I’ve never written this type of content before really and I can’t say I’m thoroughly comfortable with it (YET) but thought I’d give something a crack for Directory of York Blog since they were seeking submissions. You can see the post here.
The Walls and Snickelways of York
Walk towards York city centre from the railway station, and you are immediately hit by the sight of York Minster, perching above the city and sailing majestically upwards, clad only in its occasional scaffolding and the clouds. But once inside the streets themselves you may find a more secret York, nestled in between the bustling streets and shopfronts: the walls and snickelways of York.
‘Snickelways’ is the name for the tiny, threading footpaths and alleyways that weave through the larger streets and throughout the city. These passages are found in towns all over the country, and go by many names; ‘snickelway’ is a term coined by local author Mark Jones and is a cross between the regional variants of ‘snicket’, ‘ginnel’ and ‘alleyway’. The reason the snickelways are so appealing to both young and old lies in their air of mystery; they are almost always dim, shadowy places with intriguing names such as ‘Mad Alice Lane’ and ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’. The darkness in them looks as though it could swallow you up; as though you could go down the rabbit hole like Alice did and find yourself in a whole other world. There is an element of danger to these dark holes: Where do they go? What’s on the other side? Will I come back? Of course you always do come back, but these ‘spaces in-between’ have a netherworldly, almost liminal feel; you are not quite in one place and yet not quite in another.
As a child, a favourite snickelway of mine was always the one found just off Swinegate, where many of the walls and gates along it were aptly decorated with pictures and statues of pigs. Now, most of the pigs are gone, but the snickelways remain, as curious as ever, interlacing their way through York’s higgledy-piggledy streets. Local author Mark Jones’ book, A Walk Around the Snickelways of York, takes in 50 of York’s hidden passageways and is now seen as the definitive route for any visitors wanting to get a real feel for the secret places and backstreets of York. The book is available to buy in many of York’s shops, or online from the Visit York e-shop or amazon.co.uk.
If you have loftier ideas than these mysterious paths, you may wish to turn your view skywards and venture up onto the walls of York instead. The walls were built originally in Roman times as a defense against potential threats, although little of the original stonework remains. Nowadays, the city is not completely encircled (there are no longer many threats from the outside world needing defending against!), and the walls run between four main ‘bars’ (or gates) and a couple of smaller bars (just to confuse matters, the streets are called ‘gates’, such as Mickelgate). The main bars interspersing the walls are known as Bootham Bar, Monk Bar, Walmgate Bar and Mickelgate Bar. The names of these gates and bars hark back to York’s Old Norse heritage, when it was once known as Jorvik, the country’s main Viking settlement.
Open from 8am until dusk, the walls offer a unique vantage point across York, as well as being a beautiful and historically important artifact in themselves. The walls are punctuated by information plaques to teach you about them, as well as an interactive multimedia station in Bootham Bar for the more technologically-minded of us. You can walk the walls of York as countless thousands have done throughout history, treading in the footsteps of those who long ago fought for the city. They are open every day of the year apart from Christmas day, weather allowing; in cases of ice or heavy snow, the walls are closed for obvious safety reasons.