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Walking the City Walls

A trip to the city of York

Photo by Karl Moran on Unsplash

I have just returned from a few days visiting the city of York. It is a small city by British standards, but that fact is in the visitors favor as it is easy to explore on foot. History made this city what it is and around every corner there are views of ancient buildings with the horizon dominated by the imposing shape of York Minster, a cathedral that attracts thousands of visitors every year.

The image above is of Clifford’s Tower. Unfortunately it wasn’t open to visitors when we were there, but was due to open a few days later after a 2 year refurbishment project. The slopes of the hill beneath the tower were bright with blooming daffodils in memory of the Jews who were massacred there in Medieval times. Many of the trapped people chose to commit suicide rather than face murder. The entire Jewish population of York died here in 1190.

Photo by Jeremy Stewardson on Unsplash

There has been a place of worship where York Minster stands since the 7th century. That fact alone is hard to get your head around and it is true that walking through the entrance to this magnificent building is to step back in time. The most overwhelming features of this building are its sheer size and the extraordinary multitude of medieval stained glass windows. The work of conserving these beautiful works of art is an ongoing task requiring technicians skilled in ancient glass care. How have they survived? We were told that each and every one of them were removed and stored safely during the World Wars to be replaced when it was safe to do so.

My companion remarked that the fact she found hardest to accept was how the original architect was able to design such an extraordinary building without any new technology and that the building should still stand hundreds of years later. Each block of stone was cut precisely to fit and was placed carefully in its designated place by workmen without hard hats, who climbed wooden ladders and could never have envisaged modern metal scaffolding.

After a recuperative cup of coffee and a pastry, we set off to walk the city walls. Though not completely intact, York city walls are 3.4km long. Walking the walls involves descending and ascending stone staircases frequently as the walls have over the centuries been breached to allow the passage of roads through them. The motor car has been prioritized to the detriment of the preservation of history (a general statement that is unfortunately true across the world).

So we proceeded on our up and down journey. The views were varied and not all photogenic. What did the city planners think they were doing when they approved the building of modern generic apartments next to the historic walls? And how do the residents feel about people walking by peering into their bedroom windows?

author’s own image

Peering into unknown people’s gardens fed my natural curiosity. Many old and beautiful trees still stand next to the walls and squirrels climb through their branches. Gardens in cities give me a lot of pleasure. Seeing how people carve out their own green spaces and grow beauty in confined quarters helps me believe that humanity has enough resilience to survive all the challenges that we are facing. Even the neglected gardens have their own intrigue with untapped potential.

author’s own image

Walking the walls is a journey through history, stepping into the footsteps of thousands who have gone before. There is a sadness that buildings and parts of the wall have been lost over the years, and we must try to conserve what is left. Seeing the videos coming out of Ukraine and the destruction that man is capable of should remind us of our roles in caring for this Earth. Of course people are given priority, but we should not lose sight of the importance of our history and the ecological features of trees and seasonal growth, the relevance of nature even in cities for our wellbeing.

York, I will visit you again sometime.



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