Walk 72: York City Walk: The Bars & Walls

The ‘Needs to Know’

Distance: 3 miles (4.83km)

Time to walk: We combined this with visiting the sights of York so it took us the best part of a whole day

Difficulty: Flat & all on hard pavements so very easy

Parking: Plenty of public parking around the city

Public toilets: Lots of cafes etc

Map of the route:


What a stunning city York is!

A historic walled city at the joining of the rivers Ouse & Foss, York has a rich heritage & has provided the backdrop to major political events in England throughout much of its two millennia of existence. The city offers a wealth of historic attractions, of which York Minster is the most prominent, & a variety of cultural & sporting activities making it a popular tourist destination for millions

York was founded by the Romans as Eboracum in 71 AD. It became the capital of the Roman province of Britannia Inferior, & later of the Kingdoms of Northumbria & Jórvík. In the Middle Ages, York grew as a major wool trading centre & became the capital of the northern ecclesiastical province of the Church of England

In the 19th century, York became a hub of the railway network & a shoe, comb & confectionery manufacturing centre

Our walk today follows the city walls, but we’ll keep diving off them into the various streets below to explore the history & attractions

So, time to explore…

Let’s Walk!

1. Our walk starts on the ancient walls which date back to 1200 & almost entirely encircle the city. To get up on the walls we’ve made our way to the western side of the city to the magnificent Micklegate Bar…


Micklegate Bar was the most important of York’s four main medieval gateways & the focus for grand events. The name comes from ‘Micklelith’, meaning great street

It was the main entrance to the city for anyone arriving from the South. At least half a dozen reigning monarchs have passed through this gate & by tradition they stop here to ask the Lord Mayor’s permission to enter the city


The lower section of the bar dates from the 12th century, the top two storeys from the 14th. The building was inhabited from 1196. Like the other main gates, Micklegate Bar originally had a barbican built on the front. This one was demolished in 1826

For centuries the severed heads of rebels & traitors were displayed above the gate, the many victims include Sir Henry Purcey (Hotspur) in 1403 & Richard, Duke of York in 1460. The last of the severed heads was removed in 1754

“Off with his head, and set it on York gates, so York may overlook the town of York”        Queen Margaret in Henry VI                                                       

Richard’s head was crowned with a paper crown in derision of his claims to the throne

2. Head to the right side of the Bar, looking for a gap & steps leading up the wall…



3. At the top turn right as we’re going to walk round the city in a clockwise direction


Today there are no heads on the wall & the Bar’s now a museum showing the history of what went on in this area

4. Continue along the wall. This really is magnificent walking as you’re rewarded with excellent views across York from all angles


And you also forget exactly how high up you’re walking, especially as some of the drops on the right are open!


5. As the wall turns right, on the left’s York’s magnificent Railway Station & behind the National Railway Museum



Although there’s no exit off the wall at this stage, they’re both well worth a visit. Unlike some stations, you can still walk out onto the platforms & admire the sheer size of the place


Where’s that train?


At 5.30am on June 25, 1877, the first train left the new York Railway Station, bound for Scarborough across the specially altered railway bridge. The station took 3 years to construct & was the largest in Britain, confirming the city’s status at the heart of the network

It was designed by the North Eastern Railway’s architect Thomas Prosser. The 800ft long train shed roof, held 42ft above the platforms by iron columns, was widely admired. The whole station is built on a curve, making the architecture all the more impressive. It was called ‘a monument to extravagance’. By 1910 about 350 trains a day were running through the station

Today we were lucky to see a steam train come in on its way to Scarborough


6. So go see both of the above at some stage during your visit, but the wall now swings in the direction of the Minster…



On the right’s one of Yorks large hotels, The Grand, Yorkshire’s only 5 Star!


 7. Close by can also be seen the imposing North Eastern Railway Company War Memorial


The North Eastern Railway War Memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens to commemorate employees of the North Eastern Railway (NER) who left to fight in the First World War & were killed while serving. It’s one of six war memorials designed by Lutyens in England. The NER memorial was unveiled on 14 June 1924 by Field Marshal Lord Plumer

8. The wall now starts to descend towards the river & Barker Tower…


This river-side tower was built in the 14th century. It was positioned at the boundary of the medieval city-centre &, in conjunction with Lendal Tower on the opposite bank, was used to control river traffic entering the city. A great iron chain was stretched across the river between the two towers & boatmen had to pay a toll to cross it. The chain also served as a defence for the city. As early as 1380 Thomas Smyth was named as the tower’s ‘keeper of the chain’


The tower has had plenty of other uses over the years, including as a mortuary for a brief time in the 19th century

9. Walk over the Lendal Bridge…



On the other side’s the Lendal Tower which was where the chain was attached. In the 17th century the Tower’s role changed as fresh water was pumped from it throughout York

10. Walk up Museum Street, turning into Museum Gardens on the left which is a lovely place to spend an hour or so…


The gardens cover an area of 10 acres in the former grounds of St Mary’s Abbey & were created in the 1830s by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society along with the Yorkshire Museum which is located in them


They were designed in a gardenesque style by landscape architect Sir John Murray Naismith & contain several historic buildings. They also contain the remains of the west corner of the Roman fort of Eboracum, including the Multangular Tower & parts of the Roman walls. In the same area there is also the Anglian Tower, which was probably built into the remains of a late Roman period fortress. During the Middle Ages, the tower was expanded & the Roman walls were incorporated into York’s city walls


Most of the other buildings date from the Middle Ages & are associated with St Mary’s Abbey, including the ruins of the abbey church above, the Hospitium (below)…


…the lodge & part of the surviving precinct wall. The remains of St. Leonard’s Hospital chapel & undercroft are on the east side of the gardens. The Yorkshire Philosophical Society constructed several buildings in the gardens during the 19th & early 20th century, including the Yorkshire Museum & its octagonal observatory


The observatory was built between 1832 & 1833. The design of its rotating roof is credited to John Smeaton designer of the Eddystone Lighthouse. A 4.5-inch telescope built in 1850 by the instrument maker Thomas Cooke of York was installed during the observatory’s 1981 restoration. It’s Yorkshire’s oldest working observatory &, as of August 2007, was opened to the public by a team of volunteers. The building is currently opened every Thursday & Saturday. The clock in the observatory was made by Barraud of London in 1811, & during the 19th century it was used to set the time for other clocks in York

11. Told you it was worth spending time in the gardens! Come back out & continue up Museum Street to the crossroads where it meets St Leonard’s Place


If you fancy a coffee then we can highly recommend Mannion & Co. This is a cracking Italian style deli serving excellent food & coffee – in fact it’s a must & do not miss the sausage rolls!


12. Suitably refreshed take the road up the side of the red building above past the Theatre Royal



…& then over the road, York Art Gallery which contains a collection of paintings from 14th century to contemporary, prints, watercolours, drawings, & ceramics. It closed for major redevelopment in 2013, reopening in summer of 2015 & is managed by York Museums Trust


13. We’re now at another Gate into the city…Bootham Bar


Although much of Bootham Bar was built in the 14th & 19th centuries, it also has some of the oldest surviving stonework, dating back to the 11th century. It stands almost on the site of ‘Porta Principals Dextra’, the north western gate of Eboracum. It was named in the 12th century as ‘Barram de Bootham’, meaning ‘Bar at the Booths’, after the nearby market booths. It was the last of the bars to lose its barbican, which was removed in 1835

14. Facing the Bar climb the steps on the right side…


…& turn left. The wall’s narrow at this point


You also feel a bit like a ‘nosy neighbour’ as the views to the right are down into the Minster & its surrounding buildings, many of which are extremely elegant & impressive


15. When the wall turns right, there’s a corner tower with a seating area that’s worth spending time on a nice day watching the world of a city go by. As you walk along the next stretch the views of the Minster dominate the skyline


There’s also an opportunity to take a rather classy stop by heading down the access steps to Grays Court which, as well as being a historic house, is also a very nice tea room & garden


Grays Court is possibly the oldest continuously occupied house in the UK, dating back in part to 1080 & commissioned by the first Norman Archbishop of York to provide the official residence for the Treasurers of York Minster. The house has a significant history, having been surrendered to the Crown on 26 May 1547. The first post-Reformation owner was Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset. He was given the house in 1547 by King Edward VI, the son of King Henry VIII.

Grays Court has been privately owned since 2005, & is now a hotel/restaurant, offering 11 en-suite rooms. It’s also a venue for weddings, private dining, conferencing & banquets, film locations & more

16. Continue along the wall towards Monks Bar…


…where we enter the tower & walk down the narrow steps back to street level


Monk Bar is the largest & most ornate of the bars, dating from the early 14th century. It was a self-contained fortress, with each floor capable of being defended. On the front of the bar is an arch supporting a gallery, including ‘murder-holes’ through which missiles & boiling water could be rained down upon attackers


Monk Bar has the city’s only working portcullis, in use until 1970. Like the other main gateways, Monk Bar originally had a barbican on the front which was demolished in 1825

The rooms above the gateway have had various uses over the years, including as a home & as a jail for rebellious Catholics in the 16th century

17. We’re now in Goodramgate…


This street was created by the Vikings in 1100 & was built to connect two of the former Roman gateways, the eastern & the northern (now King’s Square & Monk Bar). Its original name Guthrumgate, or Gutherumgate, may be an Anglicised reference to the Viking King Guthrum who ruled York in the 9th century


It’s now lined with charming shops & many pubs & cafés


18. Walk straight over the crossroads to reach College Street on the right, under the wooden arches…


Yes please!

Yes please!

19. Walk under the half-timbered building past the National Trust shop which was once the draper’s shop of George Hudson MP. George was Lord Mayor of York three times & became known as The Railway King as it was he who brought the railways to the city


On the rights a beautiful building that’s home to St William’s College


St William’s College was originally built to provide accommodation for priests attached to chantry chapels at nearby York Minster. It was founded in 1460 by George Neville & the Earl of Warwick to house 23 priests & a provost. It was named after St William of York

The courtyard is supposed to be quintessential English, but unfortunately the door was locked. Here’s what it is supposed to look like


20. At the end’s The Minster, but we’ll come back to it later in the walk. For now return under the timber building & carry straight ahead down Goodramgate again



Again there’s a real eclectic mix of shops, bars & restaurants along here including the slightly scary…


Plus we don’t think you’ll get your ‘smalls’ washed here!


21. The row of cottages on the right form the oldest houses in York


Our Ladys Row, plastered timber-framed cottages with pantiled roofs date from 1316 when a deed was granted for their construction in the Holy Trinity’s churchyard. They are one of the earliest examples in England of the medieval ‘jettied’ houses, whose upper story protrudes, or ‘jetties’, outwards above the lower part. Built within the ancient churchyard with a separate house for the Chantry Priests the rental income, a considerable sum of money, funded the church’s maintenance & contributed to the Chantry endowment costs on a regular basis

22. Next door’s The Old White Swan


One of York’s oldest public houses, the Old White Swan is an old coaching inn. Known to the locals as the ‘Mucky Duck’, this ancient hostelry dates from the 16th century & keenly competes with The Black Swan, The Punchbowl, & Ye Olde Starre Inne as York’s oldest pub.

The pub consists of around nine old buildings. Out in the courtyard is a rock with four steps, a mounting stone that was used to assist stagecoach passengers with boarding; at the rear are some timber-framed medieval buildings, maybe one of these played in a role in the following events…

On 5 August 1781 following permission from the Lord Mayor of York, the pub’s landlord showed off the eight-foot tall Irishman, Patrick Cotter O’Brien, then the tallest man in the world. Customers paid a shilling for the privilege, a considerable amount at that time. The viewings were held in a building at the rear of the pub, now used as kitchens. O’Brien proved a very popular attraction & both the landlord & O’Brien made a tidy profit out of it. O’Brien toured the world displaying his height at a fee & when he died in 1806 aged forty-six was a very rich man

Twelve years after his appearance at the pub The Salem Massachusetts Gazette of 15th May 1792, described O’Brien as ‘an athletic make, a great example of proportion, & justly allowed to be the greatest wonder of the age’

Reports of unnerving apparitions at the pub include figures clustered by the fire that re-lights itself, laughing with each other in the early hours, furniture being tossed about, hushed voices & footsteps. And who arranged the chairs into a circle overnight? The Old White Swan was long thought to be a venue for clandestine papists plotting their escape to Catholic France or members of an unknown secret society

Do their spirits still inhabit the buildings? Why not pop in for a pint & see…

23. At the crossroads turn left into King’s Square where there’s always something happening, whether it be fire-eaters or escapologists


Walk towards the far right corner of the square past York’s Chocolate Story


While other British cities were built on steel, coal or wool, York’s fame & fortune have rested on chocolate for almost 300 years, thanks to the vision & invention of its great entrepreneurial families, not to mention the industry & dedication of its people. Though much has changed over the centuries, York remains the UK’s home of chocolate

24. Our exit out of the square’s down the narrow alley that’s York’s most famous street, The Shambles…


The Shambles is a narrow street with overhanging timber-framed buildings, some dating back as far as the 14th century. It was once known as ‘The Great Flesh Shambles’, probably from the Anglo-Saxon ‘Fleshammels’ (literally ‘flesh-shelves’), the word for the shelves that butchers used to display their meat on. As recently as 1872 twenty five butchers’ shops were located along the street, but today none remain



Among the buildings of the Shambles is a shrine to Saint Margaret Clitherow, who was married to a butcher who owned & lived in a shop there at No. 10 Shambles. She suffered for her selfless bravery by being deliberately crushed to death beneath a door in 1586


Although the butchers have now vanished, a number of the shops on the street still have meat-hooks hanging outside &, below them, shelves on which meat would have been displayed

25. Exit this short street & turn right to arrive at Parliament Square…


Straight ahead in the middle of the road’s a church known as ‘The Parish of All Saints Pavement’


The church dates from the 14th century & has been added to / changed over the years. It’s the guild & civic church for the city of York, & the regimental church for the Royal Dragoon Guards

26. Parliament Square’s actually a wide street so, facing the church, turn right & walk up the busy thoroughfare…


On the right’s one of the entrances into The Shambles Market – there are several other off The Shambles itself. The market’s a real mix & well worth a look as there are some good local food producer stalls


27. After passing the market entrance head towards the Three Cranes pub on the right…


There’s some interesting characters looking out of the upstairs window!


28. Our route out of the square is down the side of the Roman Bath pub…


The Roman Baths is not only a pub, it’s also a small museum. The pub used to be called the ‘Mail Coach Inn’ until 1930 when the remains of Roman baths where discovered, mainly of the Caldarium or ‘hot room’ which dates back to the days in 71 AD when the 9th legion founded the city

Today you can view the well preserved semi-circular bath that has at steps at both ends

29. Walk up narrow Frinkle Street next to the pub…


…& where it meets Coffee Yard, look for the low passage on the left which leads down another small snicket



30. This snicket takes us past Barley Hall…


Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse. Originally built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory, it was later extended in the 15th century. The property went into a slow decline &, by the 19th & 20th centuries, heavily sub-divided & in an increasingly poor physical condition. It was bought by the York Archaeological Trust in 1987, renamed Barley Hall, & heavily restored in a controversial project to form a museum

31. At the end turn right into very busy Stonegate…


Stonegate’s one of the most attractive & architecturally varied streets of York. The road’s always been central to the City’s layout. Six feet below it lies the Roman Via Praetoria, which connected the Basilica at the centre of the fortress to the bridge over the River Ouse & the civilian settlement on the other side

The Roman road may have given the street its name, although Francis Drake records in 1736: ‘It had this name given as is said from the vast quantity of stone lead through this street for the building of the cathedral’. Limestone for the construction of the Minster was indeed brought in from Tadcaster by river. Drake also records that, at the bottom of the street, was a spot called ‘cuckolds’ corner’ although he doesn’t explain why

32. At the junction with Low & High Petergate’s a statue of Minerva above the door. Minerva is the Roman goddess of wisdom & learning & here she gazes down from above a corner shop, denoting the former home of a writers’ meeting place & bookshop


You can see Minerva’s left arm is resting on a pile of books &, if you look closely, you can see an owl peeking out from behind her. The inscription below is dated 1801 & attributed to John Wolstenholme. Between 1580 & 1607 the shop was owned by John Foster, who was said to have had a stock of around 3,000 books – which at that time was considered extremely impressive

33. We’re going to have a look at the Minster shortly, but firstly turn left up High Petergate…


This is another lovely street with some good pubs & cafes. We’ve diverted down here though to see the house on the left


Guy Fawkes, the infamous conspirator, was born in York in 1570 & christened on 16 April 1570 in St Michael le Belfrey Church, High Petergate, as listed in the church register. Various claims are laid to his birthplace including here


34. Return to the crossroads with Stonegate & turn left to finally arrive at the Minster…


York’s cathedral church is one of the finest medieval buildings in Europe. The Minster is also known as St Peter’s, its full name being the ‘Cathedral & Metropolitical Church of St Peter in York’. In the past the church sat within its own walled precinct, known as the Liberty of St Peter

The site of the magnificent medieval building has always been an important one for the city. The remains of the Basilica, the ceremonial centre of the Roman fortress, have been found beneath the Minster building. The first Christian church on the site has been dated to 627 & the first Archbishop of York was recognised by the Pope in 732

A stone Saxon church survived Viking invasion in 866, but was ransacked by William the Conqueror’s forces in 1069. William appointed his own Archbishop, Thomas, who by the end of the century had built a great Norman cathedral on the site


The present Gothic-style church was designed to be the greatest cathedral in the kingdom. It was built over 250 years, between 1220 & 1472. As the natural centre of the Church in the North, the Minster has often played an important role in great national affairs – not least during the turbulent years of the Reformation & the Civil War

Basic entrance to look around costs £10, although this does allow 12 months access & free photography. Here’s a few from inside…




The church inside is large & cavernous &, we thought, had a very “empty” feel to it. It’s certainly not as spectacular as Canterbury which we visited a week later

35. Disappointed, we exit the Minster & walk round to the square past the Cathedral School


The column in the above picture is an old Roman one which once stood within the Great Hall of the Headquarters building of the fortress of the 6th legion. It was found in 1969 during the excavation of the south transept of the Minster, lying where it had collapsed. It was given by the Dean & Chapter to the York Civic Trust who had it erected on this site to mark the 1900th anniversary  of the foundation of the city by Romans in AD 71

36. Walk past the large red house…


The small stone plaque above commemorates ‘The Queen’s Path’ as it was here that in Her Majesty distributed Maundy Money in 1972 & in her Diamond Jubilee in 2012

After passing, continue down the lane to the left


…to arrive at the entrance to Treasurer’s House


37. The Treasurer’s House is an historic house owned by the National Trust who also maintain its garden. The first Treasurer for York Minster was appointed in 1091, but all that remains of his original house is an external wall. The Treasurer was controller of the finances of the Minster, but also entertained important guests, hence why he was provided with a grand residence

In 1547, when the Reformation of the English Church brought the job of Treasurer to an end, the house passed into the hands of the Archbishops of York. In the early 17th century the Young family added the symmetrical front & almost entirely rebuilt the house. In 1617 the Treasurer’s House played host to royalty when Sir George Young entertained King James I. The house then passed through a number of private owners


The house was restored to its present state by Frank Green, a wealthy local industrialist, between 1897 & 1930. The house & its contents were given to the National Trust in 1930, when its owner retired & moved away from York


The property was built directly over one of the main Roman roads leading out of Roman York to the North. During major structural changes, carried out by Green, four Roman column bases were uncovered, one of which remains in-situ in the cellar & one of which was used as a base for a modern set of columns in the main hall

It’s well worth a visit & don’t miss the haunted cellar. In 1953 Harry Martindale witnessed Roman soldiers marching through the walls

38. Walk back round the Minster & down Stonegate again…


If you fancy a cup with ‘Betty’ you can either visit her cafe along here, or wait a bit longer for the main tearoom



39. At the bottom of Stoneygate emerge into the rather lovely St Helen’s Square – Bettys is in the large building in the picture below


In 1936 the founder of Bettys, Frederick Belmont, travelled on the maiden voyage of the Queen Mary. He was so enthralled by the splendour of the ship that he commissioned the Queen Mary’s designers & craftsmen to turn a dilapidated furniture store into his most sophisticated branch yet – an elegant café in the land-locked location of St Helen’s Square. Today, as you sit in Bettys, surrounded by huge curved windows, elegant wood panelling & ornate mirrors, you can almost imagine yourself aboard a luxury liner

A few years after Bettys opened its doors in York war broke out, & Bettys, in particular the basement ‘Bettys Bar’, became a favourite haunt of thousands of airmen stationed around York. ‘Bettys Mirror’, on which many of them engraved their signatures with a diamond pen, remains on display today as a fitting tribute to their bravery


40. Exit the square diagonally right into Coney Street (look for the big clock to show you’re in the right road)


The clock stands at the entrance to what remains of St Martin le Grand Church


This was once one of the most beautiful churches in the city, according to The National Gazetteer of Great Britain & Ireland, 1868. With its impressive double-sided clock, topped by the 18th century ‘Little Admiral’, St Martin-le-Grand has one of York’s most distinctive & charming facades. But what you see now is a mere fragment of the medieval original


St Martin’s is now a haven of calm in the heart of York, but in 1942 it was reduced to a smouldering ruin during a bombing raid on the city. The church stood desolate until restoration work began in 1961. The north side of the church became an enclosed garden, & in 1968 the building was re-consecrated as a ‘shrine of remembrance for all men who died in the two world wars’

The church has Norman origins, being founded in the late 11th century however it was extensively rebuilt in the 15th century, when it was at the heart of the thriving business sector of medieval York. The clock, first fitted in 1668 & the gilded head of Father Time are replacements for the originals destroyed in the air raid. The jaunty ‘Little Admiral’ however, survived the fire & is still taking a sighting of the sun with his sextant


The church is named after St Martin of Tours, the patron saint of soldiers. There’s a poignant memorial plaque on the wall…


41. Carry on down Coney Street looking out for the alleyway on the right shown in the picture below


Walk down it & bear left (Yates’ Wine Lodge is on the right) down the narrow lane to the junction with the main road…


…turning right towards the bridge


42. Cross the road & take the steps down to the river before crossing it…


We’re nearing the end of the walk so if you fancy some quick refreshment, on a nice day, grab one from the King’s Arms & sit on the quay


York is prone to flooding &, given its closeness to the river, this pub seems to be one of the first to be hit every time


43. If you fancy a boat trip, then you can get one along here. Continue to the next bridge but instead of passing under it, climb the steps on the left to the road


Look across to the left to see Clifford’s Tower…


The original mound of Clifford’s Tower, with a timber structure at the top, was constructed by William the Conqueror in 1068 as a statement of his power over the region. This building stood for just over a century before being burnt down in one of York’s bloodiest & tragic moments, when, in 1190, 150 Jews were massacred on the site

Between 1190 & 1194, it was repaired at great expense, & the mound was raised to its present height. The second timber structure was destroyed (this time by a gale) in 1245. Under pressure from his wars with the Scots, Henry III ordered the tower to be rebuilt & strengthened, this time in stone. Master Simon of Northampton & Master Henry of Reynes, the senior carpenter & stonemason respectively in Windsor Castle, were sent up to York to consult on the new design of the castle

Over the centuries the tower has regularly been threatened by demolition or neglect & yet still it stands, a proud, if somewhat decayed, monument to York’s turbulent & bloody past.
It isn’t entirely clear when or why the Tower got its present name. Originally it was simply known as the King’s Tower, indeed the first recorded use of ‘Clifford’s Tower’ is not until 1596. The name may well be a reference to the fact that Roger de Clifford was hanged at the tower in 1322 for opposing Edward II, or to the Clifford family’s claim that they were the hereditary constables of the tower

44. Cross over the bridge & look to the right to see steps back up onto the city walls again


And now it’s simply a case of following the wall back to Micklegate again which is where we started our walk around York


So…that’s the end of what’s become one of our favourite city walks. It had been a long time since we’d visited York & it has someone for everyone – great sights, museums, cafes, bars & shops plus….fabulous sausage rolls!!

Go visit & Walk!