I was part of a group of friends that gathered in Manchester in September 2000. We rented an 18 seat mini bus and did some day trips around the area. On one of those days, 8 of us decided to rent an 8 seat mini van and drive over to the historic city of York. I'd been there once, years before as part of an organized bus tour and one other of our group had been there many times but it was new for the rest of the group.
We headed off cross country on the M62 to Yorkshire. The drive takes about an hour and a half, not much difference to the train journey from Piccadilly station to York station. This is a busy highway and the main west-east artery for that area.
We arrived in York near to noon and parked in a Park and Ride lot. The city of York discourages traffic in the historic center and provides several of these car parks with free parking and a cheap return fare on a city transit bus into the center of the city, about 10 minutes away. We picked up tourist brochures at the bus stop and perused them on the way in and picked a 300 year old pub, called the Punch Bowl for our lunch break which we would do first to shore up our resources for an afternoon of exploring this lovely quaint city.
The pub is inside the pedestrian section of York on a street called Stonegate. Many of the medieval streets in York are ended with "gate" and there are four old entrances to the city still standing but these are not called gates, but "bars". Micklegate Bar is probably the most photographed. Much of old York is still circled by city walls as well. The pub was low ceilinged and half beamed with several small rooms. We managed to find two tables for four each and ordered a meal. I had shepherd's pie and when it came, hot and steamy with real beef and gravy and creamy buttery mashed potatoes on top, I thought I had died and gone to heaven! The only thing that really took away from the old pub was a gambling machine behind us that was chirping and beeping and playing the theme tune from the cartoon series The Simpson's! Indignantly we decided they ought not to be allowed in a pub like that but I suppose competition wins out.
Well fed and watered (ok, "ale'd") we wandered down Stonegate, admiring the shops and architecture and narrow alleys and lanes leading off the road. Looking up past street level is entertaining too because there are often lots of little details on the corners of the buildings. One photo I took is of a plaster devil painted all red. This road led across St. Helen's square and farther on to the grandiose York Minster, a soaring gothic cathedral that guards the city.
It seems to have more light inside than Westminster Abbey in London and has less of the memorials and tombs than Westminster does as well though of course there are quite a few still. The stained glass windows in the nave and transepts are wonderful, soaring tall and perpendicular to echo the pillars and buttresses and the vaulted ceilings way above you will guarantee a crick in your neck as you gawp up in amazement. You may take photos but are required to buy a photo "license", basically that's just another way to raise money for the upkeep as there is no entrance fee, only a donation box at the door. You can climb up in the tower or go down into the crypt for another fee but I didn't do that. I had a look around but I had been here before in 1993 so I didn't spend a lot of time exploring. I had a look in the gift shop and then decided I better find a toilet. Outside, I saw Alan and told him what I was in search of and followed a sign down High Petergate to a public toilet. Well I followed the sign but I guess didn't go far enough because I was in despair of finding it so sneaked into a pub and used theirs. The pub was a few doors away from Bootham Bar and I found out later that the toilet was just outside the archways of the Bar.
Back with the group, we set off for the Shambles via Lower Petergate. At that point everyone was oohing and ahing over the medieval houses and narrow streets. I thought, just you wait! About halfway down there we saw a busker on the street entertaining the tourists. But we were astonished to see that his musical instrument was a full sized upright piano! Now that's what we call trying hard! Mind you he must have been doing well at it because he had a mobile phone on his hip.
Back to York. When we turned the corner into the Shambles Alan and I watched everyone's jaw drop! The street is about 6 or 8 feet across with a narrow pavement on either side. This used to be the area where the butchers had their abattoirs and shops and under the overhang of some of the houses you can still see meat hooks. Near the middle of the street are several houses that lean and twist and the upper floor levels are leaned into the street so far that two people could lean out the windows and shake hands across the gap! All the houses have shops in them now whether they did originally or not which of course does take away from the authenticity of them. One of the most twisted little houses belonged to Margaret Clitherow and her husband, a local merchant in Elizabethan times. Margaret was a secret Catholic and then not so secret and it got her into trouble because she was caught hiding priests in her house. She was in and out of prison several times and eventually executed for her treasonous activities. Inside the house where she lived is a little altar and shrine to her. She has been canonized as well and is a saint. We ducked in there for a look. Duck is the right word too, as the doorway was barely high enough for me to get in and I'm 5'8.
Down the street a little farther we explored and photographed. Connie found a little lane called "Hornpot Lane" leading to a little cemetery and church, Trinity Church, a little bastion of peace and quiet only yards away from the busy tourist track of the Shambles. She scooted down there for a look while I found a market down another lane behind the Shambles. I didn't linger however as I wanted to keep with the group.
Finally at the end of the Shambles we regrouped and checked our maps. Most of the group wanted to go to the Jorvik Viking museum. I had thought I would go to the larger York castle museum. We made our way down another short street but I spied some shops that caught my interest and changed my mind and decided to shop instead. I figured the museum would be too big to see much in the time we were going to stay so shopping suited me. Christine came back and joined me. Later, we found the Jorvik museum and had a cup of tea in the tea room though the others were long gone. We wandered outside the pedestrian area and discovered a long yellowed half beamed building which was the Merchant Adventurer's Hall, a sort of guild hall but it was closed by this time. The sky, which had become overcast by the time we got to the Minster, had darkened a bit and we thought it might rain.
We made our way to the museum situated beside what little remains of the old York castle, Clifford's tower, sitting on a grassy mound. The others had been inside exploring and taking photos of the view over York. We met up and went to the museum but it was just closing so we browsed the gift shop for a few minutes. It's nearly 5 by this time so we decided to cross the road to the bus stop, having walked ourselves out. A short wait in the riverside park where the River Ouse was actually flooding part of the park near it's banks and then back to the mini bus.
The drive back was quieter as we were tired but happy. A bit more traffic and we got back into Manchester and to the hotel by 7.