In the latest ROSL Recommends column, Events Coordinator and Marketing Executive Jessica Harris-Edwards reveals her love for the city of York.
What made you want to visit York?
The first time I visited York was actually for a university open day, and the city was definitely one of the big reasons I chose the University of York – especially as I was hoping to read History.
Tell us about the city
Founded by the Romans in 71AD, it became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, and later the capital of the medieval kingdom of Northumbria and Jorvik (which is just York in Old Norse, those Vikings were super creative). It’s been a centre rallying point for rebellions across the years, was where the famous Guy Fawkes was born, and where the dastardly Dick Turpin met his end. It’s been an ecclesiastical power, and the site of massacres. What I really love about the history is that it is in every road and street you walk down – you can’t go ten paces without stumbling on some wonderful reminder of days gone by.
What is the best way to spend a day in the city?
It can be quite daunting really thinking about how to do York in a day, but even though there is so much here, it is also very small. You can easily walk from one side to the other in 30 minutes.
Depending on how early you get up, I always suggest taking a walk around the walls. York is one of the few cities left with its original wall, and it offers a great way to get a glimpse of the city's iconic monuments. Doing it first thing means you also get to see it in the throes of dawn, but if you don’t want to get up early then I suggest saving your walk for the evening, because the view of the sunset over York is a breath-taking way to end your day.
The Minster is a must if you visit York, and it’s best to go here early to escape the crowds of tourists. The age and nature of the building means that it is constantly under reconstruction, but they do so section by section meaning the whole building is never covered in scaffolding. The workers have displays showing how they use traditional and sometimes medieval masonry techniques to ensure the minster stays as the piece of exemplary medieval architecture it is. You’re welcome to go inside and for an extra cost you can go up to the top of the spires and look out over the city. Outside there’s a statue of Emperor Constantine, on the spot where he was crowned Emperor.
Take a walk down The Shambles, one of the oldest streets in the city for a real glimpse at life in the 14th Century. It’s become popular recently because a lot of Harry Potter fans say it reminds them of Diagon Alley. However, it used to be the butcher’s alleyway, where they would hang up all their meat for the city folk to inspect before buying. You can still see the hooks outside some shops, and the gutters are there to drain away the blood.
York Castle can be seen from wherever you are in the city, just as William the Conqueror intended. After he put down a particularly bad rebellion, William built the castle as a reminder to the people in the North that he wasn’t going anywhere. It doesn’t cost much to go inside and up into the battlements, and again offers great strategic views over the city. You’ll also learn about the castle's dark history, from the torturing of enemies of the crown to the massacre of the city's Jewish population.
The King's Manor is a special place for me because lucky York students get to study in here if they select Medieval modules, so naturally I spent all my time here. It’s actually King Henry VIII’s old manor house, which he used when visiting the northern provinces on his tours. It’s open to the public and you can just wander in.
In terms of places to eat, you’re rather spoiled. York is renowned for having a pub for every day of the year and all of them offer cheap and hearty Yorkshire grub. But if you’re looking to do something iconic to York then check out Betty’s Tea Shop (though book in advance) and the House of Trembling Madness, both of which are considered the must-do’s for tourists. If one of the many pubs haven’t quenched your thirst or you prefer somewhere a bit more atmospheric, Evil Eye is where most of the locals go for their broad range of cocktails, signature spirits and home brewed ales.
There is so much more I could recommend you go and see, such as the Merchant Adventures’ Hall and Barley Hall, the Jorvik Viking Centre (which is great if you have children with you), York Museum and Gardens, and for more modern history lovers there’s always the York Cold War Bunker, and most of these you will pass as you walk around the city.
Who would you recommend it to?
Everyone! Though if you are a lover of history and you haven’t been yet, then it is a must.