Historic York, by Ted Cookson

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by Ted Cookson
Published in October 2011
York's city wall, 46-second video clip

York, with one of the richest histories of any city in England, can be visited from London on a long day trip or on an overnight basis. Situated on the River Ouse 315 km (195 miles) north of London and with impressive and very walkable walls dating to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries that stretch two and a half miles around the city, York's cathedral is one of the world's greatest. York's National Railway Museum, the best in Europe, and nearby Viking ruins also beckon.

York's history reaches back to 71 A. D. when it served as a provincial capital in the Roman Empire. Later Constantine was proclaimed emperor there in 306. By the fifth century when the Romans had gone, York had morphed into Eoforwic, the capital of Northumbria, an Anglo-Saxon kingdom. The first wooden church, constructed in 627, became a center of learning which attracted students from around Europe. The city's importance grew in the ninth century after the Danes made York, then called Jorvik, their capital in England.

Next the invading Normans first destroyed and then rebuilt the city. The current castle and walls date from this period. Thanks in large part to the wool trade and its strategic position as an inland port on the River Ouse, in the eleventh through the fourteenth centuries York was England's second-largest city, with a population of 9,000. Guilds of craftsmen and merchants accumulated great wealth, and royalty frequented the city then. In 1332 Edward III held a parliament in York, and Richard II handed the city its first sword of state.

The beautiful York Cathedral, which dates to this era, reflects the wealth and importance of the medieval city. In fact, the archbishop of York is second only to the archbishop of Canterbury in the Church of England's hierarchy. Because during the Industrial Age York was northern England's rail hub, the city's train station was the world's largest at the time of its construction. Today, though, the major industry is tourism; and it has been said that York is England's third-best city for sightseeing after London and Edinburgh.

The thirteenth-century York Cathedral, approximately 163 meters (534 feet) long, 76 meters (249 feet) across its transepts, and 27 meters (90 feet) from floor to roof, is the largest Gothic church not only in England but also in Europe north of the Alps. The central tower of this, Europe's largest medieval cathedral, was shored up in the late 1960s and early 1970s after a 1967 study showed that it was about to collapse. A climb up 275 winding steps will take one to the roof. Remarkably, the cathedral's great east window contains the world's largest expanse of medieval stained glass.

Because the old city center is a dense web of narrow alleys, nowadays most of the streets in the vicinity of the cathedral are reserved for pedestrians only. Access to the city walls, from where an excellent view of the cathedral can be obtained, is free.

The National Railway Museum, one of the largest railway museums in the world, focuses on the Industrial Age when Great Britain was a world leader in rail technology. Covering a 150-year period, the museum, situated in a couple of gigantic rail barns, features among its many exhibits Royal Mail rail carriages and Queen Victoria's very lavish royal car, which is a true period piece.

Jorvik Viking Center, situated outside central York, is a very popular Viking-era theme park built adjacent to actual ninth-century Viking ruins which were uncovered only in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While some will enjoy riding a Disney-type car through a recreated Viking village for about a quarter of an hour (after which it is possible to tour the ruins themselves), others will prefer instead to take in the Yorkshire Museum in the city center. This sports the best Viking artifacts in town as well as remains from the many other periods of York's history.

A stroll should be taken though The Shambles, a well-preserved, narrow medieval street stuffed with crafts and souvenir stores. In addition, there are several other sightseeing options in the city. York Castle Museum contains displays from Victorian and Edwardian times and also of items used in everyday life over the last 400 years. The York Story, nearby, offers a 45-minute historical video. The Merchant Adventurers' Hall, constructed in the fourteenth century and the largest half-timbered hall in the city, is a testament to the monopoly power of York's medieval guilds.

The least expensive nonstop round trip restricted economy class airfare from Cairo to London is approximately EGP 2,740 on British Midland. Because round trip economy class rail fares from London to York range from GBP 23 up to GBP 74, it is wise to book rail tickets in advance online at a site such as www.nationalrail.co.uk. The shortest rail travel time from London to York is just under two hours each way.      


ABOUT TED COOKSON:  Egypt's most widely-traveled travel agent, Ted has been to every country in the world!  He has also visited 316 of the 321 destinations on the list of the Travelers' Century Club (visit www.eptours.com and refer to World Travel Club).  A travel agent in Cairo since 1986, Ted manages EGYPT PANORAMA TOURS, a full-service travel agency, at 4 Road 79 (between Roads 9 and 10, near the "El Maadi" metro station) in Maadi.  Contact Egypt Panorama Tours (open 7 days a week 9 AM-5 PM) at:  Tels. 2359-0200, 2358-5880, 2359-1301.  Fax 2359-1199.  E-mail:  ept@link.net.  Web site:  www.eptours.com

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