- The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes. Marcel Proust
Travel to York, England
Although Yorkshire has long been divided into four counties, York is still considered the capital of this lovely corner of Northern England. It's also the ecclesiastical capital of the Church of England, the Archbishop of York being second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Lord Mayor of this medieval city enjoys the same status as his counterpart in London, and the Duke of York title is given to the second oldest son of Britain's Sovereign. It's also home to York Minster, the largest medieval church in England, as well as the longest circuit of medieval city walls, nearly three miles long and offering marvelous views of the city. Wall walking is in fact a great way to escape the usually crowded streets below, as is time spent boating along the River Ouse.
York's Magnificent Minster
Imposing York Minster commemorates the monks who converted those living in the surrounding countryside to Christianity. Dedicated to St. Peter, York Minster's bishops even sat on the council at Arles in AD 314. After this, little is known until AD 627, when the oldest documented (wooden) church was built here for the baptism of King Edwin of Northumbria. Succeeding Saxon and Norman constructions were destroyed, and the present cathedral was built in the Gothic style in the 13th century.
Highlights of a tour include the Minster's impressive stained glass windows, most notably the Pilgrimage Window (dating from about 1312) resting above a stunning dragon's head, depicting Peter surrounded by pilgrims along with unusual details such as the funeral of a monkey. Also of interest is the Treasury, with its interactive galleries portraying the building's colorful history from its Roman roots to today. Displays include more than 2,000 years of remarkable artifacts found nearby that provide an insight into the cathedral's important role over the centuries. And if you've got a head for heights, York Minster's spectacular medieval Central Tower - the highest point in the city - involves a climb of 230 feet up 275 steps and offers a close-up view of some of the cathedral's most interesting decorative features, including its pinnacles and gargoyles. Once outside, all that hard work will be rewarded with superb views of York's historic city center.
National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum has an impressive array of locomotives and carriages dating from 1820 to the present day. Among the many exhibits in the Great Hall, laid out like an old-fashioned railway station, are a Victorian mail train from 1838, turn-of-the-century freight and steam trains, and luxurious Edwardian Pullman carriages. Also on display is a collection of Royal Trains, including carriages once used by Queen Victoria. If possible, try to time your visit to coincide with one of the daily demonstrations of the facility's vintage turntable for an up-close look at how these massive machines were turned around. The museum also boasts more than a million artifacts ranging from posters to paintings, along with more than 1,000 hours of unique recordings relating to Britain's rich railway history.
York Castle and Clifford's Tower
Located between Fishergate and Skeldergate Bridge, York Castle was built of wood by the Normans in 1068. The oldest remaining part is Clifford's Tower. Constructed in the 13th century as a replacement for the wooden fortress, it was named after Roger de Clifford, executed here in 1322 as leader of the Lancastrian party. It was also infamous as the place where the king would put those he had executed on display. Today, the castle is popular for its stunning views.
York Castle Museum
York Castle Museum offers a marvelous insight into the English way of life throughout the centuries. Highlights include Kirkgate, a perfect recreation of a Victorian street, complete with shops; Toy Stories, a history of children's toys; and a Victorian parlor and 17th-century dining room. Another fascinating exhibit is The Cells in the old Debtors Prison, including the former Condemned Cell once occupied by highwayman Dick Turpin (the site has in fact been a place of incarceration for more than 1,000 years, with the York Crown Court still holding those accused of serious crimes). Afterwards be sure to check out the museum's database of former prisoners and victims going back hundreds of years for mention of any relatives!
Walking the Medieval City Walls
A walk along York's medieval city walls leaves a lasting impression of this beautiful city. Built mainly in the 14th century, the walls incorporate some of the city's original Roman structures and total some three miles in length. Four of the old gates have been preserved: Walmgate Bar, Monk Bar, and Bootham Bar, all with their original portcullis, and Micklegate Bar with its three knights. The stretch of wall between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar offers excellent views of York Minster. (If time permits, pop into the Richard III Experience in Monk Bar and the Henry VII Experience at Micklegate Bar, with their fascinating take on the lives of two of England's best-known medieval kings.)
Jorvik Viking Centre
The Jorvik Viking Centre in Coppergate documents the daily lives of the Vikings in 9th-century York, or "Jorvik." The site includes reconstructions of Viking dwellings and medieval workshops and is built above the remains of 1,000-year-old wooden houses. The museum also hosts on- and off-site reenactments, as well as opportunities for young and old alike to dress up and play Vikings (without, of course, any of the pillaging).