Snickleways and Ghosts
I love doing walking tours of cities.
You get to see lots of fun things you might not of otherwise, and you get lots of fun facts and can claim you got exercise. They're fun, or at least they're supposed to be. I've only been on one walking tour (back in Bath) that bored me to tears. It was free, and I felt like asking for my hour and a half back. It was a walking history lecture of the worst type - dull, uninspiring, lots of repetition. Guh.
But York was different, this is for certain. I went on two tours: The Original Ghost Walk of York, and the Snickleways Tour offered by York Walks.
The Original Ghost Walk is, allegedly, the oldest Ghost Walk in the world. Your friendly guide takes you around places in York, and tells you nifty little stories about them. Fun for the whole family... allegedly.
Really, not so much in practice.
It's not that it was dull, because it wasn't, but it was really quite weak as a ghost tour. The opening story is that old one of 'person meets an old family friend when returning home, is asked to convey love to rest of family, does so, finds out person died a week ago'. I'm sure you've all heard variations of it. None of the tales got any more interesting than that. I guess I'd say it's child-friendly, but I think teenagers would be bored. I just spent a lot of time trying not to actually roll my eyes. ("Oh, you think the stones have a reddish tinge to them? Do you think that's because of the fire that destroyed the inside?")
But the man was very friendly, I must give him that.
The other tour had a bit more meat to it, and lots of fun things, but was delivered by someone so bored of his subject matter that it was hard to find it fun. But I can't fault the content for a moment. "Snickleways" is a York-specific word that refers to the little alleys and nooks and crannies and stuff that make up the historic parts of the city. Basically, he would take us to some oddly named little street, alley, or courtyard, tell us why it has that name (maybe), a little story about it.
Lots of fun bits, like legends about scandalous priests (are there any other kind of legends about priests?), red light districts, women killing their husbands, a place where husbands would take their wives for public floggings, and places where churches were once built, but are now empty except for a few leftover graves.
He told us that, in medieval times, there were 365 pubs, 52 churches, and 7 abbeys, so there was always some way of distracting yourself. He also told us that "In York, the streets are called gates and the gates are called bars and the bars are called pubs." I suspect the last bit has been added for the tourist trade. *smile* He also talked a lot about how the city was originally divided, with those lovely images of the slaughterhouse runoff running into the River Ouse, and the refuse being tossed out windows.
The stories are all interesting, but it's hard to determine how many of them are true. Is Mad Alice Lane named after a woman who claimed she'd been driven insane by her husband after she murdered him? Or is it named after a notorious madame? Who knows, really. Places build up legends and stories so easily, especially in a city as old as York.
There are just these lovely little touches everywhere, though. York has obviously embraced the tourist trade (as a lot of cities in the UK have), and ares like the Shambles have been carefully redone to achieve what I'd call "that medeival look" - lots of cunning little shops, lots of interesting images to see, but not necessarily a lot of historic fact to them. Not that I would expect their to be, really. There is a lot more trade in incredibly good fudge than in printers and inkmakers at this point, I'm sure. They've added little touches, though, like this Little Imp in along the street where the printers used to be. He's supposed to represent the printers apprentices that would go around and spill ink or change the letters in the printing press or just generally cause mischief. It's cute. And I probably never would have noticed him (or the Minerva at the end of the street, or the cats in various poses on some of the houses) without the tour. If you have the chance, I really recommend it.
(Interesting side note: the man doing the tour had a couple of people along that he was teaching. One of them offered to help me find my way back to Micklegate Bar, since he was going that way anyway. Along the way, he was brimming full of interesting tidbits about York - about where the oldest settlements were, about why certain buildings were built the way they were, about the pub that floods so often they keep their casks in the attic instead of the cellar. It was fascinating and fun, because he was really into what he was saying. Lots of fun, can't wait till he's his own guide.)