We walk into York most Sundays. It’s about a mile and a half from our door to the city walls, and typically we take a long route across the Knavesmire and down Bishopthorpe Road, around York’s snickleways and then home the direct route from Micklegate Bar. Of course, in normal circumstances we’ll stop for lunch or a coffee in one of our favourite haunts, and normally browse a few shops in the city centre. But I’m so thankful we haven’t lost this routine even while the country is in lockdown – not least because I don’t think we’ll ever have the opportunity to see York so quiet and empty again.
Everything is terrible – but being able to wander through empty York streets in the middle of the day has been a weekly tonic amidst the worry. For this post I thought I’d take you with us on our weekly walk. I hope that, wherever you are, it can help you escape to our beautiful city and its spring blossom.
We start by walking from the flat to the Knavesmire. The Knavesmire is a large expanse of grass, one of a number of similar spaces around York known as Strays. (This one forms part of Micklegate Stray, along with the nearby Hob Moor.) Formerly the site of York’s golf course, it’s now home to the city’s Racecourse and hosts numerous events and concerts across the year. It’s extremely prone to flooding and was pretty much a lake for a while at the start of the year, but these days it’s in full, leafy bloom. We walk here fairly regularly, particularly through the woody sections, but for our walk to town we’ll cross the grass to the Racecourse on the other side.
The River Ouse
Having crossed the Knavesmire we’ll follow the road until we reach a crossroads, and then turn left down Bishopthorpe Road. Normally a friendly and bustling community, ‘Bishy’ Road is fairly quiet these days, although there are typically short queues outside some of the shops which remain open. The Bishy Weigh, our local low-waste shop, is popular as ever; it continues to supply Yorkies with yeast and flour despite every other store being entirely out of stock. From Bishy Road we’ll continue across the road and on to Skeldergate Bridge over the Ouse. The Bridge is home to one of our favourite cocktail spots, Dyls, which manages to stay open even when its ground floor is overcome with flood water, but is now closed along with the majority of the city’s independent businesses. We take the steps down at the other end of the bridge and walk through Tower Gardens to take the path along the River Ouse, and past The Lowther and The King’s Arms, completely empty.
The Shambles & City Centre
Now in York proper, we wander up a quiet Coney Street to St Helen’s Square, devoid of tourists and framed by empty restaurants. We curve back round past Bettys – perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen it without a queue – and onto Parliament Street and left. It’s rare to find The Shambles empty, especially in the daytime, and this alone is worth the walk. From The Shambles we wander to King’s Square and take in the view down Low Petergate towards York Minster.
We turn down Goodramgate and onto College Street to approach the Minster from the back. This is one of my favourite corners of the city, and the blossom is out in full. The Minster’s great East Window reflects the spring sky; its pale stone gleams in the sunshine. We take the Minster Yard path past the outdoor stonemasonry workshop, which opens out onto the cathedral’s golden courtyard. We’re not alone here; I think there’s something comforting about the Minster, having stood firm through so many tragedies in human history, that locals gravitate towards it. It reminds us that we are more than this moment; that, sure as there has been a past, there will be a future.
York City Walls
From the Minster we turn left towards Museum Street, passing my much-missed Brew and Brownie and the currently-closed Museum Gardens, and cross over Lendal Bridge towards the station. The city walls are closed to visitors for the time being – it’s impossible to social distance at the supposedly safe two metres on their paths – but they’re still a welcome sight. In late March and early April the mounds on which the walls are set explode in shades of yellow as thousands of daffodils blossom along their banks. They will only be here for a few short weeks, but there’s a promise in their sunshine of more to come.
The daffodils in those last pictures are already gone at the time of writing, and so is much of that blossom. But it will be back next year, sure as ever; and York in all its beauty – whether spring, summer, autumn, or winter – will be here waiting for you when this is all over.