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York Minster from the corner of the city wall above Lord Mayors Walk
York Minster from the corner of the city wall above Lord Mayors Walk

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Route No. 181 -
Wednesday 24 May 2006
Circuit of York City Walls - 5km
York . . .

Route map from OS Open Space service

Map: OS Historical Map & Guide Viking and Medieval York
with historical material by York Archeological Trust at 1:2500
(ISBN 0-319-29016-6)


Bootham Bar with the towers of York Minster rising behind
Bootham Bar with the towers of York Minster rising behind

The weather had been very wet overnight and there were still some heavy showers about. One was just starting so we went into the art gallery coffee shop and had a very nice coffee whilst the shower got on with its stuff outside. When the sun came out again we set off to climb the steps onto the city walls at Bootham Bar, the gateway through the walls from the north (the A19). Inside the tower above the gate there is the old portcullis still in tact.

I'm still far from fighting fit but Jim, my neighbour, had offered to to tke me out today, so I decided to attempt a circuit of the City Walls in York. We drove the short distance to the York ring road and took advantage of the free parking to get the park & ride service into the city centre. We got off at the Museum Gardens just after 11am and walked round the corner to the City Art Gallery opposite Bootham Bar (Here's where you have to get used to the jargon; bar=gate in York, and gate=street, OK?) I think its all to do with the Vikings!

The portcullis inside the tower of Bootham Bar
The portcullis inside the tower of Bootham Bar

York Minster from the City Walls
York Minster from the City Walls
Path along the top of the walls behind the properties fronting onto Gillygate
Path along the top of the walls behind the properties fronting onto Gillygate

Following the wall around the Minster grounds
Following the wall around the Minster grounds

There were some lovely views of the minster through the fresh green leaves and the spring blossoms. The walkway on the walls took us alongside Lord Mayors Walk to Monk gate.

We were walking clockwise round the walls and this took us round the perimeter of the Minster grounds with the traditional residences and gardens of the Civic and Clerical high officials of York.

Following the wall around the Minster grounds
Following the wall around the Minster grounds

The chapter house and minster from the city wall
The chapter house and minster from the city wall
Steps to street level from Monkgate Bar
Steps to street level from Monkgate Bar

At Monkgate Bar (translated that's the gate in the wall across Monk Street) the weather was again looking very threatening, so we walked about 100m along Monkgate to the National Trust shop & cafe near the Minster. We stopped there for another coffee and watched the shower outside the window until the sun came out again.

Monkgate Bar
Monkgate Bar

City wall approaching Peasholme Green
City wall approaching Peasholme Green

River Foss by Foss Islands Road
River Foss by Foss Islands Road

The Red Tower where the wall restarts
The Red Tower where the wall restarts

From Monkgate we walked along the top of the wall to its end at Peasholme Green. There never was any wall beyond here because the city was protected by a great marsh where the River Foss was backed up from the river Ouse. The wall starts again at the Red Tower on Foss Islands Road. It's about 400m to walk from Peasholme Green to the Red Tower and we rejoined the wall there.

Walmgate Bar with its barbican
Walmgate Bar with its barbican

From Walmgate we continued along the wall to Fishergate Bar. This is a smaller gate into the city and I didn't climb down to street level to take a photo here. Outside the wall here is the York Barbican centre where York's only large swimming pool has been closed (can you believe a city the size of York with no decent public swimming pool?).

This section of the wall ends at Fishergate Tower. Again this is because the city was protected by the water around York Castle where the castle museum now stands.

 

From the Red Tower we followed the wall to Walmgate Bar. This is the only bar to have its barbican, that's the fortified entrance way that sticks out in front of the wall. A few years ago an archeological dig in Walmgate found the boundaries of the Viking plots where shops and houses had been built in Viking York and amazingly those ancient boundaries coinsided exactly with the present day plot boundaries in Walmgate.

Looking back along the wall to Walmgate Bar
Looking back along the wall to Walmgate Bar

Looking along the wall towards Fishergate Bar
Looking along the wall towards Fishergate Bar

Fishergate Tower
Fishergate Tower

The old watermill reconstructed on this site as a tourist attraction
The old watermill reconstructed on this site as a tourist attraction
PS I have no idea what the UFO top right is.
Family of geese in the grounds of the Castle Museum
Family of geese in the grounds of the Castle Museum

From Fishergate Tower we followed the road round to Clifford's Tower then crossed the road into the gardens by the River Ouse.

Cliford's Tower
Cliford's Tower

Feral pidgeons enjoying the tourists' offerings
Feral pidgeons enjoying the tourists' offerings
Bluebells on the wall embankment
Bluebells on the wall embankment
River Ouse in spate from Skeldergate Bridge
River Ouse in spate seen from Skeldergate Bridge

Entrance to the wall at the end of Skeldergate
Entrance to the wall at the end of Skeldergate

We crossed the river over Skeldergate Bridge and rejoined the walkway along the wall from the little tower at the end of Skeldergate.

The waterlevel in the River Ouse was quite high, lapping over the riverside walk, but not a serious flood in spite of several days of non-stop rain over the entire Yorkshire dales catchment area.

Walkway along the wall above Nunnery Lane
Walkway along the wall above Nunnery Lane

We followed the wall along Nunnery Lane to Micklegate Bar. You can stay at the walkway level through the bar across the road, but I walked down to street level to get a photo of the bar and it's well worth a good look anyway. The plaque gives a good flavour of its gruesome history.

Walkway along the wall above Nunnery Lane
Walkway along the wall above Nunnery Lane

Micklegate Bar
Micklegate Bar
Heraldic arms displayed on Micklegate Bar
Heraldic arms displayed on Micklegate Bar
York Minster from the City Wall approaching Lendal Bridge
York Minster from the City Wall approaching Lendal Bridge

From Micklegate Bar we continued along the wall to the railway station from where we could just see the Yorkshire Wheel over the station roofs. We were nearly at the end of our circuit. The Minster came into view as we approached Lendal Bridge where the wall ends at Barker Tower. The wall restarts across the river at Lendal Tower but this short section up to the museum gardens is not open to the public, so we walked along the road back to the Museum Gardens where we had started.

Lendal Tower
Lendal Tower

Barker Tower
Barker Tower

We crossed the road to a tea shop where we had a very welcome bacon roll and a pot of tea. The whole route had been just under 5km and including our three coffee stops it had taken us almost 3 hours. Well I did say that I'm not fighting fit at present. In fact I was feeling pretty sore by the end but it was so much better that sitting at home. Thanks Jim!

Background Notes:
It's funny how you tend to overlook the wonderful places that are most familiar. York with its city walls is a case in point. I've lived close to York for 30 years but I very rarely visit the city to do touristy things. Today I'm trying to put that right with a circular walk of 5km, that about 3.5miles, around the city walls of York. The original wall was around the Roman town of Eboracum and that wall existed until the late 800's when the Vikings arrived in York. They buried the remains of the Roman wall in an earth bank that was topped off with a tall fence of pointed wooden stakes or pallisade. In the 1200's and 1300's the medieval stone wall that we see today was built part on the Viking bank and around the medieval city. Obviously you can start anywhere that's convenient to you around the circuit, but I think a good place to begin is in Exhibition Square in front of the York City Art Gallery - it's free to visit the gallery and there's a coffee shop with a nice view out across the square to Bootham Bar. I think that it's worth pausing here to note a couple of words that go back to Viking and Medieval times. The word 'Bar' crops up around the walls and it simply means a gate through the walls. It's a nickname based on the bars used to lock the gates, and that brings us to the other word that occurs in street names, and that is 'Gate' which simply means Street. Bearing that in mind our walk starts by crossing the road from Exhibition Square to climb onto the walls at Bootham Bar. Running around the top of the walls is a walkway with a parapet for protection from any attackers outside the walls. Inside Bootham Bar is a portcullis that could be lowered down to close off this gate in the wall. We follow the walkway along the wall between the Minster gardens and Gilligate & Lord Mayor's walk. There's a lovely view of the Minster and Chapter House across the gardens from the walkway that brings us to Monkgate Bar where you can descend to the street down a steep stone staircase inside the Bar. From Monkgate Bar we continue on the walkway along the wall towards Peasholme Green. On the grass bank outside the wall is a red brick igloo. It's an ice house. We've come across them before on these walks and they were filled with clean compacted snow in the winter to provide a supply of ice all the year round to preserve food. At Peasholme green we reach an end of the wall. Here there was the great impenetrable marsh where the river Foss met the river Ouse. Water levels in the Ouse are higher than the Foss so water backed up along the Foss forming this permanent marshland. These days we have the Foss Flood barrier and water from the Foss is pumped into the Ouse to prevent flooding. We walk along Fossgate to the Red Tower. This is where the wall starts again on the otherside of the river Foss marsh. Again we can walk along the walkway at the top of the wall to Walmgate Bar. This gate in the wall across Walmgate is the only gate that still has its defensive barbican intact. Originally each main gate had one of these structures as an added defence. From Walmgate we continue around the wall to Fishergate Tower. Here the wall ends again. This time the city was defended by the waters of the Castle moat, the river Ouse and the river Foss. We make our way across the river Ouse at Skeldergate Bridge and just across the river there is a little tower at the end of Skeldergate where we rejoin the walk around the walls. This section of the wall leads us alongside Nunnery Lane up to Micklegate Bar. The main route South passed through this gate and the heads of executed traitors were displayed from the towers on spikes for the crows to peck at and clean the bones. We walk on the walkway along the wall past the railway station and on to the end of the wall at the river Ouse where the river itself was the defence. There's a great view across the river to the Minster as you walk this section of the wall, then it's across Lendle bridge. The wall restarts on the other side of the river at Lendle Tower but this part of the wall from Lendle Tower to the Museum Gardens is not open to the public so we end our walk on the pavement along the roadside back to Exhibition Square where we started. And finally one great thing about this walk is that you are never far from a coffee shop or a pub for refreshments along the way.

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