display in early spring. They were just beginning to come into flower.

This section ends with the imposing Micklegate Bar, once the main entrance to the city: it guards the main road south.

Soon after Micklegate Bar the walls turn right towards the River Ouse and the Minster, with modern offices and a large hotel on the inside and the Railway Station and another large hotel on the outside.

Walking across Lendal Bridge, we were struck by the very decorative lamps.

The final section goes through Museum Gardens, with the best surviving stretch of Roman wall and a Roman tower.

Conditions: bright at first, becoming progressively more grey.

Distance: 2 miles.

Rating: five stars.

More information: Simin Mattam - A walking guide to York's City Walls. (Very comprehensive and informative, but I didn't like the way it was organised.)

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