Morning in York! I have a morning ritual that inspires my day. It starts my day everyday no matter where I might be. Propped up in bed, I sip my coffee and journal. I acquired this habit in February of 2005…living on my own in an old farmhouse built on the most sacred of lands in Vermont. I had begun reading a book by Julia Cameron (Cameron, Julia, The artist’s way: a spiritual path to higher creativity, New York: J.P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002). Her proposed exercises include writing three pages each and every morning. She refers to them as morning pages. For me they were MOURNING pages. At the time I discovered her book I had experienced an unexpected and unwelcomed shift in my life and I was searching for some way to swim through the profound sadness that this shift left in its wake. This concept of morning pages proved to be so helpful and so healing for me that I have continued to write them more than 15 years later. Every morning starts with three pages of uneven prose, vague ideas and mundane musings. The second part of this ritual is my morning meditation, twenty minutes or so of conversation with the Goddess or focus on living in the present tense. And thus my morning in York begins.
A hot shower and the wonders of ibuprofen have alleviated the aches of attempts to get from train station to guest house and then explore a bit of York. Having successfully charged phone and Ipad, I slip my travel journal into my day pack, count me pounds stirling…yes, need to find a bank…and head downstairs to the dining room following the promising fragrance of bacon.
The dining room of the Arnot House has a lovely large bay window that looks out on Grosvenor Street. The view is perfectly framed by cascades of roses. There is a couple in the dining room as well, but they have not chosen the table by the window, so clearly it was meant for me. I help myself to a bowl of Greek yogurt and fresh fruit from the sideboard. Kim appears with a french press full of coffee and a plate of wheat toast and fresh baked scones. I am suddenly hungry and have no problem eating my two eggs over easy with bacon breakfast.
Conversation always comes easily to travelers sharing a dining room at a guest house. Very soon I learn that the couple is from Victoria, Canada and that they too are travelling through the UK. We shared our impressions of York and recommendations and a few helpful suggestions. As they were finishing their last sips of coffee, an older woman entered the dining room. She too is Canadian but from Ontario. She is originally from Kent and is visiting England for the first time since leaving Kent during World War II. She is in her mid eighties, and clearly all those years in Ontario have not erased her English accent. As the couple leaves, we briefly discuss our plans for solitary travel. She is back in England on a sort of pilgrimage, paying homage to her past, to her history, to her land, to her people. She speaks of a childhood marked by rations, darkness, sirens, the sounds of bombers, the persistent and pervasive fears. She worries that this generation will forget because they not only have not learned, they have not listened. She tells me that one of the unexpected benefits of this journey has been the number of people who have shared her history of war ravaged England and the validation of sharing their stories and hers. She has experienced the country emerging from 1945, and like her, it is resilient, but she worries that the healing will mask the scars and it is the scars that bear witness. The wisdom of the Crone.
Just before crossing the street to enter Bootham Bar is the Yorkshire Museum. It adjoins St. Mary’s Abby, the gardens and the Church of St. Olaves. There is a place to sit and I am able to use the wifi emanating from the Museum. My plan is to explore York without a plan and with no expectations, although written in pencil is my wistful plan to attend Evensong at the Minster and finally hear it sung. I gather my touristy stuff and decide to explore the gardens, St. Olave’s Church by Marygate and the ruins of St. Mary’s Abbey.
Unfortunately, I am so mesmerized by a sea of iris as I approach St. Olaves that I neglect to take out my phone and take a picture. The blooms defy description. The gardens fittingly adorn this complex that dates from the early 11th Century. The Church was built in 1055. Originally dedicated to St. Olaf II of Norway, the Church remains an active Church to this day. In May of 1088 the church was rededicated to the Virgin Mary and the area grew into the richest and most powerful Bendictine Abbey in Northern England. The richness of the Abbey did not escape the notice of King Henry VIII, and in 1539 he closed the Abbey and destroyed the structure that had been rebuilt in the 13th Century.
I circle the Abbey Gardens drinking in the early June blooms and the echoes of times past; meander around St. Olaves and leave via Marygate to find the entrance to the stairs that lead to the top of the wall. I have decided to walk the wall this day.
The Wall Walk is one of the best ways to experience York. Medieval city on one side, the hustle and bustle of modern day York traffic and life on the other. The Friends of York Walls have produced a helpful and informative guide for exploring the Wall…at www.yorkwalls.org.uk, there is a ton of information and a valuable map for making your way between the gaps, places where the wall is not, but should be.
The Minster dominates the city within the walls. The wall is a mosaic of city view…chimneys, roof tops, glimpses of gardens and green spaces, the wonders of the Minster appearing and receding, sunlight splashing off windows. The path is well worn, with the steps of history on each stone.
The Minster from the top of the York Wall
Walking the Wall is a two hour undertaking…for this traveler a bit more…I want to see it all, to hear it all, I do not want to miss anything, but of course, I do. I reach the last bar and descend the stairs to the street below. On my way to the Shambles, hunger gets the best of me and I slip into the Wildwood Restaurant on Lower Petergate. An Italian restaurant with modern decor, I am soon sipping wine and eating perfectly cooked whole wheat penne pasta with vegetables…yummy. The diffuse sunlight has disappeared and as I leave the restaurant I am greeted by a light drizzle. This is the England I know and love!
Any history or travel guide of York will tell you that the Shambles is the best preserved medieval street in the world. Its overhanging timbered structures and narrow streets bring back memories of times long past. Although there is a street names the Shambles, the area is a twisty turny maze of beckoning alleys and narrow streets…a maze of delight and fancy.
The Shambles certainly looks like J.K. Rowlings’ inspiration for Diagon Alley. There is even a shop that takes full advantage of this inspiration. 30 The Shambles is now home to the Shop that Must not be Named. The shop is purveyor of all things Potter. Even in the chilly drizzle of midday there is a cue extending down the block of devotees eager to explore the shop and spend their money. Because the shop is so popular, shopkeepers are only letting in a few people at a time….a crowded store must most certainly limit sales. The wonderful benefit of Harry Potter and this shop is that this new shop has endeared York to a whole new generation who will feel its magic and soak up its history.
I did not take the picture of the inside of the shop…I copied from another site. I do love Harry Potter, but not enough to stand in line in a cold drizzle just to get in the door!
I wandered the walled city for the rest of the afternoon, dipping in and out of alleyways and small shops, making my way back to the Minster for a bit of time in the garden before attending Evensong. As I entered the garden gate and located a bench close to the Minster, the clouds and drizzle gave way to a rosy hue that bathed the exterior of the Minster in a mystical glow. A woman asked me if she could share my bench and I smiled, nodded and moved over to make room for her. A young woman from northwest of York, I discover that she often comes to York on her own to rejuvenate and renew. Leaving children, husband, work and mundane life behind to bask in the more ethereal. When I mention my plan to finally hear Evensong sung, she shakes her head sadly. “Not tonight,” she tells me. A bump in the path has occurred and the service will be a spoken one. Disappointed I decide to enter the Minster and sit quietly just for a few moments. I have always been drawn to the magnificence of Gothic cathedrals. Souring tributes to a god built by pagan hands. Built on sacred sites, celebrating the human spirit. York Minster is particularly beautiful. Inner arches soaring to the summit, stone embracing soaring stained glass windows. The Great East Window, the size of a tennis court it is the largest expanse of stained glass in the country. I learn that half of all the medieval stained glass in England is embraced within the walls of York Minster. During World Wars I and II, the windows were removed, hidden, protected and later reassembled. I also learn that keeping them in good repair, like the preservation of the Minster is a never ending task done by many loving and dedicated protectors.
After an all too brief interlude gazing at the intricate wonders of the Minster interior, I decide to return to the Shambles for a light dinner. On Lower Petergate I discover the Rouge Cafe. Within moments I am seated, sipping a glass of red wine, enjoying a salad and a bowl of onion soup.
Tomorrow I leave York for Edinburgh, and oh, yes, I will have that apple dessert and yes, include that scoop of ice cream.