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Spirits Abound: York, England

Our guide paused before the deserted bridge, its pale lights glowing in the fog and reflecting in the murky Ouse River, and continued his tale. "She remembered the foreboding spiritual presence she had felt near the Ouse River Bridge. The woman had just learned that one of her ancesters died there in a bloody battle with the Normans, his body impaled on the bridge’s gate." The guide’s doleful words hung in the damp night air. A common shiver ran through each of us in the small group. We were on a Ghost Walk in the ancient English town of York, and more than one of us would find a hard time sleeping that night.

York’s History Lives Today

The Ghost Walk is a good way to get a taste for York’s mysterious and varied past. Ancient spirits seem to hover at every street corner. When you take your own self-guided tour, you will again feel the history. Walk the narrow, cobbled streets such as Stonegate and Petergate and explore the walled old town. You’ll be amazed at the variety of its medieval half-timbered houses, churches, museums, and shops.

The Romans established a fortress at York in 71 A.D. Later it became an English center of religious learning. In 866 it was seized by Norse rulers who established a colony until 954 when the English defeated them. York soon prospered as a major wool trading center and was the site of bloody battles between the French and English. The Minster, built between the 12th to 14th century, is one of the few cathedrals surviving the tyranny of Henry VIII.

Still-standing sections of the city wall have stones from bottom to top which span Roman, Norse, Norman, and early English ages. The Minster, which dominates a quadrant of old York, has Roman foundations and stained glass windows dating from the 1200s. The Clifford Tower, started by William the Conquerer, provides views of the old town and the Ouse River. Take the tour through the Jorvik Viking Museum in a train track cart which meanders through the subterranean Norse archeological dig. The animated exhibitions of the ancient Norse village are so life-like you would swear you were there with the 9th century Vikings. The fascinating history is constantly being updated as the Jorvik’s archeologists continue their research and discoveries.

York’s 18th and 19th century history is very well preserved in the Castle Museum. An entire town section includes streets of shops filled with merchandise and life-like statues from the era of Charles Dickens. You would not be surprised to run into Oliver Twist himself here. The museum houses treasures for nearly all interests, with sections on war weapons, the old jail, musical instruments, period rooms, costumes, and toys.

Liquid Spirits As Well

As you stroll and explore York you’ll come across a good variety of tea rooms, restaurants, and pubs. The "Earl Grey" tea room provides a good afternoon break. Later in the evening you can choose from a multitude of pubs serving excellent ales and other English brews. The "Hole in the Wall" pub just inside the Bootham Bar gate jumps with action and has a good bar menu, including meat pies and stews. The "King’s Arms Pub" near the Ouse Bridge is also worth a visit. This is where you start and end the York Ghost Walk. For an excellent fine-food meal, take the time to find the second floor restaurant, "Kites," near the old town center.

The adventure of York is its amazing history and its magic, ghost-like feeling. It is one of England’s favorite cities, and for good reason. But you won’t find loads of Americans or tourists from other countries here. It still seems to be relatively undiscovered by foreigners, which is all the better for those who venture to York and experience its wonders.

Click here for details to plan your own trip to England’s historic York.

                    Les Furnanz

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