Thursday, 10 September 2015

A Visit to York - Home of the York Minster and The Perky Peacock

The walled city of York.  After our day at Fountains Abbey, we headed here for the evening with the intent to spend part of the following day exploring this city in North Yorkshire with it’s rich heritage and long history that dates back to Roman times.  Even though we had spent a long day at Fountains Abbey, after we rested for a bit and filled our bellies at a local pub, we headed out to explore as the sun set upon the city.  We started with a walk along the medieval walls that surround the center of the old city.  

The sun was sinking fast so we headed toward York Minster, the great cathedral of York which is probably the most prominent historical feature in the city.  We knew we wouldn't get inside as the doors had already been locked up for the night, but we just wanted to catch a glimpse of it, and oh what a glimpse we got.  

The golden rays of the sinking sun lit the face of York Minster up like a sky full of Hallelujah singing angels.  Was this the intent?   

Did the architects and city planners position this ornate building in this exact spot facing this exact direction for this very spellbinding effect?  If they did, what a brilliant move.  

The brilliant effect was a short-lived show though... 

and soon the sun had disappeared and with the gloomy cloud filled skies above, the cathedral was transformed into a cold sleeping gray giant.

Just past the Minster we found a network of narrow shop-lined streets.  The gloomy skies overhead finally gave in and rain started coming down, slowly at first, but gradually it picked up in intensity and we walked up one street and then down another.

The streets were mostly deserted, maybe because of the weather, maybe because it was Sunday evening and everything but the pubs were closed.  That was okay though.  We enjoyed walking down the quiet streets alone and taking in the charming quirkiness of the buildings.  

And make no mistake about it, they were quirky.  Some, such as this…

were down right crooked in fact.  It’s a pub.  There were people enjoying dinner inside, framed by the crooked window outside.  What a funny sight.  And are they concerned about the integrity of the building?  It doesn’t seem like it in this town because this would not be the last crooked building we would see in York.  But they sure do add a charm to this lovely city.
We passed by all manner of shops selling trinkets, clothing, books or what have you.  The shop windows gave us clues as to what lay behind the locked doors.   

This one in particular piqued our interest.  It looked like a mad scientists laboratory, the back wall covered in glass jugs filled with colorful concoctions.   What exactly was in those jugs?  We weren't sure, but we would be back the next day to discover that on top of selling olive oil and flavored vinegars, this shop also sells colorful flavored gins and scotch and whiskey straight from the barrel.  This is a combination we have not seen the likes of before, but it sure makes a quaint little store. 

We wandered the streets peering into more shop windows, but darkness set in quickly and the rain was cold so we headed back to the hotel for the night. 

The next morning we headed for the York Minster again, but this time to explore the interior of this great cathedral.   Construction on this Gothic style church started way back in the year 1230 but the history of this site goes back even further than that to the year 627 when the first recorded church was built here out of wood.  It took nearly 240 years to build the amazing structure we see today.  

It's hard to imagine anything taking that long to build.  Think about it - that's several generations of people.  But there were no cranes, no trucks to haul goods over smoothly paved roads, no electricity to plug in power tools and everything else it takes to make a building of this substance.  It was slow work, painstaking work, and those who first designed and worked on this great church were not alive long enough to even see it nearly done. 

The city of York has long been know for it's tradition of creating magnificent stained glass windows and that is best seen perhaps in the York Minster where there are 128 stained glass windows containing approximately two million individual pieces of glass.  They are stunning!  

While we toured the Minster, we learned that much of the stained glass had been removed from these windows during the First and Second World Wars for fear that the Germans would bomb York and these beautiful pieces of art would be lost forever.  Pieces of the windows where hidden all over town and after the war, it took years upon years to restore the windows to their former glory.  

In fact I wonder if maybe someone still have a piece of these magnificent stained glass windows hidden away inside their house.  It's hard to believe that each and every piece would have been returned.   

While much of what is contained inside the York Minster dates back hundreds of years, there is one fascinating piece that has a much shorter history, the York Minster astronomical clock.  This clock was installed in 1955 as a memorial to airmen killed in action during World War II.  It displays the location of the sun and certain navigational stars that would be seen by a pilot flying above the Minster.   It's maybe the most beautiful clock I've ever seen.

After we left the York Minster, we grabbed a bite to eat and continued to wander around town, traversing up and down the same streets we had visited the night before but know, the shops were open.  

We ducked into those shops that interested us, but soon raindrops started to fall again putting a damper on our visit to York.  Eric had work and the girls had school bright and early the next morning, and with the rain falling more steadily now, we decided to head back home.  Our visit to York was short and I know there is much more to see there.  Hopefully we can make it back to this beautiful, quaint and quirky English town.  

Oh - we did make one last stop before leaving town though and that is at a place called The Perky Peacock.

We had passed this adorable coffee shop the evening before and again that morning on the way to visit the Minster.   We just had to stop before leaving town because, seriously, how can you not stop at a place called The Perky Peacock.  And if the name and the outside of the coffee shop weren't cute enough, you should see the inside of this cozy little place with it's round stone walls and exposed wooden beams.  

We popped inside and wouldn't you know it - there just happened to be one table large enough to squeeze six chairs around in this tiny little place and it was open.  The Perky Peacock was welcoming us in.

We each ordered a warm beverage but when they arrived at our table, we hesitated to drink them.  Each one was adorned with a beautiful frothy peacock on top, and each of us was reluctant to ruin this delicate piece of art. 

This was such an unusual little building.  It was round, made of stone and obviously very old, and it was sitting right on the River Ouse.  Before we left Eric asked the barista what is used to be.  She said it's part of the old city wall and it was built as a toll tower.  Long ago a long chain strenched from this tower across the River to a tower on the other side that restricted ships from accessing the center of the town.  I don't imagine that hundreds of years ago anyone ever fathomed that this cold stone tower that helped protect the city of York would one day become a cozy, quaint coffee shop with a unique name that was irresistible to pass by...

but today it sure makes the perfect place to sit and chat with family visiting from afar on a gloomy, rainy afternoon in York.


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