York – A city of ghosts and life

On the week-end of the 10th and 11th of October I had planned to complete the Lyke Wake Walk with Jenni and Zoe. And we did . But before we began to walk, I had a few hours to spare in York. I had not set foot in this city for ten years. The last time I had visited, I had been on a school trip and all I could remember was the soft carpet of my host family, the luxuriant sofa, and the cups of tea my two other classmates drained in the sink every morning while I sipped mine. I remember a park where the entire class compared sandwiches, made grimace at weird English food and reluctantly ate them while behind us some old architecture witnessed the scene. I remember my host family, sneaking a few of us in a cinema to watch a film we barely understood. I remember the party they threw for the entire class at the end of our stay. I remember how sleep deprived I had felt, how little English I had understood but also how lucky I had been to be welcomed by such a generous couple. But York itself… it transformed into a simple name that meant a suburban house by an A road, and a warm and friendly overweight woman. So I was eager to come back to York and see the city itself. I wanted it to become a place of its own.

I arrived at midday at the train station and followed the signs to the city centre, blending in with a crowd of locals and tourists. The city walls caught my eyes by Lendal bridge where I stopped to watch the river Ouse flow for a few minutes. But the roar of the traffic chased me away. I went on towards the city centre to grab a bite before going back to the bridge. The centre didn’t look worth exploring. Maybe I was wrong and was going to miss some great local shops, but the walls looked more appealing than endless brands I am too familiar with. I began walking away, following the old fortifications and the trail the city had carefully crafted. It was playful and informative with panels displayed at intersections with stories of old. But it was difficult to relate to those times gone by they mentioned. Beyond the walls, busy roads spread their tentacles, providing a deafening soundtrack to the day. It was only as I arrived at the end of my loop, that a patch of quietness appeared. The walls became shaded by trees from the York Minster gardens. I relaxed and for an instant I forgot the cars to my left.

I climbed down the stairs at one end of High Petergate and followed the street to the cathedral. A model of the city caught my eyes and I spent more time observing it than I did the actual building in front of me. I had never been a fan of gothic architecture. I went in and took a peek at the inside but outside, Rachel Dawick was playing her guitar and I was itching to record her songs in the midst of the streets. Traffic had melted away here, leaving only the clicking of heels on stone, the clatter of old bicycles bouncing on the uneven ground, and the endless chatter of people to accompany the street music. So I sat on a bench, set my recorder on, and listened.

Half an hour went by and it was time to go. I rejoined the flow of vehicles and made my way to the train station where Jenni was going to pick me up. York had gained a physicality. It was a city of ghosts, where the past is still living in the stones, but also a city of life where street music takes over the cars to reclaim the city as a place for people to enjoy and to live in.

A few more photos can be found here.

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7 thoughts on “York – A city of ghosts and life

  1. You have managed to pick out one of my favourite urban sounds – the clicking of high heels! I have only really come to know York since my parents moved there from France a few years ago. It is a great place if a bit too busy for my liking.

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    • Thanks 🙂 I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the recording. I love the rhythm of heels in cities too, but I have to say that the clatter of old bicycle on uneven ground is my favourite sound.

      It did appear like quite a busy city. It is a shame that there was so much traffic around. I usually love to meander in cities but here I felt I was enclosed by the traffic a lot of the time.

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    • Thanks 🙂
      The sounds made York for me. I was glad to discover the street music towards the end of my walk. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have thought much of the city.

      The colours didn’t bring anything to the photos. It was more interesting to focus on the lines and shadows – especially on the last photo. So I decided to go for black and white 🙂

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  2. I tend to feel that cities are alive, in a sense, and that they have a spirit of their own. It’s made up of the individuals, the cultures, the geography, the architecture, the sights, smells, and sounds. I feel like you’ve really captured the spirit of York and shared it with me.

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