Saturday, 7th July 2018 – York, Raskelf
Saturday morning was just as warm as Friday so we were quite pleased to have a variety of things indoors or at least undercover to do, starting with a visit to the Jorvik Viking Centre that we’d pre-booked to avoid having to queue. As we were ready a bit too early, we crossed the road from the hotel to Walmgate, one of the main entrances to medieval York, where you can find the only barbican still attached to a city gate outside of Krakow. It sometimes seems as if all of our historical obsessions are coming together, and they certainly were right now, between the Roman connections on Friday to Trier and now this. We decided that rather than take a direct route to Jorvik, we’d walk the section of the walls from Walmgate round to Piccadilly, and then wander to Coppergate that way.
The barbican also has a small Elizabethan structure abutting it, and it looked as if it might have been a coffee shop at some point (though it was firmly shut now). The section of wall we were on overlooked a lot of council houses and small gardens, and doesn’t provide the amazing views you can get from some of the other parts that remain, built on top of the Roman walls.
Once the vikings settled in York, they pretty much covered all the extant Roman walls with an earth bank, and what we see now are the remains of the later medieval walls, that were built on top of those walls and banks.
From Walmgate we made our way along the walkway to Fishergate Bar, which opens out onto the area that used to be known as the King’s Fishpond. It was created when William the Conqueror arrived and the newcomers needed a reliable supply of water to fill the defensive ditches around their eastern motte and bailey castle where Clifford’s Tower is now. To achieve that they built a dam across the River Foss, close to its confluence with the Ouse, raising the water level and creating a lake which extended for around half a mile along the south-eastern edge of the city. The King’s Pool resulted in the loss of two new mills worth twenty shillings a year and flooded 120 acres of arable land, meadows and gardens, so it wasn’t too popular with the locals at the time.
In addition to filling up the moat, the King’s Pool became the King’s Fishpond, and was used as a royal fishery. The King appointed keepers to maintain and protect it and granted licenses authorising the favoured few to catch pike, bream and other fish. However, the lake gradually started to silt up, making it unsuitable for defensive purposes, and work done in 1608 to deepen the main channel apparently just made things worse, so much so that when the Parliamentarians laid siege to the city in 1644, their commander was able to give serious thought to sending a detachment across on foot.
Later the lake became a series of marshy islands known (Foss Islands), and was generally insanitary. In Victorian times the dam was demolished and the Foss was canalised, leaving one small marsh-fringed island as a refuge for wildlife, while the remaining area was drained and reclaimed for housing. It’s certainly rich in wildlife now, and also features a massive flood barrier, the Foss Barrier, built as a defence against the serious floods that have repeatedly made life in York rather more precarious than it should be.
However, we were heading away from the water and into the town centre, with Coppergate in view. A coffee was needed though, so we stopped off at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall, where tables were out in the garden and there was a sign promising teas and coffees. It is a medieval guildhall, built in 1357 by the Guild of Our Lord Jesus and the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1430 they were granted a royal charter by Henry VI and renamed The Mistry of Mercers, eventually becoming the Company of Merchant Adventurers of York under Queen Elizabeth I.
The main part of the building, the Great Hall and the undercroft, was originally an almshouse for the poor of York. It’s a lovely timber-framed structure that is in fact still owned by the Company of Merchant Adventurers of the City of York, who still exist as a charitable membership group. They also do mighty fine macarons to go with your coffee!
From there we scooted round to Coppergate and were delighted to find they’d put the bunting up for us!
We were a little too early for entry to the centre, so a quick stop off to buy some sun lotion seemed like a good idea, before we came back and were allowed in. The centre itself is an interesting mix of the somewhat simplistic (the actual “ride”) with some splendidly informative stuff (the films in the foyer about the actual excavations that took place in Coppergate), and the just wonderful (the selection of objects in the galleries post-ride). The ride itself is fine, it gives you a useful picture to carry in your head of what the city outside was like around a millenia ago. It didn’t teach me much I didn’t already know, but it was absorbing enough in its own way. Oh, and it has a very good bookshop which meant I came out much lighter in pocket than I’d gone in! And having learned that Canute (or Cnut if you’d prefer) was of Polish as well as Danish heritage, so they did tell me something I didn’t already know!
From there we scooted off to the nearest Hop On Hop Off bus stop to complete our tour (started the previous afternoon), with the intention of bailing out near to the hotel so we could change before heading off to the theatre for the afternoon. As is so often the case, the tour was informative and fun, and if it had been needed, a handy way of getting ones bearings in a tourist destination. We’ve used them in Helsinki, in Monte Carlo, in Krakow, in Bordeaux, and generally enjoy their tours. The only time we’ve been let down by them was in Krakow where we ended up standing around in the freezing cold in Kazimierz for 45 minutes waiting for a bus that never showed up. In York, in July, they run approximately every 12 minutes, so no problem there!
At the theatre site, on the Castle green, in addition to “Europe’s first pop-up Shakespearean theatre”, there was what the organizers described as an Elizabethan village, with some impromptu theatre performances going on to one side, some merchandise on sale alongside a well organised cloakroom and several food and drink options which caught our attention as a way of getting lunch before the performance. There was a pretty impressive range of choices under the circumstances, which was how Lynne ended up having strawberries and cream, and a Pimms:
And I had a very tasty (and rather more substantial than it looked at first glance) Waygu beef burger and mozzarella Yorkshire pudding pie with chips and gravy! The chips were excellent too, very crisp on the outside and soft inside, just as they should be but so often aren’t.
We then spent the best part of four hours in the theatre being greatly entertained, as well a grateful that we had seats and had not opted to be groundlings! Post the performance, we made our way back to the hotel freshened up quickly, and then collected the car to drive to one of our favourite restaurants, Rascills, where we were made very welcome by Lindsey and Richard (front of house and chef respectively), before being incredibly well fed in what was an unusually quiet restaurant – everyone was apparently too busy watching football to go out to eat.
We started the evening on the sun terrace with a couple of Blackberry fizzes and some of Richard’s delicious cheese straws.
The bread was as good as ever too, and we needed to stop ourselves eating it all at once. For a one man kitchen I still have no idea how Richard does what he does, given there are only so many hours in a day, but I’d like him to keep on doing it!
As an amuses bouche, there was a rich, deep butternut squash veloute, which was one good reason for hanging onto some bread. There was a major need to mop up the leftover soup that we couldn’t get with the soup.
Next up – and the ideal choice given the weather – was a salad of various heritage tomatoes, with a helping of Whitby crab, a crunchy, cheesy Parmesan crisp, compressed watermelon and the currently very trendy tomato essence. It was cool and tasty and reminded me of why I love crab meat so much.
For the main course we were served a portion of honey glazed Goosnargh duck breast, on a glorious bed of black truffle scented, herbs, Puy lentils, baby onions and mushrooms, with a fondant potato, and carrot puree, the whole accompanied by a red wine sauce.
We were starting to slow down now, so we went for one portion of cheese between us, and the white chocolate, vanilla and orange pannacotta, which came with the requisite degree of wobble, as well as strawberries and a white chocolate soil. It was lovely and creamy and tasted of summer.
As did the cherry ice cream that Lindsey insisted we try. It was good!
And after that we decanted back out onto the terrace, where Lindsey and Richard joined us, and we sat around putting the world to rights, before heading back into York some time after midnight.