York “Treasure Hunt”

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Saturday – the shortest day, the winter solstice. This year it was also our “family day” out, a Christmas tradition ever since the children were small (and they’re not so small now). When the children were small we would take them to a pantomime, Christmas show or a visit to a museum a few days before the “big day” . Like most kids they used to start getting “hyper” during the build up to Christmas and a day out was a good way of diverting them for a while.We’d usually have a meal out as well.

When our daughter turned into  a sulky teenager, the tradition ended but was resurrected a couple of years ago when we battled through the snow to see Jeremy Harding live at the Lowry in Salford the weekend before Christmas day. And last year we went to a concert at the Bridgewater and had a meal out at Wagamamas. This year there were no concerts or shows we fancied, so the plan is to go out for the day and we’ve decided on York.

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The focus of our visit was a "treasure hunt". We’d arranged it over the Internet (http://www.inthehiddencity.com/york/). What happens is that you are given a starting point and they send you a text message with a clue. Using a tourist map (or, in our case, Google maps on our phones) you have to find a location and an "object"  and then text an answer back. If you’re right they send you the next clue.

For the York treasure hunt there were 10 clues in all and the hunt took us to various locations across the city. You’re timed, so can try to beat the record or it can be a team event. But we just worked together and took our time using it as a focus for the visit. It was great fun. We enjoyed solving the clues and it also took us to places in the city we’d never been to before, some a little off the beaten track. The start and finish were pubs so I can see it is aimed at groups of friends and works team building events. But for us it was a bit of fun.

Here’s a few pictures taken along our route – although I’m deliberatley avoiding saying whether any of the places shown are linked to the clues – I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who wants to give it a go!

The starting point was the Kings Arms, down by the Ouse Bridge.

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Looking across the Ouse. It was pretty full – York often suffers from flood when it overflows

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Micklegate Bar – the historic southern entrance into the city:

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On the walls looking towards Micklegate Bar:

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Looking towards the Minster from on the walls:

Lendal Tower:

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Ruins of St Mary’s Abbey

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The Multangular Tower in the Museum Gardens – the lower part is Roman :

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The “banks” from different periods;

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one of the many old Medieval churches (didn’t get the name of this one):

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It worked very well for us. We took about 3 hours to complete it, but that included almost an hour when we stopped for something to eat in a little cafe – Brew and Brownie, on Museum Street – we’d discovered during our break there a few months ago. One of the things they sell are these rather delicious cinnamon and raisin "bagels".

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After we finished the hunt we had a walk around, over a section of the wall before looking round some of the shops and the little Christmas Market (nothing like the one in Manchester, but then, what is)

Some more piccies.

Monk Bar:

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Monk Bar from the walls:

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An interesting old advert:

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Getting close to 5 o’clock we were tired so we got the bus back to the park and ride and headed back home across a wet and very windy M62. We mad it home in one piece and all agreed that it had been a most excellent family day out.

Day out in York

Yesterday we took the train over to York. It takes around 2 1/2 hours via Manchester but its an easier journey than trying to drive over via the M62 (which has a serious outbreaks of cones and 50 mile per hour speed restrictions at the moment) and finding somewhere to park. The journey isn’t too bad – at least the leg from Manchester on a modern train – providing you can find a seat.

York is a lovely city with lots of interesting architecture – particularly the Gothic Minster, some other medieval buildings and Georgian houses.

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Our first port of call was Fairfax House, a very fine Georgian town house restored by the York Civic Trust and then after some dinner (as we call the midday meal in the North of England) we went to have a look around the Minster. The entry fee is pretty steep, but by downloading a discount voucher from the Visit York website we were able to knock a £1 each off the £9 entry fee (and that doesn’t include a trip up the tower which incurs an additional charge), but it is valid for 12 months so we won’t have to pay again if we go back before 17 March next year.

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When we emerged it was 4 o’clock so we couldn’t visit Clifford’s Tower as planned, as it closes at 4 o’clock during March (opening hours are extended from April to November) so we popped into the National Trust owned Treasurer’s House for a quick look around before they closed.

Then a walk along the walls from Monk Bar back towards the station gave us some commanding views over the Minster.

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Our time there seemed to disappear very quickly, but there was plenty more to see and do. We weren’t able to do everything we’d planned. Another visit in the near future will probably be on the cards.

York Minster

Arriving in York it’s only a short walk over to the Minster. You soon see it looming over the other buildings as you approach it’s western end with its two tall towers. You really can’t mistake it for anything other than a Gothic building, with it’s massive structure,  flying buttresses, tall towers, pointed arches and pinnacles.

North Transcept Lancet window

Built in creamy, local limestone, the Minster looks impressive today – it must have seen something out of the world to the ordinary people of York and the surrounding countryside when it was first constructed. The Medieval cathedrals were no doubt meant to induce a feeling of “shock and awe” to intimidate and dominate the ordinary peasants and keep them firmly under the thumb of the Church in the same way as the medieval castles played that role for the secular rulers. The builders of York Minster certainly achieved this objective.

View from walls

The Minster is built on the site of an older Norman Romanesque cathedral which was demolished and replaced by the current building. The older cathedral, which was slightly smaller than it’s Gothic replacement, was itself built on the site of the Roman fortress of Eboracum. There are no traces of the Romanesque building left, other than some fragments of the foundations and remnants of the round piers, carved with geometric patterns characteristic of the late Romanesque period, displayed in the Undercroft.

The Undercroft, Treasury & Crypt

Romanesque piers in the Undercroft showing the carved geometric patterns. Source: York Minster website

The Gothic cathedral built over a prolonged period between 1220 and 1472, has features from all three Gothic styles – “Early English”, “Decorated” and “Perpendicular”.

Entering through the South Entrance through an ornate doorway , the first thing that struck me was the cluster of long, narrow lancet windows dominating the north wall of the Tansept, which are very characteristic of the Early English period. The windows in the south wall are different and include the round “Rose window”.

North transcept Lancet window

Lancet Windows in the north Transept wall

The central tower stands above the “crossing” where the Transept is intersected by the Nave and Quire. It’s possible to buy a ticket to climb the tower as part of an escorted tour (weather conditions permitting) but I didn’t take the opportunity during my visit.

The nave, which is the highest in England, and one of the widest, was built between 1280 and 1350 and is typical of the Decorated Gothic period.Its lit by large windows in the aisles and in the Clearstorey (the upper level of the nave, built above the roofline of the aisles). The roof is supported by fancy rib vaulting fitted with ornate, gilded bosses which cover the intersections of the ribs. The ribs are supported by complex piers, made up of several elements.  The walls of the aisles and the large West Wall are decorated with carvings. All these are characteristic of the Decorated Gothic style.

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Looking along the Nave

The large window in the West wall has complex patterns including the characteristic “Heart of Yorkshire”. According to the guidebook the stained glass illustrates the authority and purpose of the Church in the form of a hierarchy going up the window”.

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The West window with the "Heart of Yorkshire"

The Chapter House was also built in the Decorated Gothic period and was my favourite part of the Minster. This is the room where the Bishop and the other members of the Dean and Chapter meet. It’s octagonal and is built so that it doesn’t need a central column to support the highly decorated roof. The seating is arranged around the walls so that the Bishop is only the “first among equals”.

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The Chapter House ceiling

The walls seem to be made up entirely of windows containing colourful stained glass set in elaborate tracery.

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Inside the Chapter House

There are very extravagant carvings all round the walls between the windows and the seating of foliage and gargoyles – including some comic faces.

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Gargoyles inside the Chapter House

suspended over the East Wall to give an impression of what it is like.

The Quire is the most recent part of the Minster, built during the “Perpendicular Gothic” period It is filled with the choir stalls which have complex carvings.

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Inside the Quire

The windows in the Nave and the East end of the building have less complex tracery, more rectilinear than in the Nave and Chapter House. Major restoration work is currently being undertaken so the Great East Window was covered over, although there was a giant photograph draped over the scaffolding that gave a good impression of what it looked like.

The Quire is separated from the Transept and Nave by the Quire screen, which incorporates the almost life size statues of 15 English Kings – from William the Conqueror to Henry V.

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The Quire screen

There’s a small museum in the Undercroft that contains some interesting exhibits, including sections of stonework from the Roman and Romanesque buildings that once stood on the site. There was also a model showing what the Romanesque cathedral would have looked like.