Posted 1st Dec 2016
From the flavours of the countryside to a taste of the county’s fascinating Viking heritage, York has plenty to offer its visitors year round, bursting with unique producers, stunning architecture and a captivating history that keeps the city alive even in the depths of winter
Traditionally, Yorkshire has been thought of as a historic county, filled with Viking artefacts and an abundance of Roman ruins, however, while itching to be explored, the real story of Yorkshire is the hidden charm of its food. Yorkshire’s producers go hand-in-hand with the many fine eateries in the region, and you’ll even find artisan bakers in many of the restaurants, along with meat from local butchers, who know the provenance of their produce, and homegrown fruit and vegetables in tea rooms. From the city centre to neighbouring villages and Yorkshire’s food capital, Malton, with every historic find there is an enticing aroma filling the air to tempt your taste buds.
York, once known by its Norse name, Jorvik, was a Viking stronghold until the Norman invasion in 1066, having first invaded the land on 1st November, 866, in an attack lead by Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless, taking York as their own.
The Vikings were skilled craftsmen and had many tools that to this day are intact and found scattered around York in its iconic locations, on display for all to relish the history of the surrounding area. One site of particular interest was Coppergate, a street that was unoccupied for 450 years, which, once excavated, provided the York Archaeological Trust with a treasure trove of Viking finds.
Part of DIG, a £1 million development designed to give visitors a glimpse into years gone by, Coppergate joins three other excavation sites, including the Roman fortress at Blake Street. The exciting visitor experience provides workshops and demonstrations with links to the city’s important heritage and is one of the ways that York is retelling its rich history.
York’s most splendid and captivating exhibition is the well-known Jorvik Viking Centre, that unfortunately was devastated by flooding in December 2015, which meant that some of the attraction was destroyed. A world-famous ride, the Jorvik Viking attraction is currently being reimagined on a large scale, offering a reconstruction of Viking-age streets as they would have been 1,000 years ago. This is thanks to the York Archaeological Trust, who in 1976 revealed houses and workshops of Jorvik, leading to the creation of the Jorvik Viking Centre on the site of the excavation.
In the wake of the flood, three new exhibitions hold the fort while the Viking Centre is rebuilt, the first of which is held at the York Theatre Royal. The exhibition, entitled Jorvik: Life and Death, explores the fascinating living conditions of the Vikings and includes interactive displays and the only complete female skeleton found during the original Coppergate archaeological dig. Try your hand at the medieval skill of uroscopy, which involves diagnosing miscellaneous illnesses and ailments as you uncover the intriguing nature of Viking-age medicine, examining the colour of urine, and exploring the herbal cures that were popular with apothecaries of the time. The 12th-century building is the ideal base for one of the exhibitions of Viking history, with St Mary’s Church and the York Minster taking charge of the other two.
Located next to the Jorvik Viking Centre, St Mary’s Church sees costumed hosts showcasing domestic life, and trade, in the Viking period, featuring many pieces that were once part of the original Viking Centre experience, having been moved into the church following the flood. The rescued artefacts include leather shoes and pieces of jewellery, all of which were discovered during the Coppergate dig of the late 1970s. Centred around a replica boat, the exhibition entitled Jorvik: Home and Abroad, offers insight into how the city would once have been, and how traders would have come to barter their goods. See traditional crafts, try on authentic garments and interact with townsfolk, who help to paint a picture of lives long forgotten.
The Treasury in York Minster’s Undercroft has also been home to a remarkable collection of artefacts from the Viking age, displayed underneath the stunning Minster as part of the Jorvik: Treasures and Beliefs exhibition, the third touring exhibit from the Jorvik Viking Centre. Descend into an underground cave of wonders and find artefacts that depict how religion has changed from the old Norse ways to Christianity, with precious items of interest, such as coins.
Along with Christian coins, the treasures theme runs throughout the displays and includes personal items found from the Coppergate dig. One of the most intriguing pieces, specially commissioned for the Jorvik: Treasures and Beliefs exhibition, is a replica of the Middleton Cross, an ancient carved stone cross which sits in St Andrew’s Church in Middleton, Ryedale. The cross shows a Viking warrior in full armour alongside a monstrous beast. The cross will be moved to the new Jorvik Viking Centre which reopens in spring 2017.
In honour of York’s rich Viking history, every February the city is overrun with a week-long festival celebrating all things Norse. The Jorvik Viking Festival, which attracts visitors from all over the world, was launched in 1984 and features living history encampments and combat battles among many other fascinating activities, all of which help to retell the history of the once thriving Viking stronghold. The festival is a throwback to the celebration of Jolablot, when the Vikings would herald surviving the harshest season, winter. Europe’s largest Viking festival, takes place from 20th to 26th February 2017.
While the Viking invasion lasted for 200 years, this impressive heritage is only part of York’s treasured past, as long after the Vikings left, Richard III and Henry VII visited, leaving with them a legacy to be remembered. Barley Hall, named after York Archaeological Trust’s first chairman, Maurice Barley, was rediscovered in 1984, having only been officially recorded as a medieval structure four years earlier. It wasn’t until 1987 that the full extent of the medieval heritage became apparent when a full archaeological investigation was carried out, revealing deposits from the 14th Century, as well as the remains of the Great Hall.
Sympathetically restored, Barley Hall is furnished with handmade furnishings crafted using medieval techniques that would have been prominent in 1483, when the Snawsell family were in residence. With connections to the great kings, Richard III and Henry VII, Barley Hall centres around the life and times of Master William Snawsell, who lived and worked under the aforementioned monarchs, allowing you to get hands-on with history, handling the objects scattered around, and sitting on the furniture to gain a true understanding of what medieval life was like. In homage to Henry VIII, who visited York only once during his time on the throne, the top floor galleries of Barley Hall tell the story of Henry VIII. Entitled Power and Glory, you can explore four themes related to the famous king, including who he was, his connection to the church and the legacy he left behind after his reign.
Richard III visited the hall in 1483, and now, in the North East of the city centre, the Monk Bar hosts The Richard III Experience, a chance to enjoy special installations commemorating the re-internment of Richard III, who visited York several times during his short reign in the 1400s. While Micklegate Bar hosts The Henry VII Experience, which explores the impact Henry VII had on York during the medieval period, with both experiences including a bespoke exhibition for children, artefacts, interactive displays and audio-visuals to help you grasp what life was like under these medieval rulers.
Much of the medieval history of York can still be seen today, however the most breathtaking is York Minster, which is the largest medieval Gothic cathedral in Northern Europe, and holds more than half of England’s surviving medieval stained glass, with 128 windows. The building is around 800 years old and can be found in York city centre, an imposing and grand presence, it’s hard to miss it as it towers high above the cobbled streets. Conservation of the Minster is ongoing and, while the building itself was constructed over a 250 year period, the first Minster was built some 2,000 years ago, when it was an unassuming wooden hut. Over the years there have been other versions erected, with the Gothic Minster which stands today having been built upon the foundations of the original hut. As a working cathedral, York Minster invites visitors to attend services held throughout the day and to explore the past with their displays, including an interactive stained glass creator, and to uncover the Roman remains which are on display beneath the cathedral, in the Undercroft.
If the intriguing nature of the interactive activities of the Minster piques your interest then visit Castle Museum, found just 10 minutes through the city, via the historic Shambles, one of Britain’s most well-known streets. Personifying character and beauty, the Shambles are the ancient cobbles bustling with people admiring the narrow timber buildings that flank the walkway, which once offered a myriad of open-fronted shops.
Founded by Dr John Kirk, York Castle Museum finds itself home to many trinkets and memorabilia that the doctor acquired throughout his career. Often gifted in exchange for medical services, he wanted to preserve the way of life in York and was the brains behind the different collections, particularly Kirkgate: The Victorian Street, which was the first of its kind in England. Inviting you to turn back the clock, the Victorian Street transports you to a time gone by and is reminiscent of a film set, with the original shop fronts and items on display, paired with the sounds and smells of the Victorian period, complete with costumed shopkeepers and townspeople. The shop fronts, which operated between 1870 and 1901, reflect both the rich and poor sides of York’s past. Walk the streets for yourself, peering into immaculately decorated rooms, from sweet shops to cocoa rooms.
Built in 1780, the building was originally a women’s prison, established in order to take the pressures away from the debtors prison which was built in 1705 and housed men, women and children. Currently, the Grade I listed York Castle Museum, which stands on the site of the former York Castle, offers insight into the life of the prisoners, with the original cells forming part of the York Castle Prison exhibition. Within the walls some of the infamous inmates come to life through projections, the chill of the past filling the air as you listen to their stories. As you search the corridors you’ll come across legendary highwayman, Dick Turpin – their most notorious prisoner. With seven intriguing and well-thought-out exhibitions on offer to explore, including 1914: When the World Changed Forever, there is a plethora of history to uncover within its walls.
To continue reading turn to page 116 of the January/February 2017 issue of LandLove.
Going to York from London?
Virgin Trains East Coast operates 72 weekday services between London King’s Cross and York, including a non-stop service each hour through the day, taking as little as 1 hour 49 minutes to complete the journey. Virgin Trains East Coast also has direct trains to York from Scotland, North East England and the East Midlands. Customers travelling First Class enjoy Virgin Trains East Coast’s complimentary food and drinks offer plus unlimited Wi-Fi. Lowest fares are always online at www.virgintrainseastcoast.com: times and fares also on 08457 225225 or from staffed stations and agencies.
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By Lauren Morton