Thursday, 6 May 2010

York, England May 6, 2010

There is an old saying in England: "Ne're cast a clout till May is out". The word "clout" is a 15th century word for warm clothes. The saying means, "Never put away your warm clothes until the end of May". Why do we always have to learn things the hard way?

We have been having wonderful weather here for three weeks. Sunny days, temperatures in the low 60's, no rain. The Brits have been acting like it is hot! We have loved it. I read in the paper that the rainfall is way down compared to the norm. I have been using the time to work outside. It is so great to work in the yard and not get all hot and sweaty. The temperatures here are more mild than ours were at home. They are not as hot in the spring/summer and not as cold in the winter. However, there is a lot of rain, but it just rains for a little while and then the sun comes out. Up until 3 weeks ago it rained almost every day for a short period of the day. So we got fooled by this wonderful weather and went up to York unprepared. Oh, we had our umbrellas, we have learned not to go ANYWHERE without them. But we weren't prepared for the cold snap that occurred. Thinking that I was at home, I planted all my annuals just like I do every year after the first of May when there is no worry of frost. Off we go to York with light jackets and no sweaters.

I had booked a bed and breakfast which was an old townhouse turned into a small hotel. It was very quaint (what isn't here) and had friendly owners who gave us all kinds of tourist information. I had asked for a room with a view overlooking the city, as I had read about online. After going up one flight of stairs to the reception area we were given our key and told ours was room 11 "at the top". I look at the stairs and see tall fairly narrow steps going up. Apparently asking for a room with the view means you are on the top floor. We have our bags, our computers, our backpacks and head upstairs. We get up three flights and I am winded. There is a chair there, but somehow I didn't see it the first time up. Of course Joe is behind me not out of breath at all, muttering that "you just have to get in shape". If I wasn't so tired I might of launched him backwards with one shove. Do you know how much harder it is to go up steps with both your hands full of stuff? Not to mention someone behind you who is waiting because you are going so slow? We get up the fourth flight and I saw room 7. OMG we still have to climb. We were up 5 flights of steps before we got to our room (6 if you count the one to get to reception). All I could do was collapse on the bed, breathing hard, practically getting a case of asthma. Joe is calmly walking around the room looking out windows. Sometimes I really hate his fitness and love of exercise. Up until this point I had been feeling pretty good about myself, I have lost some weight from all the walking I have been doing. But you wouldn't know it this weekend. I pacified myself by telling myself that that is the last time I'll have to walk up those stairs carrying baggage.

The room did look over the town with the huge Cathedral in the distance. But it really wasn't like you could see that much. Not to the town center or anything. Just across lots of townhouses and yards with the city beyond. Anyway, it was already late afternoon so we headed out for the 15 minute walk into town to just browse and get something to eat. We had our umbrellas and backpacks. Good thing because just as we started out it began to rain. This is when I realize that Joe didn't bring his nice jacket with the hood, only the light jacket he had on. Well, too late now.

We hadn't eaten all day and were anxious to get into town to a pub or something. Plus it was raining, so there's a good chance that if you could wait it out it would stop. Leaving our hotel we walked towards town and we were surprised when we came to a stone wall. Somehow I had missed the fact that York is still surrounded by a huge stone wall! Sometimes I am amazed at my naivety. Most large cities in Europe were surrounded by walls for protection back in the day. We Americans are clueless.

                                   MICKLEGATE ENTRANCE TO THE CITY

If you walk the perimeter of the wall it is 3 miles around. The first wall was put up by the Romans to keep out the Scots. When the Vikings came along they buried the original wall and built a tall fence of pointed wooden spikes. That wall was there until it was replaced in the 13th and 14th centuries with the stone wall that remains there today. It is so neat to see these things and imagine life back then. There are four gates into the city, north, south, east and west. However, each entrance comprises of two gates close together. They would open one, allow people in, then close it behind them and trap the people between the two gates. If the people were enemies the guards would go up on top of the wall and throw rocks at them from above. If they really wanted to make them suffer they would then pour barrels of boiling urine on their heads. This is how the term "adding insult to injury" came about. They were injured by the rocks and then insulted by the urine. It was human urine though. The animal urine was saved for tanning leather. They would put a hide in a barrel, pour boiling animal urine and oak bark in there and then young boys would have to get in there standing up to their armpits and stomp on it all day, to tan the hide. Life must have been so hard then.

The streets were named by the Romans. The Roman word for street was "gate". The first part of the word would be what was happening on that street. So "Castlegate" was the street that the castle was on. The street "Monkgate" was where the monks lived and so on. We entered through the gate on Micklegate Street, but I don't know who or what was Mickle.

It didn't take us long to find a nice pub to go in and enjoy a meal and a drink. Not liking beer or wine I have discovered cider here. It is about as strong as beer but tastes like a sour apple cider. Pretty good actually. Joe continues his quest to try a pint of all the different lagers in England. He doesn't like dark beer so stays away from the bitters. But he has found there is a life without Coors Light! So far I think a German beer called Kaltenberg is his favorite. He enjoys going up to the bar maids and getting advice on which lager to try next. We both had gammon (ham) with a fried egg and pineapple on top with fresh homemade chips (french fries). Then I had Sticky Toffee Pudding for dessert. Yum YUM! We were in there about an hour and a half and don't you know by the time we left it had stopped raining?

By now the sun had gone down and it was getting cold. We couldn't believe how cold it was! We just walked and walked all through the town looking at the shops and people. We weren't going to try to sight see that night. We were cold and tired when we walked back to our room. And yes, up the flights of stairs again. The room was not real warm and we couldn't get the heat registers going. I don't know what was wrong. Joe said he didn't care and I wasn't going back down those stairs for anything. Thank goodness something had made me throw in a flannel night shirt. I thought of the wonderful warm thick sweater that my sisters had gotten me for Christmas, the perfect English sweater, sitting useless at home! Our wool scarves we had home!!

The next day was going to be a full day so right after breakfast we set out. The first thing to do when you go into these cities when you don't know your way around is get on one of those bus tours. You pay one price for the day and they either have head phones where you can listen, or, a tour guide who talks giving a history of everything you pass along the way. You can get off at any stop and then get back on whenever you want. They are called appropriately, the "hop on hop off bus". The buses come by the stops every 5-10 minutes. So we ride the whole circuit first to see everything by bus and then hop off when we want to see something. It is a great way to get an idea of the lay of the town. It costs us £10 each which is like $15. One driver tried to be funny and charge us £10 for the free earphones. I said, "Get out of here, what do we look like Americans?" He thought that was really funny. Joe did his famous little chuckle.

I think I'll give you a little timeline of York. It is a city full of old history as it is one of England's oldest cities.

- Prehistory up to 71 AD: York is founded at the junction of two rivers. There is evidence of
human activity from up to 6000 years ago.

- Romans: 43 AD - 410 AD: Roman governor of Britain Quintas Cerealis founds York then
called Eboracum. In 211 the Emperor Septimius Severus died. Constantine the Great named
emperor in 306. He is the only one to allow Christian freedom.

- Anglo Saxon: 410 AD - 866 AD: A wooden chapel is built for King Edwin's baptism in 627, this develops into the famous York Minster. [More later on that.]

- Viking: 866 AD - 1068 AD: The Viking Army led by Halfdan and Ivor the Boneless takes
York in 866. For the next 80 years "Jorvik" is the new Scandinavian kingdom. It develops into a bustling industry with metal workers, pottery and cup makers and many other tradesmen. King Eric Bloodaxe is the last king forced out by the English Army in 954.

- Norman: 1068 - 1199: William the Conqueror marches into York in 1068. He destroys the
city and builds two castles to control it. The famous Clifford's Tower is the only part of the
castle that remains today, as a symbol of the Norman conquest.

- Medieval: 1199 - 1485: Edward I moved his court to York and it briefly became the capitol
of England. York Minster is re-built over 2 centuries and becomes the city's centerpiece.

- Tudors and Stuarts: 1485 - 1714: Henry VIII takes possession and moves his King's council to York in 1540. Guy Fawkes is born in York in 1570. He meets two of his fellow plotters who attempt to destroy Parliament in 1605. Royalist York surrenders to the Parliament army in

- Georgian: 1714 - 1837: York becomes the social capitol and center of fashion. In 1796 William Pitt builds the first cavalry barracks to prepare for war with the French.

- Victorian: 1837 - 1901: York's first railway station is built. One of the first in the world.
This starts the railway boom, the population grows.

- 20th Century: 1901 - present: German air raids 1942 devastated York. Many lives were
lost and property destroyed. The Minster was left unscathed.

The first thing we wanted to see was the Jorvik (pronounced Yorvik) Viking Center. I am just fascinated by the Vikings. Maybe its because of their horrible names (Eric Bloodaxe!). Or maybe its because they come from Scandinavia which includes my ancestors, from Norway. It's obvious I'm Norwegian with the maiden name of Elefson. That's where the tradition of surnames having "son" at the end started.

About 30 years ago archaeologists started digging on the site of an old factory. After 36,000 layers and 8 tons of sieving soil they discovered an old Viking city from the 10th century! The earth was spongy and moist around the old buildings. The damp conditions helped preserve everyday viking items such as leather, wood, cloth, bugs and even a viking toilet and its contents! I kid you not. There was a big petrified turd from a toilet on display! It had its own display box. But this was good because they were able to determine what the person had eaten from it!

What the city did was build a museum right over the old town. One section of the floor in the museum is made of glass and underneath you can see the outlines of a real viking house. Where the original door threshold was, where the garden was. The house was TINY. Then there were all kinds of artifacts to look at and stories to read about. The last part of the museum was a slow ride in a indoor roller coaster for lack of a better term. It took you in the dark through a "real" viking village where there were wax figures of vikings doing everyday chores. They had speaker systems and had the people talking to each other in their language. It was really interesting. The average viking male lived to only 21. The women lived longer, but still had a short life because they were bearing children from age 12 on up. Their average lifespan was 31 years. During this time they would have 17 or more pregnancies.

One thing I found very interesting. In the museum was a HUGE stone. I can't imagine how much it weighed. It was about 2' tall, 2' wide x 18" deep, all solid rock. The information on the display said in part, (Yes, I wrote it down), "This early 13th century stone fell from a pillar and landed on the head of a sleepy clerk. Somehow he lived. The event is known as Miracle of St. William". There is an ancient inscription on the stone: "QUI/CECIDIT/SUPER/CAPUT/ROGERI/DE/RIPUN". Translated means, "Which fell on the head of Roger Ripun." This stone was found in 1867 outside the Minster bearing the inscription declaring it to be the very stone.

I do find it fascinating that the Roman and Vikings cities are so far down below the street level in York. I guess when you think about any archeologist digs, they are always digging way down below our surface. I just don't understand how they get buried so far down.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take pictures at the Jorvik Viking Center.

                                                          THE YORK MINSTER

The weather was pretty cold out so we decided we'd better get over to the Minster before it got too late. The York Minster is the largest medieval gothic castle in Norther Europe. I found it interesting that not all cathedrals are minsters, not all minsters are cathedrals, but York Minster is both.

Cathedral or cathedra means "seat".  It is where the bishop has his seat, which is only found in a cathedral.  A mynster was the Anglo-Saxon name for a missionary church - a church built as a new center for Christian worship.  The Minster in York was first built in 627 AD for King Edwin's baptism as stated in the timeline above.




It is estimated that half the medieval stained glass in England lines the walls. The Great East Window depicts the beginning and end of the world in over 100 scenes. There was so much stained glass and the place was huge. Joe decided to walk the 275 steps to the top of the tower for a view and pictures of the city below. No building in York is allowed to be taller than the Minster. So I sent him off - you didn't think I was going to go did you? It was COLD up there and I needed to be able to walk home! Of course he said it wasn't that bad, which he always does. He got some pictures too. 

                                       VIEWS FROM THE TOWER ON THE MINSTER

Clifford's tower is the only thing remaining from William the Conqueror's castle. Part of it's history includes one of the worst outbreaks of anti-Jewish violence in English history. In 1190, Christian merchants tried to erase their debts to Jewish bankers by doing away with York's Jewish community. One hundred and fifty jews took refuge in the tower. With the prospect of starvation or butchery they committed mass suicide by burning the tower. At that time the tower was made of wood. We did not go in the tower.

                                                            CLIFFORD'S TOWER

We were very disappointed that one of the main attractions, the Yorkshire Museum is closed for renovation and will not open until August. We didn't find that out until we got there. There is also the National Railway Museum, which didn't sound that interesting to us but has been highly recommended. They did say that Queen Victoria's Royal Carriage is there, I would like to see that.

We spent the rest of Sunday wandering through the little cobble streets that had tiny shops all along them. There were quite a few people out and about. It is a very touristy area. We walked down The Shambles, the narrowest street in York. Back in the day they taxed you on the square foot (or whatever measurement they used) of your floor space of your ground level. So people would build a couple stories up in their townhouses. On the top level they would extend the floor to hang out from the rest of the house. This street is so narrow that at one point you can be at the 2nd floor window of one house and reach across and shake the hand of the person hanging out their 2nd floor window across the street! I tried to get pictures, but the street was so crowded I don't know if I got a good shot. It was fun shopping but Joe doesn't like it. He doesn't complain too much. Except he was so paranoid when we were inside the shops that I was going to knock over a display or something with my backpack. He is such a worry wart! I could have spent days there though!

                                                                THE SHAMBLES

We had a nice anniversary dinner in a little Italian Restaurant and then walked home. By then it was very cold and rainy and we just wanted to be warm! I had such a cramp in my thigh that I had to hold onto Joe the rest of the way home. Oh, it was so COLD and my legs hurt!

We ended our weekend on Monday shopping in a huge designer mall (shopping center, they don't call them malls here) on the way home. It is the only inside mall similar to ours that I've seen here in the UK. It was packed with people. Of course Monday was a holiday here. This was 2 hours or so from our house so you see they don't have malls like that very close together.


  1. I do believe that all votes have been cast and the flower shirt goes in to the bin with all the other rubbish! Thank you all for supporting me and having this landslide victory! Kath, rubbish day is this Wednesday...


  2. Roger & I have the BEST time reading your Blog. So educational and get the best laughs!!! So glad you two are enjoying yourselves!!!!!! Took a few pictures from Pat & Stephanie's wedding will email them this week. I say KEEP the BEAUTIFUL flower shirt PERFECT for working in your gardens!!
    Love Roger & Jill

  3. Kathie I showed grandma the video tonight after dinner. She also got a chance to look at your pictures in color. She now has the blog printed out too.

  4. The word " gate " in York isn't Roman, its Viking, from the Old Norse word "gate " for a street.