York: York Minster, Yorkshire Museum, Jorvik Viking Centre, Railway Museum
July 28, 2019
It rained off and on all day today in York. Intensity varied from “gentle sprinkles” to “it’s a ruddy downpour, innit?” Consequently, I didn’t do any aimless wandering during my one full day in York. However, I did go to four indoor sights: York Minster, the Yorkshire Museum, the Jorvik Viking Centre, and the National Railway Museum.
Despite no aimless wandering, I saw some attractive street scenes along the way between those sights. Pictures of a few of them, particularly those I passed when not under the influence of a “it’s a ruddy downpour, innit?”-level deluge, appear at the bottom of this post.
(Note: If you’ve been following along in near-real time, you might notice that, despite saying “today” at various points, I didn’t post this until the next day. Sorry for any confusion. As I mentioned yesterday, I took in a performance of Hamlet at a Shakespearean-style theatre last night. The production was great, but I got back too late to write this up without my head dropping insensate into my keyboard. (Too late for me. “Time to get going” for night owls.) I started the post before going for dinner and the play, but I finished and posted it using the wifi on the train from York to Edinburgh, my next stop.)
Rick Steves’ Great Britain tour book rated York Minster very highly—three triangles, which I think is the highest rating he gives. Even more importantly, York Minster’s own web site said it’s “one of the world’s most magnificent cathedrals.” They wouldn’t lie, would they? With those recommendations, how could I could go wrong visiting York Minister?
Upon reading “how could I go wrong visiting York Minister?” you probably thought I was about to tell you I hated it. Nay, nay fair reader. That was a literary device to steer you in the wrong direction before yanking you back to the truth.
It is a charming, grand cathedral. It’s beautifully designed and decorated. There are also a lot of what, on another day, probably would be magnificent stained and painted glass windows. (More on that “on another day” thing in a bit.)
When I was there, scaffolding obstructed the centre of York Minster. Some small construction hoardings also blocked views of a couple other parts too.
It turns out that once every 100 years the church’s grand organ needs refurbishment. Just my luck, that was ongoing while I was there. The process takes almost two years. That was the reason for the large scaffolding.
A guided tour—conducted by a real human, not an audioguide—is included in the price of admission to York Minster. The tour lasted just over an hour. The guide was exceptionally informative, providing a wealth of information about the history, architecture, and art of the cathedral.
As is a recurring theme of this blog, you won’t find much of that information here because I have a memory like something or other that I’m sure I once knew, but I’ve long since forgotten.
A few things that I do recall include:
Remember how, above, I told you that on another day the windows would probably be magnificent? If you don’t remember, either your memory is worse than mine or you’re not paying attention. It was only a few paragraphs ago. Well, whatever. The guide assured us that when it isn’t as gloomy outside as it was today, the stained glass windows are, indeed, brilliant and intense.
Most of the ceiling, while it looks like painted cement or stone, is wood and, therefore not overly heavy. (Being wood is also why fire is a great hazard in old cathedrals. Like Notre Dame in Paris, York Minster has also experienced damaging fires.)
At one point, the guide asked us if there was anyone in the group of a “nervous nature.” Um, er, 🙋♂️. “I ask,” she said, “because we’re about to stand under a section of the roof made of stone, not wood, weighing 16,000 tons. And it has fallen in the past.” (Despite the quotation marks, I’m paraphrasing because I don’t remember her exact words, but that’s the gist of it.)
York Minster Crypt and Undercroft Museum
York Minster also offers a crypt and the Undercroft Museum. Not surprisingly, long-dead people are entombed in the crypt. Markings down in the crypt show the boundaries of the smaller, Norman church that was on the site before York Minster.
The Undercroft Museum, beside the crypt, displays archeological artifacts from under the church. Included is a piece of a wall of the Roman barracks that were once located there.
Yorkshire Museum and Gardens
The Yorkshire Museum is an interesting little museum that, for the most part, displays archeological finds from the county York is in, Yorkshire. The area is apparently a rich hunting ground for archaeologists. Their finds encompass artifacts from prehistoric times (including the Stone, Bronze and Iron Ages), through to Medieval and Roman times. The Yorkshire Museum displays a collection of them.
There are, no doubt, more recent items to be found buried in Yorkshire. However, I don’t imagine that archaeologists are particularly interested in, say, a plastic spoon that some boorish person planted in the ground rather than disposing of it in a trash bin.
While I was there, the museum also housed an exhibit on the Jurassic era. The displays were mostly what you would expect, with a large focus on sea-based dinosaurs. I say “mostly,” because the Jurassic section included a station where a staff member placed a virtual reality headset on a visitor. Then, in a virtual world, the visitor reached out, grabbed a branch of a bush, turned, and fed it to a dinosaur. The visitor repeated this process with three different branches.
Fortunately, the museum wasn’t crowded when I was there because they had only one headset. The display wasn’t particularly educational (if at all), but it was great fun. Or, I should say, it was great fun for someone who enjoys playing with gadgets. Namely, me.
In my defense, it was not a kiddie exhibit. In fact, a sign said specifically it was not for small children. And the two people who used it ahead of me were both well into their adulthood. So, shut up.
Grand gardens sit in front of the museum. One can wander them without paying to go into the museum. On a beautiful day, the gardens are undoubtedly gorgeous and tranquil. It was far from a beautiful day when I visited, so I didn’t spend much time in the gardens.
Imposing medieval ruins stand in the garden. One wall of what was once St. Mary’s Abbey lords over the lawn. The wall in the picture below is only one portion of it. I foolishly didn’t stand in a location where I could capture it all with my iPhone, which doesn’t have a wide-angle lens.
There were Vikings in York back in Viking days. Most of them eventually left, but some married locals, or just really liked the area, and stayed. The Jorvik Viking Centre tells the story of the Vikings at the time they, if I understand it, were the dominant force in York.
The floor of the first part of the centre displayed a recreation of an archaeological dig with, I believe, fake relics in situ. This area was covered with strengthened glass so we could walk on top of it and look down at it.
That wasn’t the weird part.
The next area of the Jorvik Viking Centre was a ride. This is what I found, well, maybe weird is not the right word, but hokey.
I climbed into one seat of a two-tiered pod, with three seats on each tier. A video screen was situated directly in front of each seat and speakers were behind each person’s head, allowing everyone to choose their own language for the commentary. The pod, which was suspended from an overhead rail, then moved slowly through the exhibit.
Along the way, audio animatronic mannequins sitting in dioramas worked their crafts and lived their daily lives. The screen in front of me and the speakers behind narrated the action and told me about the lives of the Vikings in York back when Vikings were a thing. The pod turned this way and that so I could see the different scenes on either side. There was one diorama where the “Viking” was either a more realistic-looking audio animatronic figure than the others (although the were all fairly realistic looking), or it was an real human sitting there and waving at us. My guess is the latter.
The ride lasted about 15 minutes or so.
The final section of the centre was quite normal. It displayed various archaeological finds from the Vikings’ moments in the sun.
Based on the numbers of visitors when I was there, I’m guessing that the Jorvik Viking Centre is the most popular or second-most attraction in York. I waited about 20 minutes to get to the ticket counter and the crowds inside were dense (in number; not a comment on their intelligence; I have no way of knowing about that). The Rick Steves’ Great Britain tour book tells me this is a shortish line for that attraction. In contrast, I waited only a couple of minutes to get into York Minster. Sorry, Jorvik fans. I don’t know why it’s so popular. But maybe that’s just me.
The museum holds many grand, old, imposing trains. This includes a mail railcar with cubbyholes for sorting mail and a number of royal coaches of various monarchs since the beginning of rail time. The royal coaches had beautiful, comfy-looking couches and chairs. One had a bathtub. I don’t know how many coaches each monarch had when they traveled, but I’m guessing it was enough that the total floor space was probably close to or larger than that of my condo. Riding the rails was and is different for royals than for you and me. (That is to say, it’s different for me. If you’re a royal, never mind.)
The museum also housed a small model railway (not running when I was there) and model railway cars. Another large area contained rows and rows of multi-level shelves containing railway apparatus, parts, and bric-a-brac.
Streetscapes Along the Way
I’m very impressed with York and truly regret that this was my only full day here.
There is one picture I took today that I want to highlight, namely, the one to the right. I just want to state, for the record, that I did not eat at the restaurant that bore this sign. I like lettuce. However, not … Well, read the sign.
Below are some of the other streetscapes I passed along the way between today’s sights. Or, at least, the ones I passed when it wasn’t raining so hard that I was afraid that my non-waterproof iPhone, which serves as my camera, would short circuit and fry itself if I exposed it to the elements.