The City of York England
A Phill James Production
info @ todoinyork.com

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

todoinyork.com City of York England

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

York City Walls Smartphone Tour gives you guidance from your smartphone without having to download and install any apps. Simply follow the course of the medieval walls along with the guide! The York City Walls Smartphone tour begins at Bootham Bar (opposite the Art Gallery).

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
York Walls

The original walls were constructed by the Romans surrounding a military fortress. The Vikings demolished much of the Romans work and constructed their own in wood. The walls we see today are medieval with a Victorian twist! Let's explore York's City Walls!

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
Breath Taking

You can walk the full circuit of the medieval city walls and explore some of the amazing views of the Minster, Dean Park, a medieval guildhall, Roman roads, and much more.

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
Historic

Roman, Viking and Medieval architecture is woven in the fabric of these city walls that no doubt contain many stories to tell. As you walk the walls, remember that you are walking through history too!

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
Towers

The walls originally had postern towers at wall ends and some of these still exist today. The dramatic Red Tower and impressive Fishergate Postern Tower both stand testimony to the history of York City Walls.

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
Photography

The City Walls consists of many opportunities to take some stunning photography and video. You can receive some fantastic compositions of the Minster, the walls and other historic features en-route.

Block
Sightseeing in the City of York
Roman

The Museum Gardens feature some of the oldest stonework from Roman times when they built a defensive wall around their military fortress.

Shadow

Introduction to the York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The smartphone tours have been designed to either read or play the audio file as you greet each place of interest. For your convenience, each smartphone tour has been spit into two parts in case you want to take a break part way through. Simply follow each route and learn more about the historic City of York! All content on todoinyork.com is free to read, watch and listen to! As a head’s up, the official website for York City Walls can be found at www.yorkwalls.org

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"

Bootham Bar to Monk Bar

William Etty

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Before you begin your tour of York City Walls you may want to thank William Etty. He was a Victorian Painter who painted nudes in historical scenes. In his day the Corporation of York wanted to demolish the walls as it was considered they hindered the flow of traffic in the city. William Etty formed the York Footpaths Association as well as campaigned against the demolition of the walls. He was successful but to a point. He also campaigned against creating arches in the walls for York’s first railway station with two lectures. Sadly he failed and the arches were created that we come to see later.

 

If you have travelled to York by train, you may have see the arches at the opposite side of the road on Queen Street. If you haven’t, don’t worry as we will see the arches on our tour today.

Bootham Bar (Front)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Bootham Bar contains some of the oldest stonework and the section of wall from here to Monk Bar feature the original course of the Roman Wall. In fact, the remains of a Roman Gateway exist underneath the current structure. The round Norman arch that you see is over 900 years old and the fort above is over 700 years old.

Bootham Bar (Figures)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

In York it is important to remember that the word ‘Bar’ (barrier) refers to gate and the word ‘gate’ refers to street. On the majority of Bars (gateways) there are figures on top. The figures at Bootham Bar represent an historic Lord Mayor Nicholas de Lantern, a soldier, and holding a model of the bar is the stonemason (of which operated nearby). The figures were replaced by the Victorians.

Bootham Bar from Petergate

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

When you come to the gateways on your tour of the walls, it’s a good idea to take the steps down to street level and have a look at the bar itself. Walking through Bootham Bar takes you to the Minster. In its heyday, Petergate was complete with shops and stalls leading up to the Minster. The Minster was built on the site of the Roman headquarters.

Retrace York

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

On the route of the City Walls you will find a series of rubbing plaques where you can take a rubbing from the rubbing trail. There are nine rubbing plaques en-route that were installed around 2008. So you may want to bring some paper and a pencil with you.

Bootham Bar Steps

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

When you see the steps at Bootham Bar you may wonder why there would be steps up from the outside of the wall. Afterall, this would defeat the object of the walls purpose. Well, these steps were not constructed in medieval times but by the Victorians. The city walls are multigenerational as they have been modified through the era’s. In any case, this is our starting point.

Bootham Bar Portcullis

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

When you climb the steps to the wall, you can walk through part of the fort at Bootham Bar. Here you will see the portcullis, a large gridded gate that would be lowered or pulled up to allow traffic through the gateway. At Bootham Bar you can walk right up to it and touch it.

 
Bootham Bar Minster Views

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The section of the City Walls from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar give you the best views of the Minster. The left of the two front towers contains the 10 ton bell Great Peter that gongs the hour. If you time it just right you will get to hear this street filling sound from the City Walls.

Bootham Bar Interval Towers

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

On this section of the city walls you will see some interval towers and as the walls is quite narrow here, they make excellent passing places. The wall itself is medieval at this point, yet the earthworks that it sits upon is Roman. Not all the City Walls follow the same coarse as the Roman wall, but the northern wall does until we reach Monk Bar.

York Minster Views

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The Minster becomes clearler in focus and you can also say that the cathedral is multigenerational too. This is because it took some 250 years to build, because extensions and modifications were added over time. From this vantage point you get to see the ‘Great West Window’ window just underneath the two towers. This is the west side of the minster. On the north side you will see the Five Sisters Window as well as the Chapter House.

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
Robin Hood Tower

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

You may be bemused by the name of the next tower, Robin Hood Tower. Robin Hood is more typically associated with Nottinghamshire not North Yorkshire. In fact, this structure was built by the Victorians and constructed in the way they imagined a tower would have looked. This is the most northern corner of the city walls. It is uncertain why it is called Robin Hood Tower but it did replace a previous medieval tower that came to ruin.

 

Robin Hood Tower was never used for any defensive purpose, in fact it would be sheer luck if you could fire from any of the slits the Victorians created. When walking up to Robin Hood Tower, it is a good idea to lean over the wall and have a look at its exterior like we have in the image.

A View of the Moat

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

From Robin Hood Tower you can look along the outside of the City Walls and you will also find the remains of a moat running parallel. They are no longer filled with water today, but the moats ran right around the City Walls. They weren’t the charming water feature that you might imagine as they were often filled with waste and not very pleasant.

Victorian Turrets

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Although the walls are largely medieval, the Victorians also played their own hand in preserving the walls. At the next interval tower you will notice some turrets that have no defensive capability whatsoever. These ornamental turrets were created by the Victorians.

Great East Window

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

As you walk further, you will get to see the rear of the Minster (the east side). You will see the enormous Great East Window The 600 year old window has benefit from a huge restoration. It is 15th Century and contains 311 items of stained glass.

Gateway to Roman Fortress

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Embedded in the paving are some clues to where you are standing and its significance. You will see an engraving for the original Roman Gateway which is now sadly gone. You will see Chapter House Street to the right that overlies a Roman Road.

Monk Bar View

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Just a few strides further and you will see views of Monk Bar approaching. Monk Bar is the most fortified gateway and it is also the tallest.

 

Similar to Bootham Bar, we walk through a narrow entrance and turn right down a flight of steps.

Monk Bar Steps

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The steps down are well lit but very narrow so you may need to give way to oncoming traffic!

Monk Bar (Rear View)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

When alighting the walls to explore the gateways, do not forget to walk around the rear of the structure. If you walk under the arch at Monk Bar and look up, you will see the portcullis and so-called ‘murder holes’. The arches at either side of the structure are Victorian.

Monk Bar (Front)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The stonework at Monk Bar dates back 700 years. You will notice its fortifications such as the narrow slits for firing from all the way up the structure. Near the portcullis in the arch (that apparently is still in working order) are so called ‘Murder Holes’. Enemies would be attacked from above the portcullis. Sadly, Monk Bar no longer has its Barbican.

The Wild Men of York

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The so-called Wild Men of York (the figures at the top) is a myth created to protect the City of York. It was said that the Wild Men of York would come alive and hurl rocks on any would be enemy attempting to enter the city. In modern times, the Wild Men of York simply welcome visitors to the city coming from Monkgate!

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
Monk Bar Model Shop

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Literally beside Monk Bar resides Monk Bar Model Shop which is somewhat historic in itself as it has existed since the 1960’s (1963). You can purchase model trains, planes, cars and more from here.

Steps Back to Wall

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The steps back to the City Walls can be found at the opposite side of the street. For safety reasons, dogs are not permitted on the wall.

Monk Bar to Walmgate Bar

Musket Loops

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

At the top of the steps you can see some squares cut into the wall. These are musket loops and they were used during the English Civil War.

Ice House

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

An Ice House was used to keep food cool during the spring and summer. They were typically created using ice harvested in wintertime, possibly from a river or lake. The ice would be insulated inside an Ice House to keep it cool throughout the year. The engraving is pertaining to a Georgian Ice House.

Merchant Taylors Hall

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

On your right you will discover Merchant Taylors Hall that features both a Great Hall (built in 1415) and a Small Hall (late 15th century). The Merchant Taylors Hall occasionally has open days and it can be hired for weddings and other events.

 

When passing, do not forget to take a look at the stained glass east-windows.

Jewbury

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

During construction of a supermarket and multi-storey car park a huge Jewish burial area was discovered. It dates back to 1177 and was used for York’s Jewish population until the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290.

Layerthorpe

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

You may have noticed that the section between Bootham Bar and Monk Bar the earth ramparts are straight. Beyond Monk Bar they become more curved. This is because the original Roman ramparts are typically straight, whereas here, the original ramparts were constructed by the Vikings.

 

At Layerthorpe Bridge over the River Foss, we come to a break in the wall for a time. Before the Foss was canalised, the river was much wider. Originally, there would have been a postern tower here, and the water would have met the tower. William the Conqueror also damned up the Foss to create a Kings Fishpool.

 

Alighting the wall at Layerthorpe Bridge we need to carefully cross the road using the pedestrian crossings and follow the River Foss.

River Foss

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The River Foss is the smaller of two rivers that merge in York, close to Skeldergate Bridge. Foss is a norse word for watercourse. The River Ouse has much more volume and empties into the North Sea as the Humber Estuary. We follow the path on the left to something very unusual on the City Walls.

If you enjoy wildlife, you often see waterfowl in this area including ducks, geese, swan, and even the occasional Grey Heron as pictured.

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
Monk Bridge

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

You will also discover an old industrial iron bridge, Monk Bridge. This dates back to 1931 and linked the former waste destructor with the opposite side of the Foss. This leads us to another local landmark.

Former York Waste Destructor

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Just opposite Monk Bridge is the 60ft towering chimney close to Morrisons Supermarket. This chimney once belonged to, in fact the only structure left, of the York Waste Destructor.  The site began consuming York’s refuse in 1901. Today there is seating around the foot of the chimney and you can sit down and eat a sandwich!

An Unusual Red Tower

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The River Foss bends to the right but we carry on beside the road until we reach a signpost for the Red Tower. You probably will have worked it our already why this tower is unusual. It is because its has been built in brick rather than stone. It actually caused fatal conflict at the time it was constructed because the stone masons attempted to sabotage the tilers work. This sadly result in murder. The reason that the Red Tower was built in brick was because the Corporation of York wanted to use cheaper materials.

In any case, this structure also met up with the River Foss, so a wall was not needed between the Red Tower and Layerthorpe wall end as the River Foss and Kings Fishpool provided a protective barrier instead. 

On the rear of the Red Tower you will notice the pantile roof as well as the upper window with an oak shutter.  The Red Tower has been restored in recent times. 

You will also discover the steps back to the walls. 

Walking York City Walls 

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The next section is relatively short as it takes us betwen the Red Tower and Walmgate Bar. There are short bursts of steps along this section.  You will notice a shopping complex on the opposite side of the road and a social housing estate on the right.  The steps emphasise that the route isn’t wheelchair and pushchair friendly, owing to it being an ancient monument. 

This section of the walls does not have any handrails so care is needed here. If you keep your eyes firmly fixed ahead, you will soon notice one of the most important structures on this wall. This is Walmgate Bar, and your first signs of seeing it will probably be the white Elizabethan extension supported on two pillars.

Walmgate Bar

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Situated on the junction to Walmgate is the gateway Walmgate Bar. This is by all means the most important gateway in the sense that it is the most complete in the county. Thus far, Bootham Bar and Monk Bar are missing their ‘barbican’. Walmgate has its barbican still intact today. In fact, you can visit the cafe here and enjoy your food and drink on the top of the barbican.

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
Walmgate Bar (Rear)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The arches at either side of the gateway are Victorian, the wider arch takes traffic from Walmgate. The original centre arch is currently for cycles. It is strongly recommended to walk through this arch and discover the barbican as well as the double oak doors. 

Walmgate Bar Barbican

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The barbican is a wall and gate extension to the gateway that is designed to trap would be invaders between the gate of the barbican and the portcullis of the gateway. After doing so, defenders of the city would walk around the top of the barbican and fire downwards on the enemy below. 

Although this is the most complete gateway in the country, it also doesn’t have something that the other gateways do. You’ll notice that there are no figures on top of the gateway. 

In the Walmgate area, livestock grazed on the banks of the walls and were eventually taken to The Shambles and slaughtered there to be sold. In fact, the term The Shambles refers to street of butchers. 

On the turrets can you witness musket ball damage.

A further recommendation is that you should cross the road using the pedestrian crossings so that you can get a good look at Walmgate Bar in its entirety. Bootham Bar, Monk Bar and Micklegate Bar will have looked similar to this, complete with their own barbican.

Aforementioned, there is a cafe known as ‘Gatehouse Coffee‘ situated up the steps. You can enjoy some respite here and sit outside on the barbican walls, a very unique experience to be sure, but don’t throw any missiles at the cyclists below!

Walmgate Bar to Fishergate Tower

Walmgate to Fishergate Bar

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

The next stretch of walls is again relatively short and takes you towards Fishergate Bar. Although this is a main gateway into the city, it doesn’t have a roomed structure like the other gateways.

York Barbican

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

York Barbican can be seen on the left hand side of the wall. It is a famous venue and is open to sporting events, stand up comedy, music events as well as corporate events. It is famous for holding the UK Snooker Championships. 

Fishergate Bar (Front)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Do not think for a moment that this gateway is lesser than the others as it has no roomed structure. In fact, it was a very important gateway.  However, this bar has history. It was bricked up for around 340 years after 1489.  This was owing to a peasant revolt against Henry VII and you can see that some of the stones have a pinkish tinge from when they were torched. There are also some cracked stones. 

The red stone above the arch reveals the date of Fishergate Bar. ‘Barram Fishergate’ is the first reference found from 1315. The stone containing the York coat of arms makes reference of a former Mayor of York Sir William Tod. 

On the inside of the bar you will see another bar of a different kind! This is the Phoenix Inn that is renown in the area for live music, specifically jazz. 

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
Grave of Dick Turpin (John Palmer)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Through the gateway you will see a church on the right hand side of the road known as St George’s Church. On the opposite side of the road is a grave yard with just one upright stone. This stone belongs to the famous highwayman Dick Turpin. His real name was John Palmer and he was hiding out east of the city. One morning, a cockerel crowed and Dick Turpin shot at it. This action got him arrested and he was tried for being a horse thief. 

Dick Turpin (John Palmer)

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Dick Turpin was actually from Essex and a member of a violent gang. He split up from the gang and became a highwayman. The horses he stole were from Lincolnshire. After his arrest he was moved to York Castle (prison) where he wrote to his brother for help. His brother refused to pay the sixpence on the letter and returned it to the post office. Dick Turpin’s old schoolmaster recognised his handwriting, identifying Dick Turpin’s true identity. This sentenced him to death, and his life was taken on the Knavesmire (close to what is now York Racecourse).

Wall to Fishergate Postern Tower

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

At Fishergate Bar you can return to the walls or you can simply walk down to Fishergate Postern Tower close to Dick Turpin’s grave. The wall takes a right-angled bend with an interval tower at the corner. 

Fishergate Postern Tower

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

Fishergate Postern Tower was rebuilt around 1500 and it is what we see today. The windows are just under the overhanging roof for a reason. The windows have been converted from embrasure’s in the towers wall. So in other words, the windows were once part of the battlements on top of the wall. We alight the walls once again at Fishergate Tower because back in medieval times, the River Foss was damned up by William the Conqueror to form a marshy lake or fishpool. Therefore the water from the river would have met the foot of the tower. 

The postern tower has a shoot coming from the wall which was primitive drainage from the occupiers toilet. Grooves suggest that it once had a portcullis like the gateways to the city. Inside you will find a very steep spiralled stairwell. 

"SIM & Mobile 728x90"
York Castle Walls

York City Walls Smartphone Tour

To rejoin the City Walls at this point, we need to carefully cross the road as well as the River Foss. From the bridge you will see the rear of York Castle Museum. You will also notice a wall that looks similar to the City Walls. In actual fact, this belongs to York Castle and part of the castle complex was on the site of the museum and Court House (York Crown Court). 

When you walk around the corner at the roundabout, you will see Clifford’s Tower that is York’s Castle keep. Many assume that York has one castle but in fact there were two. Originally both of the castles were constructed in wood and sat opposite each other with the River Ouse running in between. Great chains were stretched across the river to prevent traders from leaving without paying their taxes (murage). Eventually, the castle here was upgraded into stone whereas the opposite castle eventually deteriorated. The reason the castle keep (pictured) became known as Clifford’s Tower is because it was owned by some wealthy landowners for a time, the Clifford family. Today it is in the hands of English Heritage.

Now we have carefully crossed the River Foss, we also use Skeldergate Bridge to cross York’s larger river, the River Ouse. You will pass the motorhouse for the bridge on your right hand side. Today it is a popular eatery. 

Contact

info @ todoinyork.com

Copyright

© Photography and Video by Phill James

Imagery shot with a Nikon Z50

Content authored by Phill James

© Phill James 2022 todoinyork.com