Heading east towards York, our campsite at Beechwood Grange was only 28 miles away and we arrived just before lunch. We were impressed with the well cared for site, plenty of hardstanding and grass pitches to choose from. As rain was forecast and we didn’t want to be stuck, so a nice safe hardstanding pitch was chosen, we embarked on putting up our awning for only the second time since we owned it. Canopy out, side struts on, side panels on and then just peg it down, easy! Wrong, pegging out into compacted hard standing was like hitting knitting needles into concrete.
Nothing for it but to take it all apart, move Bessie before all the sunny grass pitches were taken and wallop it up again, which we did quite quickly and all pegged out too while eating lunch on the hoof. After that fairly exhausting exercise, the rest of the day was spent exploring the site, reading and relaxing, researching our trip into York next day and finally a pre-dinner drink in the awning which we had left open for the sun to stream inside.
Catching a double decker bus to York gave us great views as we approached the city. York Minster towered above the centre and we were joining a walking history tour meeting by the two towers on the west side. We headed first towards the old city walls which were built around 71 AD by the Romans to defend the Fort they built on the banks of the River Ouse, through Bootham Gate which is a huge four sided tower over the road and was possibly a toll gate.
Walking out towards an area with the York Museum and Art Gallery, both buildings in the lovely warm coloured stone with more very old city walls to the side. Behind these buildings was the ruins of the Abbey of St Mary, the North and West walls form a partial outline of the nave, with high arched window portals and the bases of columns and walls.
Later on we had good views of the Minster with its three towers and circular roof on the Chapter House showing above the residence used by the Dean of York Minster as we walked around on the top of the city walls
Climbing down to road level again by Monksbar Gate we found out it was built at the time of Richard III and currently houses an exhibition about him, then we walked around to the front of the Minster, which we visited separately.
The Shambles is the most famous street in York and was originally a street of butchers. The houses were built close together on a narrow street with the upper floors coming together to keep the streets below cool and shaded. The meat was hung outside the windows on hooks that you can still see today. The word Shambles comes from the Anglo-Saxon ‘fleshammels’ meaning flesh shelves, we could still see these outside the shops. There was a gutter in the centre of the street where all the blood, offal and yucky bits were washed down the street.
Walking around to Piccadilly we saw the magnificent Merchants Adventurers Hall which is a beautiful medieval guildhall built around 1357. It is a large timber framed hall with a brick built chapel on one end and was used as an almshouse or hospital for poor people of York, it now houses a museum and is used for weddings, parties and special occasions.
Finally we were shown the ruins of York Castle originally a wooden ‘motte and bailey’ castle, later destroyed in 1069 and rebuilt in stone including a moat and artificial lake. Many times it was wrecked, redesigned and rebuilt. It was used for Royal Defence until 1684 when the interior was destroyed by a massive explosion, it was subsequently used as a jail until 1929. Only the ruined keep remains, commonly known as Clifford’s Tower, it is now a tourist attraction.
After the tour around York finished, we decided to retrace our steps and look at some of the places again, most notably The Shambles which was full of character, quaint little shops and masses of people. Tired now we headed for an old pub The Swan for a rest and a drink before catching the bus back to our campsite.
Next day we travelled back into York specifically to see the Minster and had a very good guided tour. There have been several churches on the site, the first one recorded was made of wood in 627 and following a fire in 637 it was subsequently built in stone. Prior to the existing Minster there were at least two others , but the Minster we see today was constructed over many years between 1220 – 1476 and is the largest Gothic Minster/Cathedral in Northern Europe. There are remains of Roman Barracks underneath the Minster, parts of which are on display in a dedicated museum beneath the existing building called the Undercroft.
It is both a Minster and a Cathedral: A Minster because it was used to train missionaries as part of a monastery, and a Cathedral because it is where the Bishop sits – so this magnificent Grade I Listed building can be called both.
Entering through the West Door the huge Great West Window stands immediately to the right hand side. It was installed between 1338-1339, at a cost of £67! It has 8 vertical sections of stained glass, above which is a ‘heart shaped’ section giving this window its other name as the Heart of Yorkshire.
The Nave is lined with pillars and amazing Gothic arches that support a high, vaulted ceiling. It is 99 feet high and is so wide that it was not built of stone but is in fact wooden, light in colour and has decorative gilded bosses.
Moving down towards the North Transept, the dominant feature is the Five Sisters Window with unusual grisaille glass. The type of glass is named after the French word for greyness and it was painted with geometric designs. It dates from the mid 1,200’s, was restored between 1923-1925, and is the only memorial dedicated to the memory of the women of the British Empire who died during the First World War.
The beautiful Chapter House is octagonal and has an unsupported, decorative vaulted roof and beautiful arched stained glass windows. Around the edges of the walls are stone carvings of many faces, some human, but also animals and birds. There is a massive wooden door that has elaborate and ornate iron work that can close the room off from the rest of the Minster.
The East Window was created between 1405-1408 at a cost of £56, and in modern terms it is the size of a tennis court. It has the largest single span of stained glass in the country and it depicts the Bible stories from creation of all things in Genesis to the end of the world in Revelation. It has been undergoing a huge restoration, 311 panels of glass removed, the old lead being taken out and replaced is thinner and the glass has been cleaned and repaired so the pictures are brighter and you can see all the details. Half of the window has been completed and the final 154 pieces should be finished by 2018.
The Quire also stands at the eastern end of the Minster. There are two elaborate high seats on either side where the Bishops sit, a brass bird lectern, fantastic Gothic carved partitions along the sides behind the decorative seating. A gometrically designed floor and set up high under an arch is the huge organ with all the pipes standing tall.
Behind the Quire in the centre of the Minster is The King’s Screen which has 15 carved statues of the Kings from the Norman and Gothic phase, from William the Conqueror to Henry VI.
The Minster has three towers, (seen below above the buildings in the foreground), the central tower is 235 feet high and weighs 16,000 tonnes, it is so vast that the Leaning Tower of Pisa would fit inside it. There are also two towers at the western end that are 196 feet high and contain 56 bells, the heaviest weighing 3 tonnes, it is the largest number of bells in any English cathedral.
The South Transept also had a wooden roof which was destroyed by fire in 1984. After the reconstruction it now has a ceiling decorated with gilded and coloured bosses. Following a competition by the television program Blue Peter, six of the bosses were designed by children, one of them was of Henry VIII’s flag ship The Mary Rose which was raised from The Solent in 1982. Quite appropriately this boss is sited near to the Rose Window which commemorates the union of the Royal Houses of York and Lancaster dating from the time when Henry VIII was King.
It was a wonderful and interesting tour of a fabulous, iconic building and not to be missed. After which our brains need a rest so we had another pub lunch and then I did my one and only bit of shopping, two pretty tops, and that was that, don’t need to go shopping again, phew…..! Quick trip back on the bus then a quick walk and having taken down the awning before the predicted rain, and in readiness for moving on towards our next site. Finally we could relax in the last of the sunshine under the canopy.