It takes two and three quarter hours to make it from Stafford to York a city in the northern parts of England. It was founded in 71AD by the Romans who occupied these parts of the world back then. Their Empire stretching from Africa in the south all the way east to Asia and west to Spain. Britannia occupied the northern reaches of the Empire and enjoyed the benefits of being part of the empire. At least that is how it’s portrayed in the museums. The Roman Empire is responsible for the founding of many cities York, Bath, and London amongst others. York was the northern capital of Britannia. When the Roman Empire collapsed York as a city remained and evolved building up fortifications in the medieval times as well as an impressive cathedral. People have told me that the place is worth visiting so at 0730 I was on the train on my way there.
The weather as I stepped outside on my way to the station didn’t look promising. A few drops of rain fell just enough to notice but not enough to soak the ground under my feet. I’m kind of excited to be heading somewhere new. The train ride is divided into two trips the first to Manchester Piccadilly and from there to York. I don’t have a specific train to catch since I have an open ticket. The schedule shows that there are trains every half hour to those destinations so it’s not that bad. When I got to the station I got into a train that was a half hour late. For whatever reason there was a delay in the service and it was running slower than normal. I missed the connecting train by a minute so I had a half hour to kill. I’m glad I started this day trip early. Having never travelled east of Manchester before I was mesmerized by the scenery outside. The hills are much steeper with evidence of their long habitation as evidenced by the rock barriers between different plots of land that sheep and cattle graze on. There were also a lot of tunnels that we went through the hills further evidence that going through was easier than going over the hill. Railroads enabled Britain to become a powerhouse due to the efficient movement of people and goods. Furthermore, they exported this technology to other parts of the world thereby fueling industrialization across the globe. One of the primary reasons that British Columbia joined Canada was that the railroad was built from the east coast connecting the entire country together. In the UK the distances aren’t as vast but there are many more communities that needed to be connected.
York used to be one of the main railway transportation hubs due to its location and prominence. Recently there have been stories in the news talking about the demographic shift that is expected to occur in the UK. Many northern communities are loosing their young people as they head south in search of work and prosperity. Northern parts of the UK used to be heavily involved in industry in the form of manufacturing and mining. These industries produced goods that were then shipped all over the world. This produced trade that brought prosperity to these shores. It kept the northern portions of the UK gainfully employed for the most part and produced a flourishing of artistic expression. Projections expressed by these studies foresee a big decrease in northern populations compounded by an aging population. Vast swaths will begin to decay abandoned because there is nothing to keep people there.
York station is certainly large and impressive. The kid in me always looks around with a grin at the aging grandeur of these stations. Stations from the Victorian era were built with a great deal of care. Buildings were just beginning to be built using steel and in order to cover such wide spaces steel rafters were employed and these sat on neatly forged posts. In modern times they use “I” beams but back then many posts were cylindrical. I admired the station quickly as I had an urgent need after sitting on the train for so long. Train stations are just train stations and eventually their novelty gets worn especially when there are other priorities.
One nice thing about train stations is that they are usually located close to the center of town and York is no exception. Outside one is immediately confronted by the wall that still stands surrounding the city. It was built in response to the various raids and battles that were waged on this island in these parts in the Middle Ages starting with the Vikings. London used to be surrounded by such a wall but it was demolished a long time ago. Many cities knocked their walls down as improvements in warfare made these types of fortresses obsolete. Where they do remain like here, they infuse a kind of charm to the city. What this also means is that there are a lot of old buildings that survive from a long time ago.
My eyes darted around as they scanned the environment. This time I came prepared for the outing traveling kind of light with all the gear necessary to tourist. Traveling on my own affords a kind of speed and purpose to my steps. I found the York Minster but with the crows outside I figured that I’d take the inside of the church a bit later. Maybe some of these clouds will pass and the light will stream through the window in a more glorious fashion in a couple of hours. It’s an impressive building. It’s one of the largest cathedrals of its kind in Europe. The stained glass window is a sight to behold I’ve been told. Walking around the Minster into town a statue of Constantine is located around the side.
Constantine was a Roman emperor who was crowned a “Cesar” in York in 306AD. His father passed away and upon his death the legions that were gathered there elevated him to that title. The Roman Empire at the time was ruled by regional cesars and they collectively were ruled by an “augustus cesar.” Constantine through various manoeuvres became the top cesar ushering in a new golden age and founding the city of Constantinople or present day Istanbul. His reign also heralded tolerance for Christianity for the first time within the Empire.
My meandering path lead me to The Shambles a street that has retained most of the fifteenth century buildings that once were the centre of the meat trade in York. Cuts of meat used to hang from hooks outside the windows. The timber construction of the buildings has sagged and deformed over time narrowing the amount of sky visible up above. Streets in the olden days were narrow as most of the towns and cities accommodated foot traffic and owing to the confines of the city due to the wall surrounding it space was at a premium. These days this area is a local tourist mecca and is filled with tempting little shops. As I wandered further around the city centre much of the surrounding area was padestrian friendly and filled with people enjoying the day out. My path was free form as all the various turns took me down a different streets.
Close to the Shambles was a square that housed a typical English market filled with different products on offer. There were clothes, t-shirts, fish, posters, CDs, along with candles and other bits up for sale. Throughout the city there were live performers and buskers filling the streets with their own renditions of song and music each unique in their own way. It was a typically touristy scene. The sun came out often from behind the clouds and there were many smiles on people’s faces. There were many languages spoken and for the most part people were enjoying the first day of this bank holiday.
The wall that still stands is open to the public. You can walk the various parts that stand. Sections have been removed over time but the majority of the walls are still intact. I kept doing circles through the city filling up on coffee and also having some lunch at a Jamaican themed restaurant. They had a two-fer-one special on drinks and I thought “yay!” I’ll have one or two whatever the case may be.
I returned to the Minster and was determined to figure out how to get in. The signage says that it’s open from nine on Saturdays. It doesn’t say when it closes. There was a wedding here earlier so I could see it being closed for that if someone rented it out. They didn’t specify that it is closed between such and such hours. I finally asked an attendant that didn’t feel like talking to the public and he informed me that it will open again tomorrow at one. Well so much for getting inside this place. I should have gone in in the morning when I first got here. Oh well. It’ll give me an excuse to come back here sometime in the future. I kind of sat around watching the public finishing off that coffee that I had. There was someone from the states standing next to me chatting it up with some english chap and the rest of their entourage. Some guy was taking one of those “I posed something like this twenty-five years ago on this spot” pictures. I got out of the way so that he could get a good shot. They said thanks and bummed a smoke off of me. A man dressed in tourist khakis, chubby with glasses on rushed by saying:
“They stopped moving and have gathered…” The rest of his sentance trailed off as he moved away from me. He had one of those old phones held close to his ear. Those things are so ridiculously small compared to our modern phablets. My attention turned to the group of youths all dressed in black congregating right next to the minster in front of a chapel. They were pulling up some kind of masks over their faces. Something told me something was about to happen. I quickly switched lenses and walked towards them.
In the span of the few seconds it took me to walk towards them they had unfurled a banner with Hitler and a slogan on it. The American that was standing next to me was already in their face and one of the group pushed him down. He kept on yelling at them as he was moved away from them by someone he knew but he kept yelling at them trying to provoke them. Those guys were pumped ready for a fight as they knew that the view they were espousing is not accepted by the masses. They are such a minority. The cops quickly moved in as some more people got shoved to the ground separating the crowd from the protesters. The atmosphere on the street inevitably changed as a crowd gathered and the cops figured out what to do with them. One of the group was wrestled to the ground and arrested. Soon the situation was under control and the public was kept well away from them.
I had limited time. Nothing was going to happen short of a little riot as the cops were going to quarintine all of them. This situation could have gotten messy but the number one priority is a peaceful resolution. They were going to march them out. I don’t have the patience to watch this. I decided to make my way back to the station and on my way back I stopped at the Yorkshire Museum. Housed inside were various artefacts stretching back from the foundation of the city all the way to the present. There were numerous hordes of gold and silver that have been found in these parts and what was contained within speaks to the provenance the artefacts have to the rest of the world. For example a piece of jewelry from Afghanistan. Viking hordes contained these objects speculatively burried by someone who may not have made it back from battle.
After leaving from the museum the group of far right protesters were finally being escorted through the city. The police vans shielded the small group and as they went over the bridge. Traffic was snarled to allow them to leave. Their extremism has no place in todays society but when times are sour and there is a lot of anger this is one of the ways people respond. They build an us versus them mentality projecting their own shortcomings on others not like them. It is not just whites that do this many extremist groups project their anger however skewed onto another group that they feel is responsible for their current plight. Seeing this with my own eyes felt a bit jarring as the rest of the day felt so idylic. Upon getting to the station I quickly had to get to the proper platform or else I would have missed the train and would have had to wait a half hour for the next one. The trains were packed but I managed to snag a seat and stare out the window as Ba(r)bes and I exchanged our morning (for her) greetings. The train ride had a lot of thinking happen… By the time I got home I was tired but my mind raced thinking of many different things.