City 50: York


The End of the Beginning

I'm seven and a half years into this project now, and still going strong.

How or why I'm still doing it, I'm not enirely sure. All is I can say is that I love doing the walks and my initial revulsion for cities has been replaced by an unbounded and unchecked enthusiasm. If I'm honest, I used to feel drained by them, by the shops and the people and the violence and sadness I sensed, that haunted so many inner city spaces.

That has changed because my thinking has changed.

Doing cities, like so many other things of value, can become an Art Form. Like a stage play you have to enter and exit at the right times. Too little time leaves you frustrated, too much time and you're exhausted. You also have to be selective in what you choose to look at and with whom.

Today is the Grand Old City of York, founded by the Romans as Eboracum in AD71. It's name,when you take various languages into consideartion means Place of the Yew Trees. Which is nice. And Yew are still to be found in and around the city, often standing as sentinels at the entance to graveyards.

However, the name that everybody knows and associates with York is Jórvík attributable to the Danes who conquered and took over the running of the city in 877. 

To bring in a little Scandinavian continuity to today's proceedings, I invite Walkabout Scotland Intern and Professional Photographer Anna Lindström, with whom I have been working closely for the last 11 weeks, aboard to take the snaps and provide inspiration for the unfolding narrative. 

Of the seven cities of Yorkshire, York is the oldest and has held city status the longest too. It is both a Roman and a Viking City.

York Location 1: The Station

Meetup with Swedish Photographer and Walkabout Intern Anna Lindström.

Getting there

It's a 4.00am start for me. I rise and bathe and leave the house at 5.15. York, from Lichfield, is 115 miles, a couple of hours, give or take, which speeds me up and across the A38, M1, A1 and A64 to York Station. It's dry, which is a blessing and, when the dawn finally breaks, overcast, which is not exactly a curse but not great either. Anna, I know, will want sun to illuminate her images. I say a little prayer in the hope that conditions will improve. 

Arriving, at the station around 7.30 I pay the £17 quid needed to park and head to the WHSmith Bookshop to kill time until Anna arrives at 8.36. She's coming down from Edinburgh which is perfect as York, a sort of capital of the North, is nicely poised between London and Edinburgh. It's a tale of two cities you might say.

In Smiths I read a book about Psychopaths by a Swedish Behaviourial Expert called Thomas Erikson and the hour flies swiftly by.

Down at the staion Anna's train arrives on Platform 5A on time and straight away I spot the red Stoke City Hat she claimed from Walkabout Scotland Boss Jon Haber. 

I do my first to-camera video about the station's history and when Anna has dropped her big bag off in the car we go back into the station for her to shoot the station proper on her big camera. It all works like a charm and after ten minutes we are back on the street, walking north-west towards the river.

York Location 2: The River Ouse

Armed with a printed map we head North East out of the station

A Place of Two Rivers

As well as being a place of Yew Trees, York is a city of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss. The Ouse once tidal, is the more dominant of the two and arguably the more picturesque. As well as being as pretty as a picture the Ouse has served as a sort of autobahn for ships, down the ages, bringing both wealth and strategic importance to the seat of York.

As I descend to the banks of the Ouse I am reminded of how most of the great cities of England are offset by great rivers: with London it's the Thames, with Worcestor it's the Severn and with Chester the River Deva. The River brings something life, energy and movement into a city. It both protects, serving as a natural barrier and provides, offering luscious acres for riverside pads and palaces.   

By the water's edge, as Anna snaps away, I watch the rowing boats gliding past me, reminded of the great annual contest bewteen the University Cities of Oxford and Cambridge. So much tradition survives here, so much history too which is fine so long as the culture looks as much to the future as to its past. 

York Location 3: The Lendal Bridge

Dating from 1863 the Lendal Bridge replaced an old rope ferry and was used as a murder site in Brookside spinoff Damon and Debbie.

A Bridge Over the River Ouse

Heading back up the steps by which we descended to the river's edge, we strut over Lendal Bridge and move further into the city proper. Plaques and later research reveal that the bridge replaced an old rope ferry by which means you or the Ferryman would haul yourself across the flow.

But for the modern City of York with its growing population, this was  simply too slow and so the bridge that occupies the current site was constructed and finally opened in 1863. What I love about the bridge is that it is a work of art in and of itself. Not only in its proportions but in its ornamentation. I point out to Anna the white rose, symbol of the House of York that adorns the bridge across its span and the statue of the blessed virgin who keep its users safe from harm.  

Lendal Tower, which sits on the Eastern shore of the Bridge was designed by Thomas Perry who also designed Westminster Bridge and, as I mention in the video, started off life as a toll house and latterly became a pumping station.

Everything changes. Everything stays the same. 

York Location 4: York Public Library

A pretty Georgian confection, the library is well situated and alluring both inside and out.

Getting the Gossip

Loitering in the station has chilled my blood, so after the Bloody Tower we head into the B and B Bakeshop, a well appointed noshery with comfortable chairs and cosy nooks. Once there, we share a toasted sandwich breakfast with halloumi and salad and sip tea like a pair of old merchants.

Half way through brekkie, a lady called Pam arrives and immediately we begin chatting and I ask her about York's Highlights. Despite living a mile from the City Centre for most of her life, she is somewhat stumped but with a little prompting extols the virtues of Betty's Cafe (where you'll need to queue dear) and the Shambles (of which more anon.)

When friend Jayne arrives,they confer and exchange notes. COVID has claimed the scalps of a few big chain stores like John Lewis and York is not the Great Shopping Town it once was, they agree. Why don't you try the library Jayne suggests and so we do?

Inside is not an option, so we shoot in the grounds and enjoy the stately composure of the Georgian edifice constructed in 1794 in the reign of the Mad King George. I am drawn to a cross section of outer wall where numerous strata of the cities historical phases are exposed and on display, all the way down to the Roman strata.

Beyond that we travel through 8000+ years of human history arriving smack bang in the middle of the Mesolithic Age. 

York Location 5: The Wall

A medieval structure, built piecemeal, the Wall gives you an elevated view of the city and allows you to nose what's going on in other people's gardens.

Seeking Direction and Finding the Wall.

With each new city, I learn new stuff but I also do some of the old stuff I've done from the beginning like visiting Tourist Information Centres, as much for the personalities on display as for the maps and leaflets that present the numerous cityscapes as a banquet of possibilities. 

We slip inside asking whether masks are required or not. They are not but they are preffered. I don a mask and try to engage the attention of a pink-jumpered attendant but he is in full flow and not to be disturbed so I turn to another, a lady called Ann who is immediately engaging and informative. 

She points out various must sees like the Castle, The Minster and the Shambles and refers, as did Pam and Jayne, to the rising prominance of the Monks Cross Park and Ride scheme and Retail Park. It's a mixed blessing that retail park; it draws people into York but away from the city centre, she says, hence the dissertions of some of those major stores.

We thank her and then I spot a yellow lego train on a window sill and am reminded of the Lego Exhibition I saw in Coventry. Anna snaps me and then we follow Ann's directions to the steps (proceeding from one of four towers) that lead us up onto the Wall. The Romans built the first Wall in AD 71, but after them, everyone had a go, from the Emperor Constantine to the Danes to eminant Victorians and beyond. The key thing to understand is that unlike the Chester Walls, the York Walls  are broken and incomplete, as once impassible marshland and its two meandering rivers served as natural defences to invading armies.

I give the World My Richard...

...but the world won't listen. (Sob)

I've got a hunch this might not work....

But back into the now.

Anna, very feline in her movements and sensibility, loves the lofted elevation of the wall and, with the curiosity of the cat, looks down into the numerous gardens and sheltered nooks that present themselves in endless profusion. Above it all, the Minster dominates the skyline and she shoots it and me from many angles. There is so much to enjoy and I love the excitement with which she works. Like me, she has an insatiable appetite for the New. 

A highlight we both enjoy is the heated geodesic domes in a pub garden. We chat with a barman who says they can be rented for the princely sum of £20. Seems reasonable I think and off we trot to the Richard the Third exhibition which is sadly closed but all the excuse I need to launch into the opening speech from Shakespeare's play about the deranged, yet entertaining hunchback.

Now is the Winter of our discontent etc.   

York Location 6: The Chocolate Story

A pretty pricy Chocolate Museum. £15 to enter? Really? Come on York, you can do better.

A Chocolate Moment

Dropping off the wall, I give the world my Richard only to find the world won't listen. There's a model shop that I'm drawn to that reminds me of similiar emporiums in Chester and Worcester and then we're off again, barrelling down High and Low Petersgate, past the Minster and into town.

An old gent who sees me scrutinising my map of the city comes over to offer help. Below the Cross Keys I ask him, what in his opinion makes a city work and after a brief reflection he tells me there are two key componants. Accessibility and Friendliness. I like this and comment that everyone cerainly got the memo about friendliness because everywhere we have been, we've found people willing to chat and help.

The worst thing about the city is the Council says the gent when pressed. They seem to have a knack for making the wrong decisions at every turn he asserts. He is particularly distressed by the anti terrorist 'bollards' dropped at the end of the Shambles. They are driving people out of the city not bringing them in. It' disgrace, he says wheeling, his bike away and wishing me well.

On we cruise, down charmingly individual,shop-lined streets until we arrive at the Chocolate Story.  Enthused, I do my piece to camera and then head inside only to see that its £15 to go in. As exciting as the Chocolate Wars of York undoubtedly were I'm not that bothered.

We go in by a different door and choose six expensive chocolates (three each) from beneath the glass counter and chat with the young attendants who are enthusiastic ansd committed adverts for the Youth of York. They answer our questions readily and wish us well on our travels. 

York Location 7: The Shambles

Meat Market no longer, the Shambles is a dream for shoppers and photographers.

It's a Shambles!

And so to the jewel in the crown, at least for me, and possibly for Anna. The Shambles, a street that gets mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, albeit not directly. The remaining timber framed buildings which lend the street its character date back to the 14th century.

Originally the Shambles was an open air slaughterhouse and Butcher's Row where the meat was draped for all prospective buyers to inspect what it was that was on offer. You can almost smell the blood and the ordure, the commingled scents of death and business and hear the fights and threats as dodgy deals are done; so charged is the air.

Saint Margeret Clitheroe, medieval forebear of Northern Comic Jimmy Clitheroe, has a shrine here and behind the main street a modern market can be found. 

I am energised by the street and both Anna and I make the connection with Harry Potter and Diagon Alley as we shamble down the cobbles  towards the Anti Terrorist Bollards and Tea.

York Location 7B: The Shop That Must Not Be Named

Located near the far end of the Shambles is a store chock full of Harry Potter Merchandise with brooms aplenty and charming shop assistants.

Hebden and Loch Shiel

Towards the top end of the Shambles, our best suspicions are confirmed as we find The Shop That Must Not Be Named, a Potter store that reminds me of two I visited earlier this year with my Godsons in Edinburgh. 

Potter is still big business and everyone in the store is a Potter afficionado, knowing the differances between a Nimbus 2000 and a Firebolt 2001. The store attendant is a lovely, lively young lady who tells us she had to pass a quiz to get the job. Instantly I wonder what I would have scored. Anna and I, in entering the store, are both reminded of recent trips of ours to Scotlandm where we visited the Glenfinnan Viaduct at the head of Loch Shiel where the Hippogriff flies. We promise to rewatch the films in their entirety as soon as humanly possible.  

We drop out of the store, shoot a video and then head to the Hebden Tea Company across the way to sample Dragon's Blood Tea or some such concoction. Again the assistant is charmingly helpful remarking how prohibitions on building height (nothing can be higher than the Minster) have helped the city to retain its allure.

In leaving he presses free bags of tea into our hands and waves us off.  

York Location 8: The Minster

A back alley view of York's most iconic building. The tallest and most eye catching cat on the catwalk.

Mincing Past the Minster

The Minster is a supermodel and she knows it. Knows or rather thinks that everyone comes to York just to admire her and swoon at her magnificence. She dominates the skyline at every turn, especially the sections of the Wall we walked. And what better form of propaganda for any institution or organisation to have a building that is the equivalent of that painting.

You know the one; the one whose eyes follow you around the room. The one you cannot escape. 

There's been a Christian settlement or building on this site since forever. Since at least 314 AD. My old friend Chad, whom I played in 2013, in a piece by local playwright David Titley called The Meeting of Ways, was bishop here for a few years before being recalled to my home city of Lichfield.

York was definitely the better gig, but Chad was humble and holy and no doubt went where he was sent. Anyway he died in about 670AD and they didn't even start on the modern edifice until circa 1220. Even then it took over 250 years to build. I reflect on how many generations of masons and builders were consumed by that timeline. The scale and ambition of the cathedral age is dazzling, almost beyond belief, and what they built still stuns centuries later. Will any modern building be able to make the same claim?  

Regardless of your religiosity or lack of it, the Minster rocks. 

And it always will.

York Location 8b: The Minster Gate Bookshop

Nice pan in there by Anna.

What is the matter you read my Lord?

Of much humbler provenance than the Minster is the bookshop beside it. Or rather nestled in an alley below it. We queue to get in and a passing gent leaving the establishment comments how wonderful the place is.

They are fading away though I say, replaced by the drowning river of commerce that is Amazon.

He nods in agreement, both of us wistful. These places are haunted only by cranks and conoisseurs and despite the good intentions of the faithful their numbers dwindle. Rents are too high, sales too low. How can they possibly compete?

We enter, mask up, squirt antiseptic on our hands and ascend to the second floor. There I read a book about Carl Jung's library and Anna finds a charming wee book about cows. I buy it for her as a thank you for all she has done for me and for Walkabout and we begin to think about winding down.     

York Location 9: The Botanist

Is that food or Modern Art?

Closing the Circle

Its almost 13.15 and time has been kind; it has crawled by and because our day has been so full with glorious things to observe anS do it's feel complete. Or almost. Our stomachs are beginning to rumble and growl and so we pound the pavement looking for options.

Betty's Tearoom has a queue down the street so we move on and I let Anna lead with her instincts. Like a cheetah, she pads and seeks and evetually finds the restaurant we need. Her instincts are impeccable as the space, the service and the food is exceptional.

She orders a haloumi kebab which hangs like a bat from a gibbet whilst I sip coffee and eat a delightful cheesecake. At 14.00 we settle up and head off back to the car. There is a two hour drive ahead of us but before we get there we all pulled into one last building called the Judge's Lodging by a very persuasive waitress.

Dating from 1711 its as elegant a piece of Queen Anne as you'll ever see. We go up and over the spiral staircase and along the landing, admiring the oak and the chandeliers as we go. Back in the bar there is notice bill to say that Old Dick Turpin was tried and convicted there in 1739 at the York Assizes.

Poor Dick I think and hit the street.

Anna snip snaps away until the very end when we reclaim the car, start her up and head for home. 

And my conclusions?

York is definitely a keeper. Unique and elegant, friendly and accessible. As COVID recedes and the country opens up again, there are far worse places to find yourself on a Sunday affernoon. Or any other day of the week for that matter. 

York Post Script and After Thought

One last location and then the car and home. Y is for York and Q is for Quality. And York is definitely Quality.


Marilyn Masters

19.11.2021 10:20

This is a city that I visited many times with Ken and saw all the places you describe. Many good memories revised. Great photos Anna

Stuart Goodwin

19.11.2021 10:23

I loved visiting York and I’m glad you went there together. Do you have any photos?

Anna Lindström

18.11.2021 21:38

Thank you so much for letting me tag along on this amazing day in York, Stu!
This was a new way of exploring a city and I absolutely loved it.

Stuart Goodwin

18.11.2021 21:33

All photographs are copyright of Anna Lindström.

Stuart Goodwin

Avery satisfying collaboration with a great photographer and videographer.

18.11.2021 21:26

Latest comments

14.10 | 16:13

I know. I see that it's all over but concealed. Not part of a cities authorised biography or daily propaganda.

14.10 | 16:09

Ah thia latter letter reminds me of a man Iknew in Lichfield - now departed totally - he too was being hounded and oppressed and taken to court for nothing. See it isn't just Leeds!!

14.09 | 02:52

A joy to read Stu. Not only an expert tour guide (I have walked the Scottish Highlands with you twice) but a masterful storyteller who merges time and place into a kaleidoscope of imagery & metaphor.

13.09 | 17:29

Its so lovely to hear from you Mike and Jan. Your offer is very kind as are your memories of the trip we shared.

Share this page