Shortly after arriving in Scotland, we decided to take a quick, last-minute road trip up to the Highlands. I know what you are saying, “York isn’t in the Highlands”. Well, you would be correct. Apparently, Scotland is a VERY popular place to visit in August, and there was nary a room for 5 available where we wanted to go. So I looked at the map, and what to my wondering eyes should appear, but York! A short 4-hour drive south would bring us to this historic, walled city. So we booked a nice, little flat located inside the city walls, and headed out!
On the way down to York, we passed by Hadrian’s Wall, and stopped to learn a bit about it.
C and I were trying to guess how old we thought it was. Do you know? Quick – what is your guess?……it is nearly 900 years old! During Rome’s heyday, they conquered the south end of the British Isle. However, they were not able to, or possibly interested in, conquering the northern lands of Scotland – home to “the barbarians”. In 122 AD, Roman emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of a wall to mark the ending boundary of the Roman Empire, and offer some protection from the tribes of the north.
The wall ran 80 miles long – the entire width of the island at that point. There are many parts where the wall still exists, and we saw some amazingly intact sections.
After seeing the wall (it is just a wall – hard to spend too much time looking at it), we got back in the car and continued on the way to York.
Once we got to York, the boys stretched their legs by racing around the city – and what a nice city it was to race around!
Plus, a little bit of time playing below the famous Clifford Tower.
The Clifford Tower has an interesting history – though the actual building has been rebuilt a few times, in 1068, William the Conqueror built the original castle out of wood. One of the saddest things happened just over 100 years later, in 1190, when the York Jewish community took refuge from a mob in the tower. Most of the Jewish ended up committing suicide by burning the tower and themselves, rather than renouncing their faith or dying at the hands of the mobs. Later, the tower was rebuilt out of stone, and was used as a prison, until finally falling into disuse (until it became a tourist attraction).
York is a very walkable city. Here are all the things we saw (by foot) in York:
The City Walls, the Minster & The Shambles
York is one of Europe’s medieval walled cities, with walls built around 300AD. It is actually the longest preserved medieval wall in England (beats Hadrian’s!) The wall was right outside the airbnb where we stayed, so we just hopped up and walked around the city, until we found interesting distractions to visit.
We hopped off the wall to visit the York Minster, but didn’t go inside.
After checking out the Minster, we walked around central York, grabbing lunch and stopping to watch a very entertaining street performer juggle knives.
We walked down The Shambles, an old street with overhanging timber-framed buildings (some dating back as far as the 14th century), named for the many butcher shops that used to be located here.
The Jorvik Viking Centre
York is well known for the Viking settlement located here from around 800-1100 AD. In the 1980s, there was an excavation of an area under part of current-day York, which resulted in many amazing finds. The Jorvik Viking Centre was created largely to showcase the finds and includes a recreation of the excavated site. I had read about the long lines, so we went right when it opened and managed to avoid the long lines. It was pretty interesting, it had a very life-like ride that took us through this replica Viking settlement. They also had artifacts and replicas on display, like this replica helmet (obviously wouldn’t let us try on the real one – but the guy explained how they made this very detailed and accurate replica).
We also saw this (not a replica) fascinating piece of human coprolite (aka fossilized poop). It is apparently priceless! Not what the guy was thinking when he made this “donation”, but apparently the fossilized feces are able to tell scientists a lot about life and the diet of the people at that time. You heard it here first….
Among the things found at the site were iron dies for stamping out coins. There was a lady demonstrating (and selling) stamped coins, so, of course, we had to get one!
Here is the picture of the coin she made for us. The dies found in the excavation were the head-side of two different coins, so our coin has two heads. Now you know if one of our boys ever wants to do heads or tails with you – always go for heads!
The museum doesn’t take a very long time to go through (which works well for kids!), so we were out within an hour or two – with one last stop at the gift shop of course (they are smart enough to make you exit that way).
Since they didn’t accept ancient two-headed Viking coins as payment, we didn’t buy anything. Instead, we stopped and relaxed at the huge sandpit located in front of the museum and felt vastly superior for all those not-early-birds who were standing in the long line to get in.
York Castle Museum
We spent a few hours at the York Castle Museum. The castle (close to, and formerly attached to, Clifford Tower above) was a prison for a long time before becoming a museum, so it had the history of its life as a prison, as well as some interesting exhibits like:
Toys from the last 150 years exhibit
They also showed living spaces of various eras (with the toys of that era). They were interesting to see – this was a family room from the time my parents were young.
A life-sized Victorian-era street
We also visited a Victorian-era classroom and jail.
And L and I make a fine Victorian couple 😉
And finally, our last (but not least) adventure in York was….
Boating on the River Ouse
We took out Josephine, and drove ourselves up and down the River Ouse
The boat company gave us a nice map of the bridges we would pass, and the boys all took turns driving, while the rest of us enjoyed the views.
And that wraps up our exciting weekend in York. For a destination I had never even considered, it ended up being a great place to go with the family!