Open your eyes


January 12, 2014 by talkaboutyork

I spend most Sunday mornings standing on the side of a rugby or football field, rubbing warmth into my hands while I wonder whether I’ll ever feel my toes again. But today, by happy coincidence, the football match was cancelled and the rugby playing child resolutely refused to venture out into the cold.

Which meant I got to wander into town on my own with no purpose other than to meander aimlessly. Aimless meandering is not done often enough I feel. Life is full of purposeful striding or rushing or even strolling, but usually with a destination in mind. We are so busy doing things and going places (or staring at our phones) that most of the time we race right past things that deserve to be noticed. And that is true regardless of whether you live in an ugly inner city estate or beautiful countryside or a history-rich oasis like York.

This morning I had absolutely no fixed agenda. I just wandered. As it was early, most of the shops were still shut and the streets were mainly empty. The biting cold encouraged me into a coffee shop on Feasegate for hot chocolate. I sat in the window watching the city slowly wake up with early Sunday morning shoppers. My view was of a particularly unattractive part of York. This:

A not very pretty view of York

A not very pretty view of York

But look closely at the picture. Squeezed between the Co-operative Bank and the back entrance of BHS is a small square plaque on the wall. The angle of the walls make it easy to walk right past. But I had the full length of a hot chocolate to look at this view. When you get up close to the plaque, this is what it says:


And that is what I love about York. Hidden in plain sight is an ancient Roman city wall. Most people wouldn’t know it was there. But it is, tucked beneath two very ordinary looking buildings. 

I decided to see what other things I could find that I may normally walk right past. I quickly found this snickelway that leads off Peter Lane.  I never knew it was there and had never walked it before, but it’s a handy short cut from Feasegate to High Ousegate – and wouldn’t look out of place in a Harry Potter set.


Another Snickelway I have walked along before (and rather wish I hadn’t chosen to walk this morning as someone had apparently offloaded their alcohol heavy dinner in patches along it) is Nether Hornpot Lane. It is so named as apparently excavations in the area discovered the remains of horns used in the horn-making industry. I never knew there was a big horn industry in bygone days, but there you go. You learn things when you meander.

IMG_0986I headed for the Minster along the cobbled streets, which I always love to imagine without the modern shops and gaping tourists, but instead filled with scurrying monks, horses and the smell of woodsmoke (and no doubt raw sewage).

On the corner of High Petergate and Stonegate, I noticed this lovely lady:



I wondered why she was placed there specifically. I knew Stonegate had once been home to many printers and wondered if that was the connection, but walking down the gap towards the Minster Piazza, I found this:

IMG_0988So there you have it. Next time you’re in York, look out for Minerva and her pile of books. For a writer, I love that there was a bookbinders’ alley.

As I stepped out onto the Minster Piazza, the sun lit up the towering cathedral walls like a spotlight signposting the way for worshippers in search of a Sunday service. It made me smile, God’s little power play, choosing the exact time to make the sun shine.

Despite having walked past the Minster countless times, I’d never really taken note of this snooty looking chap:



IMG_0990I looked him up when I got home. He was indeed known as being the first Christian Roman Emporer. I even found this video explaining what he did, which I am about to watch because I’m afraid my Roman history is lacking and I’d like to know more.

My point with this meandering post, is simply to say: Open Your Eyes! Take the time to take note. Be mindful.

In this small green island, we are blessed with an incredible, rich history. Don’t walk right by. Just think of all the people who have walked the same streets and fields as you over the years. Each of those people will have had their own problems, happiness, woes and triumphs as they rushed about living. Each of them was just a tiny cog in the amazing story of life on earth.

So this week, even if you read just one little plaque, admire one piece of architecture or look up the name of one person who has a statue dedicated to them, it will help you feel more connected to the past, which you may find gives your present clarity and helps steer your future.

4 thoughts on “Open your eyes

  1. Iota says:

    History at every step. I used to miss that when we lived in America, in a city that hadn’t existed 150 years ago. Most of it, not even 50 years ago.

  2. I love Snickelways (and I had no idea that that’s what they are called). Children are usually quite good at pointing out details you hadn’t noticed before. Although they won’t make you stop in front of a plaque – much rather in front of an ice cream van 😉

  3. Elaine Bonney says:

    I really enjoyed reading this. The history of a place, especially York is always interesting.

  4. I love this about London too – especially the older parts like Southwark. It’s really nice when you have the time to wander and look at things more closely.

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