DELVING INTO YORK’S DARK PAST
By Ann Evans
Photos by Ann Evans and courtesy of Visit York images.
The City of York is officially the most haunted city in Europe. The International Ghost Research Foundation announced this back in 2002, so on a visit just before Halloween it seemed only right to take in one of their famous Ghost Walks. As with everything connected to York, whether it’s learning about its history and architecture or deciding where to shop, eat, drink or simply be entertained, you find yourself spoilt for choice.
On the trail of ghosts, there’s the multi award winning Ghost Trail of York which has been sending shivers down spines practically every night for the last 22 years. Or you might risk discovering the darker side of York on The York Terror Trail. Or there’s The Ghost Hunt of York which took first place in the York Tourism Awards, or The Original Ghost Walk of York another award winning experience – and the one I chose. Although for those who had done enough walking for one day, there’s also the York Ghost Bus Tour, where a creepy conductor welcomes those brave enough on board the double decker for a sightseeing tour of the city like no other.
For The Original Ghost Walk of York we met outside the Kings Arms Pub situated on the banks of the River Ouse, where our ghost guide in his long black overcoat and black hat invited us to follow him on the trail of some ghostly stories. As we stood in the shadows we heard shivery tales such as the workman who sat cowering in a corner as a troop of Roman soldiers marched through the walls of the cellar where he was working. And the dreadful tale relating to Clifford’s Tower whose walls were seen to drip blood on the anniversary of a terrible massacre.
Keeping in a dark and scary mood, a visit to The York Dungeon was also a not to be missed attraction. Here we ventured through the dungeons of York Castle Prison with all its sounds and smells and even met up with Dick Turpin, Eric Bloodaxe and some very bloodthirsty Vikings. Theatrical actors and special effects I presume. But you never know…
The entire city of York is steeped in 2000 years of history, and a great way of learning what life was like back in Viking times is to visit the Jorvik Viking Centre. This attraction began in 1976 with an archaeological dig to uncover a Viking village. The dig also discovered Viking workshops, rubbish pits, latrines, wells and more than 15,000 objects. The most spectacular being an exquisitely-preserved Anglo Saxon helmet, which you can see in the Castle Museum. A visit to Jorvik involved a ride ‘back in time’ in a state-of-the-art capsule to York in AD975 where you experience all the sights, sounds and smells of the city, when the Vikings invaded in the 10th century.
If you visit the Yorkshire Museum this too is an absolute treasure trove of historical gems, amongst which you’ll see The Vale of York Viking Hoard and the Cawood Sword – only the fifth Viking sword of its type ever to be found, and bears a mysterious inscription that has yet to be solved.
Ancient walls encircle the city which you can walk along. These beautifully preserved walls that stretch to 3.4 kilometres are the longest medieval town walls in England. It takes about two hours to walk around them, and if you’re one of around 2.5 million visitors to have done so, you will have discovered five gateways, a Victorian gateway, a posturn (a small gateway) and 45 towers, as well as enjoying some spectacular views of the city.
York really has so much to see and do, with something to interest all the family. Perfect for those who love history, culture and architecture; or you can have a fabulous shopping experience with everything from designer shops, unique fashions, narrow cobbled streets lined with quirky shops, and of course the world famous Shambles.
For foodies there’s a host of restaurants serving English, Indian, Chinese, Italian, Thai food and much more plus cafe’s, bars, wine bars, and lots and lots of pubs! Many of them with intriguing histories to discover. It’s claimed that in York you can have a drink in a different place every night of the year. And we chatted to a couple who were enjoying their own ‘real ale tour’ of York. However, in some of the pubs, you might find spirits of a different sort, as many are reputed to be haunted. The Golden Fleece on Pavement is said to be the most haunted pub in Britain. It originally belonged to the Merchant Adventurers who were responsible for the woollen trade on the River Ouse and dates back to at least 1503.
Two of York’s stylish shopping streets, Stonegate and Petergate still run along the same routes as they did 2,000 years ago when they were called Via Praetoria and Via Principalis. These roads led to the massive Roman headquarters – where the magnificent Gothic York Minster stands today.
York Minster is a working cathedral which took 250 years to build. It was consecrated in 1472 and contains England’s greatest concentration of medieval stained glass. Its Great East Window which measures 186 square metres is thought to be the largest area of stained glass in the world. Visitors are made welcome to share in the Minster’s daily life, to worship, and to explore. You could climb the 275 steps to the top of the Central Tower and enjoy views for the highest point in York. And also explore the Undercroft and Treasury with its interactive displays and historic collections that reveal 2,000 years of history on the site.
I don’t know if York Minster is also reputed to be haunted, but for me, the Undercroft felt particularly atmospheric, more so than any of the other ‘haunts’. But perhaps it was just my imagination.
More York news and stories to come.
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