Ramblings from a recent visit to York, UK

ImageThe day is grey, but the mood is light. Meandering through the market I was in a state a sensory overload. The brightly coloured stalls were doing a brisk trade with all kinds of products, and walking at anything but a shuffle was doing a disservice to the creativity on display. There were stalls from all over the world with wooden carvings of hippos and giraffes sitting next to intricately carved hardwood boxes and didgeridoos; sparkling jewellery and quirky wrought iron sculptures; cashmere and alpaca hats and jumpers that scream cosy warmness which is this weather are begging to be purchased before I remind myself that I live in Sydney and summer is but a few shakes of a lamb’s tail away, and besides my bag is already at bursting point.


And the food stalls. Oh the food stalls! French cheeses, German meat, Belgian chocolate, Danish pastries and salamis, hog and game pies, artisan breads, roasted nuts and cotton candy fill the air with saliva inducing scents. Coffee and caramel, fudge and cupcakes, flower stalls and supple leather. Every few steps a new assault on the olfactory senses, each one conjuring up memories and smiles. Today is a good day. Of course, as always when I travel alone, I wish there was someone to share this with, but by writing I feel I fill that void.


Wrapped around the market is my favourite town in England. The sense of history here is quite overwhelming and every corner is dripping with it. According the numerous plaques that adorn weather worn buildings, York was founded in 71AD by the Romans. It is almost impossible to comprehend that amount of time in relation to my adopted home, Australia. I’ve heard it said that in Europe 100 kilometres is a long way, and in Australia 100 years is a long time. I’ve been to older cities, Damascus and Aleppo in Syria spring to mind as they both vie for the title of oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world at somewhere near 6000 years, but this place is different. The Middle East has rolled with the punches of time, kings, shahs, sultans, emperors and conquerors and very little trace is left of the original times. The buildings have disappeared or changed completely and modern architectural butchery has stripped most of Arabia that I’ve seen of its rich history past, a few Roman ruins being the exception.


In my mind the buildings of any city are her wardrobe and are essential in creating her vibe. New York is sassy and stylish; London is well cut and tailored with more than a hint of imperial snobbery, whilst Sydney is young and fresh with a distinct nod to her colonial ancestor. York is simply vintage. A grand old lady of the past standing proudly amongst classic British topography of gentle rolling hills, vibrantly green fields, hedge rows, fat trunked trees and quaint villages.


The centre of town is the Minister, a cathedral about 1000 years old that overlooks this city in grand majesty. The detail of the curves of the sandstone masonry that envelop grand stain glassed windows, the towers and spires that reach skyward, the gargoyles that sit hundreds of feet up in sentry positions guarding against evil spirits that no one since the original craftsmen have seen (except maybe the occasional restoration crew safely strapped to metal scaffolding) is truly awe inspiring.


When I consider it was constructed and re-constructed over a period of hundreds of years without the help of machines, computers, cranes, electric or oil or hydraulic power and the might of science, the ingenuity and dedication these ancient masons, carpenters and labourers showed amazes me in standing the test of time and the elements. Except a lightening strike in 1984 that the old beardy mysterious one decided was part of his grand plan to try and destroy a house dedicated to his worship. Ha!


Of course I’m not religious, I have a sense of reason and logic, and question everything until my restless mind is sated reasonable answers. Not conducive to religious dogmatic contradictive fairy tales you’ll agree, but nevertheless I can’t help being moved by such an ancient construction, regardless of its primary purpose.


In case you’re wondering, I didn’t go inside in case I’d met a man in a dress (nothing wrong with that) who’s primary evidence for his beliefs collection of short stories that condone slavery, homophobia, sacrificing children and I was in far too good a mood for an argument. A better man or woman than I said don’t argue with a fool and they’ll drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. So I continued wandering,


The streets around the Minister flow with no particular order, cobbled and full of character. The Tudor era buildings of dark stained wooden beams, bare weather beaten brick and white plaster are around every corner. The upper floors overhang the lower as medieval builders endeavoured to create more living space in a city completely enclosed and restrained by her walls. The beams have warped and walls are no longer straight which adds such an interesting element to the town. The shops are a mixture of old and new, but even the new that you’ll find in any average high street in the UK seem to blend in, in spite of their bland brand uniformity.


What really got my imagination and fascination with the past bubbling was a walk along the city walls. The turrets and stone that surround about a third of the present town really frame the city. Gazing out between the stones and doing my best to ignore the supermarket and bicycle megastore, with my invisible bow and arrows in hand I was for one brief moment on stag duty against a marauding Australian with a blue face dressed as a Scotsman. But then I snapped back into reality when I remembered not to believe everything Hollywood tells me as Mr Gibson’s character never lead his army this far south. But at the old adage goes, never let the truth get in the way of a good story, or for that matter a moment of joy.