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Yorkshire York, A Medieval Walled City - Part 1

The historic centre of York with its walls, narrow paved streets and overhanging houses has hardly changed for hundreds of years. Traffic controls have succeeded in keeping the centre of York virtually traffic free. Pedestrians spill out onto the paved roads adding to the medieval feel. Everywhere is within easy walking distance and streets like Low Petergate, Stonegate and the Shambles are a pleasure to explore with their timber frame and stone buildings.

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There is plenty to keep the shopaholics entertained, followed by afternoon tea at Betty’s. (If you decide to skip the afternoon tea, do treat yourself to a Fat Rascal from the bakery shop instead!)

For those not wanting to walk there is always the hop on hop off bus. Others prefer to see York from a cruise on the river.

York has a long history, stretching back to the Romans who established a major walled town here. Part of the walls and one of the Roman towers can still be seen in the Museum Gardens.
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The remains of the Basilica survive in the Minster Undercroft. Perhaps one of the most intriguing Roman legacy is the story of the ghosts of a defeated Roman Army seen in the cellars of the Treasurer’s House.

The Vikings sacked York, covered the Roman defences and established a major Viking settlement in the area of Coppergate in the late C9th. When Jorvik opened in 1984, it was the first of its kind, travelling back in time to the sights, sounds and smells of Viking York. It has been completely revamped after serious flooding a couple of years ago. York Viking Festival is celebrated every February.

Particularly aimed at children, but also of interest to adults too, is Dig in the redundant St Saviour’s Church. This is a hands on experience in archaeology, to excavate finds from the four major periods of York history and a chance to handle real artefacts.

York is a typical medieval city, surrounded by walls and dominated by church and castle. The magnificent Minster is at one end and Clifford’s Tower on its grassy moat at the other. There isn’t a lot to see inside Clifford’s Tower. This may be one to admire from the outside.
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The pale stone of York Minster glows in the sunshine and is one of the largest and perhaps most splendid Gothic buildings in Northern Europe.

The inside is equally as impressive with the splendid stone choir screen with carvings of the Kings of England from William I to Edward VI and some splendid medieval stained glass.
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Don’t miss the C14th crypt or the Undercroft with remains of Roman York. Sung evensong in the choir is a magical experience. Entry includes a free floor tour which is well worth doing. There is an extra charge to go up the tower.

Many medieval churches survive in the historic centre including the delightful Holy Trinity Church tucked away behind Goodramgate, still with its C17th box pews gently subsiding into the nave.
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St Mary's Church Bishophill Junior with its Saxon tower is tucked away in a non-touristy part of York and was built over the Roman Garrison. Pieces of Roman tile work can be seen in the tower.
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Also off the tourist trail is All Saints' Church on North Street which has one of the best collections of Medieval stained glass in a parish church.
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St Michael le Belfrey on High Petergate opposite the Cathedral, was where Guy Fawkes (of the Gun Powder Plot) was christened, although this font has disappeared and no-one knows what happened to it.

St Martin’s Church on Coney Street has risen from the ashes, having been destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. The south aisle has been restored as a small church and is a successful meld of C15th and modern architecture. Fortunately, the C15th stained glass west window was removed for safety before the war and has now been re-erected at the back of the church.

St Sampson’s Church on Church Street is no longer used as a church and is now a social centre for the over 60s. This is the place to head for a cup of tea and a chat. Alternatively, there is the tiny St Crux Parish Hall, at the junction of Pavement and the Shambles. This is all that is left of what was once one of the largest medieval churches in York. It is now open during the summer as a fund raising tea room. Different charities can ‘rent’ it for one day a year. Helpings are generous and prices are the cheapest in York. When expressing surprise to the lady behind the till, she smiled and said “We’re the best kept secret in York!” They are as there is no information on the internet advertising when they are open and Tourist Information doesn't know either!
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Completely different is the Bar Convent on Blossom Street, the oldest surviving Roman Catholic Convent in England, which has a small museum covering the history of the convent as well as stories of persecution and martyrdom during the reformation. Don’t miss the chapel tucked away in the roof to avoid being discovered, which has Stations of the Cross made from Mother of Pearl. This also has a very good cafe.
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There is more history in the Yorkshire Museum in the Museum Gardens with exhibits on archaeology and geology as well as the history of York from Roman to Medieval times.
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The Castle Museum is a fascinating visit covering the social history of York with reconstructions of a Victorian street with shops. This was one of the first museums to adopt this approach and is still one of the best. The C18th prison buildings look at prison conditions including the cell where Dick Turpin spent his last night.
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Bringing the story more up to date is the "Cold War Bunker" which gives visitors chance to enter the two storey underground bunker built in the 1960s in preparation for a nuclear war. It is the only one preserved in operational condition and would have acted as a nerve centre and monitoring nuclear fallout.

The National Railway Museum is a perennial favourite and tells the story of rail transport in Britain. It is the home of iconic steam locos such as Mallard, City of Truro, Flying Scotsman and the Green Arrow. It also has a display of Royal coaches as well as a travelling post office.

York used to be renowned for making chocolate with Both Terrys and Rowntree based here. Now the chocolate is made elsewhere. The Chocolate Story is a popular visitor attraction for all ages telling the story of chocolate in York, with a chance to make your own chocolate.

Beer however is still made in the city and a guided tour of the York Brewery Centre explains how the different beers are made with a chance to sample the different beers.

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