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York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Visit York and North Yorkshire through Video

The video below is pertaining to York City River Ouse Circular Walk where we begin our riverside tour from the Millennium Bridge. We discover a great deal of history and features on this idyllic walk.

Gilling to Ampleforth Best North Yorkshire Walks
Gilling to Ampleforth Best North Yorkshire Walks

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York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Millenium Bridge

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

In this episode, we are going to take a relatively short but historic walk from York’s Millennium Bridge through to Clifton Bridge discovering some of the city as we go. We discover various bridges, victorian park gates, two towers, amazing willows and huge green spaces too.

So we are beginning at the Millennium Bridge today although you can start this walk at any occasion you like. This bridge was York’s millennium bridge that was designed by Whitby Bird and Partners and opened in April 2001. This is a great place to start this walk because there is seating available making it a location to rendezvous with family and friends during the pandemic lockdown. The bridge cost a hefty sum of £4.2 million to construct and links Bishopthorpe Road area with Fulford. The bridge is designed to carry both cycles and pedestrians. You can find out more about the bridge on the information point.

We are going to walk along the south bank of the Ouse and following the riverside cycleway between York and Selby. I had hoped to accomplish a full circuit back to the Millennium Bridge on the opposite bank, but there is some flood defence work being carried out by St George’s Field, so we are therefore going to finish at the Museum Gardens.

This route takes us alongside the edge of Rowntree Park on your left and of course the River Ouse on your right. At this point however, it is hard to see the Ouse because of the foliage at this time of year. But don’t worry, we get to see much more of the river shortly.

Rowntree Park

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Rowntree’s Park relates to the famous York chocolatiers Joseph Rowntree family. They were Quakers and unusual for Victorian times, they treated their employees very well. They provided lots of facilities including this enormous park and even a swimming pool!

Occasionally you discover some apertures in the foliage to see the river, and you might want to take a breather to view it. And you’ll be glad you did because even in a city area it looks pretty scenic. If you are a regular viewer, then you will already know that the word Ouse is a Norse word meaning slow moving river.

You will soon come to the historic gates of Rowntree Park. The park was gifted to the City of York in 1921 by the Rowntree family as mentioned. The park was in fact a memorial for those cocoa workers who fell during the Great War. These gates however were added as a memorial for those who lost their lives during World War II making the park older than the gates!

On the opposite side of the path is a platform to view the river with another information point. These information points are only situated on the Millennium River Walk. This walk takes you from York to Bishopthorpe by the River Ouse.

The official street name however is Terry Avenue. Yes you’ve guessed it, this section of the river walk is all about chocolate. We’ve already seen Rowntree Park but the former Terry’s site is situated nearby in the South Bank area. Rows of terraced houses still stand that once occupied chocolate factory workers. Again, there is an information point complete with history at a river viewing platform.

You then pass by the Rowntree Park Caravan and Motorhome site which at the time of filming is sadly closed because of the Coronavirus pandemic. Still, it is typically very poplular and very close to the city centre. You also pass a hotel on your left hand side too which is currently Roomz at the time of filming. Obviously, because of the Coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty in the hospitality industry surrounding it, hotels in York may close or change hands. Time will tell.

Still, on the other side of the River Ouse you will see the River Foss merging. The Foss is a much smaller river and you might spot a blue pedestrian bridge known as simply Blue Bridge.

Skeldergate Bridge

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Typically at Bishops Wharf you will see some quite large boats berthed such as this one. You will see all manner or river boats in York including motorboats, narrow boats, small hire boats as well as the river cruise boats. We come to see the river cruise boats berthed a Lendal Bridge shortly. However, this boat has a difference because it is a luxury house boat!

My favourite bridge in York is this one, Skeldergate Bridge. It links the castle area to Bishop Hill. There were originally two castles side by side with the river running between. It was George Gordon Page who designed this bridge in a Gothic Revival style. It was built between 1878 and 1881 and became toll free in 1914. The small structure on the right hand side of the bridge was once the motor house. Today however, it is a fantastic eatery and you can dine outside in the sunshine.

We are going to walk underneath this fantastic bridge where we can receive a stunning view of the other side. We are not going to walk down Skeldergate and at this point the river disappears behind the buildings for a moment of two. There is an archway over the road heading up to Skeldergate. You will notice Baille Hill on the left of you where York’s second castle once stood. If you watched the City Walls episode, you will probably remember this access to the city walls.

A further feature on Skeldergate is Middleton’s Hotel. This eloquent looking hotel was actually a hospital and the main building you see was an extension after the hospital was rebuilt. Lady Anne Middleton was married to the Sheriff of York Peter Middleton who funded it. It dates back to 1829 and is a grade ii listed building.

We walk further along Skeldergate and you will see a crossroads in the distance. We carefully use the pedestrian crossing here but before we do, we can walk along a side street to see Ouse Bridge.

Ouse Bridge

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

We could say that Ouse Bridge is the oldest bridge in York but not exactly. This is because the first bridge built by the Vikings was erected in wood just astride from the existing one. The bridge you see today was not actually the first bridge to exist in this location. The first stone bridge had England’s first public toilets opened on it in 1367. However, this bridge was swept away by floods in the 1500’s. The new bridge had a giant arch but this one was dismantled in 1818 and a new bridge was constructed in 1821, the bridge we see today.

You might be wondering why the fire brigade are putting out the River Ouse with a hose. Well, in actual fact, I am wondering about this too. One thing I do know is that the fire engines take water from the river, and during the fire at York Minster back in the eighties, water was taken from the Ouse to help put the fire out.

This area of the River Ouse in the city is always teaming with life, particularly waterfowl. You oftentimes see Canada geese in around Kings Staith area. It is not surprising because the most flooded public house in town is situated here. It is not uncommon for this historic city boozer to receive floodwater in wintertime as much as it does punters. Sadly, however, owing to the pandemic, the public houses are temporarily closed at time of filming and hopefully to reopen again in July 2020.

North Street

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

We cross over the crossroads carefully using the pedestrian crossings and walk along North Street for a short time. Not only do you see a large riverside hotel but also All Saint’s Church with its spire that you can almost make out through the trees. It dates back to the 12th century, or at least its earliest parts do. It also has additions during the 13th and 14th centuries too. There is also what appears to be a medieval building next to it, perhaps of Tudor origin, or the time of Elizabeth I if you prefer.

Looking over the river you will notice a sky walk which consists of some prestigious bars and restaurants as well as the City Screen and Basement Bar. This walkway makes a cosy dining experience beside the River Ouse in good weather.

You will also notice the old Yorkshire Herald building overshadowing the River Ouse. Today it serves as a bar and eatery, but in its heyday produced The York Herald beginning in 1790. It merged with the Yorkshire Gazette in creating the Gazette and Herald in 1954.

Another interesting landmark on the Ouse is the York Guildhall. It is a grade I listed building. It was constructed as a meeting place for the City Guilds between 1449-1459 and sadly during the Second World War, the interior was damaged in 1942. The building was also a venue for the trial of Margaret Clitherow who was a catholic martyr in 1586.

The red and white barges you see are river cruises belonging to City Cruise. You can sit on the top when the sun is shining, and sit below when it isn’t. The cruises last 45 minutes to an hour and cost around £10-£11 as of 2019, but family tickets are available. Some may consider this to be extortionate compared to the cruises in Scarborough and Whitby that are just a couple of quid. Still, you can’t beat a cruise on the Ouse in the summertime.

Lendal Bridge

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

We are now going to walk underneath Lendal Bridge where we discover a very historic area of York. Before Lendal Bridge was built, a ferry crossing existed here to provide passage over the river to the York’s earliest railway station that was a terminus inside the city walls.

This particular Lendal Bridge wasn’t the first. The first bridge was somewhat controversial as a dispute existed between the railway company and the Corporation of York at the time. This was owing to the ferry crossing in which Florence Nightingale once used on her way to Castle Howard. The first bridge collapsed and was dismantled and reassembled in Scarborough, now known as Valley Bridge over Ramsdale, although on parts of it was used. The second bridge was constructed again in Gothic Revival in 1863. Including the toll houses at each side, the bridge is grade II listed.

Way before a ferry and bridge crossing, Barker Tower was once the end point of a great chain that was stretched across the river to prevent ships leaving without paying their murage or toll. It also prevented any ships from entering. Barker Tower later became the ferryman’s residence.

Lendal Tower was also constructed the same time as Barker Tower, around 1380. Today it is holiday accommodation, but it was once sold to the waterworks company for one peppercorn per 500 years! The brick building left of it was the pump house that pumped water throughout the city of York.

Of course, at time of filming, there aren’t any city cruises operating during the pandemic lockdown. It is good to note some of the names however, so keep your eyes peeled for Captain Cook.

In the same vicinity you will see the York City Rowing Club, so you might be able to set sail after all. It was established in 1843 and today has over 200 members. However, the building we see today is post war.

As a tip, I recommend going down the steps and walking along the lower path. However, if you have children with you it’s not recommended. Of course, this is also dependent on the water level too. Still, I find it more interesting to get to river level and explore this particular area.

If you think it was a little cheeky for there being a toll system for ships entering and departing the city of York, St Mary’s Abbey also had one too! The cylinder construction was actually a tower at the end of the abbey wall where a toll system also operated. St Mary’s was actually the largest walled abbey in England. Of course, you don’t need to pay a toll in modern times but you can pay for an ice cream if the heart is inclined!

It is more than likely you will see one of the narrow boats moored here such as this vessel. In their day, narrow boats where used on canals as a mode of transporting goods, but it is not uncommon to find people living in them these days.

Scarborough Bridge and Beyond

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Scarborough Bridge has recently had a makeover as it is now easily accessible from York station. It also has a much wider walkway for cyclists and pedestrians. Originally, the walkway was in the middle of the two tracks. The bridge assisted the York to Scarborough railway line to cross the River Ouse below. We return to York on the opposite bank underneath the pedestrian arch.

The next section of this walk takes you through a very scenic, if not the most scenic area of this route. You will notice a large green expanse as well as some mature trees adorning the area. During the summer, many people sit here are enjoy the sunshine and perhaps take a picnic. You may encounter the odd fisherman or two as the river is well acquainted with pike, bream and other fish.

On this section, it is recommended not to follow the cycle path but actually follow the path beside the river that takes you through a grassy expanse. Of course in winter you may want to remain on the tarmac. The reason I suggest this will become more clear to you shortly.

As the river is quite slow moving, you oftentimes receive some stunning reflections in the summertime especially. The tall trees pear at their own reflection on the surface of the water.

On this off-path for want of a better term, is a really idyllic route through some willow trees that are shade in the summer months. Not only is the shade really appealing, but it is often cooler amongst trees than being out in the open in the hot sun.

These leafy trees form a parasol over your walk as their branches arch over you and the path. However idyllic this is, you will hear the sound of trains passing as we are next to the approach tracks for York station from the North. You are also in touching distance of the National Railway Museum too.

The River Ouse by the way, starts its journey as the River Ure, and it’s 129 mile course out to the North Sea makes it one of the longest rivers in England. The soil that it traverses over gives it that brown mug of hot chocolate appearance. If you have a dog with you, they tend to enjoy the water or not. Our studio mascot Alfie has a love for the water since his birth and is an olympic swimmer in a fur coat. I sometimes wonder if we should have called him John the Baptist, not that he is part of a religious denomination of any kind.

On this section of the walk, you get to see the river more than you did on the Millennium River Walk in summer when the leaves are out in force. You will also see signs of St Peter’s School over the River Ouse in the distance, which was one of the oldest schools in York.

The river continues to follow the path and the path the river as we venture away from the hustle and bustle of city life and moving away from the railway gradually. Although some like to see the trains too-ing and throwing beside them. Me? I’ve travelled on too many trains to care!

There are many species of willow, but these in particular are weeping willow trees which you probably more than likely already know. However, their real name is Salix Babylonica and actually originate from northern China. So if you find a label saying “made in china” this is why. In any case, they were traded along the Silk Road and spread as far as Northern Europe including North Yorkshire.

You’ll see a boathouse with access to the water for St Peter’s School. These are rowing boats and you often see them rowing on the water like some kind of academic regatta with their instructors. It’s often interesting to watch them pass by.

This path tends to be more quieter and relaxing than the tarmac path that heads towards the Salisbury Terrace and Leeman Road area of York. It also follows the rivers path rather than the railways so it is far more tranquil. The overhanging branches also tend to block out the noise with their soundproof leaves.

Clifton Bridge and Back to York

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

However, that tranquility doesn’t last forever, because you will see the turn around point for us at Clifton Bridge. Clifton Bridge may sound familiar and this is too unlike the suspension bridge in Bristol. It is a simple road bridge that carries Water Lane over the Ouse. Before the bridge however, I noticed these meadow geraniums adorning the river bank.

You will see the path at the other side of the river in which we take back to the city of York. We are now in an area of York known as Clifton. Clifton is a town in its own right with it’s own artisan shops, so if you are feeling peckish you might want to walk down the hill into the town centre.

In any case, we have to cross the not so Clifton Suspension Bridge and to do that we have to trot up these stone steps with all our might. As it is quite hot today, all my might has gone.

In 1961 the British Army constructed a temporary bridge in place of a ferry crossing here as there is army accommodation in the area. It was to handle additional traffic owing to the marriage of Duke and Duchess of Kent at York Minster. However it wasn’t until 1963 a more permanent bridge was constructed. This bridge was built with 4000 tons of concrete and 50 tonnes of reinforced steel. The bridge links Acomb with Clifton two towns or suburbs close to York.

At the opposite side, we walk down a ramp and meet up with the York to Beningbrough cycle route, part of which we discovered in our Overton to Beningbrough Hall walk. Of course, we turn left back towards Lendal Bridge today.

Now on the opposite side of the river we can see Clifton Bridge form the opposite side. The river curves in an s-bend beyond this point, and the river cruises mentioned earlier tend to u-turn here and head back towards the city centre, as we are also doing.

Of course, when doing a riverside walk such as this, it is important to place safety first. Life-rings are available along the riverside, but the Ouse, although looking still, does contain some powerful undercurrents especially after heavy rains. York has its own lifeboat, a set of volunteers who operate the York Rescue Boat which are contactable through emergency services. The river has claimed many lives over recent years and that is why it is important to play it safe. In winter, the banks can be very unstable and slippery making it easy to fall into the water.

If you watched the Beningbrough Hall circuit walk episode, you will remember an information board about the tansy beetle. Well, you will find one here too! These are leaf beetles that measure only 7 to 10mm long. You will recognise them by their green/orange sheen. The name derives from the tansy plant where they feed.

Again you will notice the reflections that bounce of the Ouse emphasising the overall tranquility of this famous Yorkshire river. We’ve mentioned tansy beetle but you may also find kingfisher, grey heron, sand martins, and other species of birds in this area. Kingfisher are more often noticeable when they are in flight over the river. You might be blessed with one sat on a branch fishing.

Ahead in the distance you might see a glimpse of the former Royal York Hotel which was built beside York Station. It was opened the year after the station was completed. The grade II listed building has 5 storeys and is made of Scarborough stone.

Riverside Park

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

At the left hand side of you is a large grassy expanse which is open to the public to sit and take in the scenery. You might even want to have a picnic here but obviously play it safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

You can now get to see the fantastic weeping willows and other trees that you walked among on the opposite bank. From here, you’d hardly know that a path existed there.

Granted at the moment, this area looks a little unwelcoming owing to the maintenance work in place, but typically this is a very scenic area. You oftentimes see ball games been played here as well families enjoying the soft grass.

It’s always a good idea to look behind you briefly too, so that you don’t miss any scenery as you are walking towards the city centre.

Before long, you will return to Scarborough Bridge painted in a standard period green colour. The Scarborough Line takes you to Scarborough via Malton and Seamer through the Howardian Hills and Yorkshire Wolds.

Peeking underneath you will see Lendal Bridge and also one of the lantern towers that were lit at night to help travellers locate the city of York when the city was surrounded by forestry.

Dame Judi Dench Walk

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

You will also notice some of the current flood defences such as this heavy door which is closed to prevent floodwater from spreading. Flooding in York has got to be increasingly worse in recent times and measures are being put in place accordingly.

You will see the Luxury apartments overlooking the River Ouse from Leeman Road, and this is probably the best place to see them. The circular apartments on top are the penthouse apartments where you can receive great views of the city. They are officially known as Westgate Apartments and at the time of filming, they have a guide price of £365,000 according to one website.

Far less of a cash outlay is the opportunity for an ice-cream. I’m not sure if Mr Whippy is referring to me rushing around North Yorkshire with a camera or an Ice-cream man rushing around North Yorkshire playing an abbreviated version of Teddy Bear’s Picnic. Still, it’s a well earned treat!

Abbey Walls and Tower

York City River Ouse Circular Walk

Looking through the bars into the tower helps you to realise the compactness that the toll operator would have worked in during the towers heyday. It’s interesting how the tower also has very military looking arrow windows for a place of peaceful worship.

From Scarborough Bridge it is a short walk alongside the River Ouse to Lendal Bridge where under normal circumstances is a boarding point for the river cruises. The treelined and river lined walk is very scenic and you get the sense of being in a very historic city.

In 2020, the whole world has hardly been a peaceful place owing to the pandemic and also global protests. This has had an impact on everyone and almost everything in some way or another. Sadly, one of these impacts has been the temporary closure of the Museum Gardens and the Yorkshire Museum. However, you can still see the museum gardens through the railings as you pass as well as the museum and also the Hospitium.

Before we reach Lendal Bridge, you will notice the Starr Inn which is a well reviewed contemporary restaurant. In recent times, a restaurant has also been opened in Whitby opposite Whitby Railway Station.

This concludes our walk today, but as it is very busy with those getting their exercise, I had to give you some concluding comments a little closer to home today, this being in a corn field!

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