Monday, October 26, 2009

York: Ghosts, Chocolate Shops, Big Clocks and Stores with Funny Names

My husband and I spent a week in York UK. My husband went as a chemist (not a pharmacist). I spent the days as a tourist with my camera. This report is tempered by my prejudices. I don't like British cooking, so I ate at Indian, Chinese, Asian, Portuguese and Pizza places. I have a preference for older architecture, so most of my photos are of buildings I found fascinating.

Here is York from my American, academic, and somewhat silly point of view.

York is a city of ghosts, chocolate shops, big public clocks and stores with funny names.

There are three ghost tours. And in October they run every night. I tried to take the one described as “Historically funny” but only 4 people showed up for that one, so the guide dropped us off on a much more gruesome tour on which most of the ghosts were children who died by accident, plague, or cruelty. Compared to Philadelphia, where I live, York doesn't seem to have very many ghosts. They just love them more. One of the bakeries even makes chocolate ghosts.

I toured a haunted house which has been inhabited for over 700 years. The tour is like a radio drama in which you walk from room to room as guided by the radio voice, and learn about the ghosts who feel more and more real as you progress and the house, which is dimly lit, feels gloomier and gloomier.

You'd never find the Haunted House, if you didn't know where to look for it.

This is the fireplace in the haunted house.

In addition to haunted places, some shops choose have ghosts on their signs. A dress shop is called Ghost. And another shop has only a picture of ghosts for it's business sign.

I don't know what kind of business takes place behind this sign.

In addition, several buildings have gargoyles. Some old, some modern.

This building also has one of the many huge clocks of York.

York is also famous for its snickelways. That's the name for passageways that are too narrow for vehicles but are often the only way to get from one place to another inside the city. Some are covered and some are open to the air.

Here are pictures of some more big clocks. Many buildings also have coats of arms. And some manage to look silly because their old architecture houses a modern franchise. And, the access holes to underground sewers are square or rectangular. I did find one round one, but it was not a perfect circle – it had petals like a flower.

Here is a Subway Sandwich shop.

Here's a square access hole cover.

And here's the only round one I found in the whole city:

York is a growing city. The inner area is walled, and during business hours, cars are excluded.

Here's a picture of a stairway up to the wall.

And here's part of the wall.

In addition to ghost tours, you can tour the York Minster, which is a cross-shaped church with a circular room off to one side.

While I was there, a local man came up to me and started telling me his life story (his version of it.) He was a plumber. He's writing a book called Humanity, that's going to be a best seller. He's getting divorced, but he doesn't know why. He's never told a lie in his life.

I much preferred the 4 and a half-year-old I met at the Jorvik DIG center. She wanted to know if I'm older than 95. I told her that even my mother isn't 95 yet. But we do expect to get that old. Then we started talking about how she's never met anybody 1000 years old. But some of the things we were looking at were that old and older.

Jorvik (pronounced Yorvik) Center is a recreated Viking village. The Jorvik folks have an archeology site and have also created an archeology center where you can have the experience of digging up treasure from 4 different eras, including Roman and Viking, without getting dirty. This center, called DIG, is in an old church. It is usually full of school children until about 3 PM.

And finally the silly shop names. Slug and Lettuce, Anti-Gravity, Give A Dog a Bone, Zikzak, Next, and hundreds of others. But the best is the completely incomprehensible sign on a wall, that reads Whip Ma Whop Ma Gate. Gate means street. According to Wikipedia this is the name of the shortest street in York (35 meters long) and means Neither One thing Nor The Other.

York is an amazingly clean and ecological city. The litter boxes are few and far between but most people use them. The most notable exceptions are the cigarette butts all along the sidewalks and clustered near the litter boxes.

Every shop I bought things in, from the bakery shop to the toy store asked me if I wanted a bag. At one shop, I said yes, and the clerk told me that would cost an extra 20P. I changed my mind. I think the city is going for the Disneyland effect. Cheery, clean and green.


  1. Interesting description of the largest gothic building north of the Rhine as "a cross-shaped church with a circular room off to one side".

  2. Here's a sketch of the floor plan of York Minster: