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Showcase Sunday: Travelling Close to Home (York)

Showcase Sunday: Travelling Close to Home (York)

December 2019 · 15 min read
Today is Sunday... which means the Showcase Sunday challenge. Showcase Sunday is a chance to resurrect undervalued work, and perhaps get some new eyes on those posts that took hours/days to make. This initiative was created by @nonameslefttouse, who seems to have dropped off the radar in the last month.

I once had a dream... to travel the world and fund these journeys through writing about it on steem! Due to many factors, this dream was not to be. Health problems, the crash in crypto markets and family considerations all had a lot to do with this dream falling by the wayside. However, instead of letting it get me down, I decided to create travel posts about places closer to home than South America.

The three posts I would like to resurrect are some of the first examples of these style of travel posts about destinations in the UK. The subject of these articles is the city of York, one of the UK's prime tourist city destinations due to its winding medieval streets and roman walls. York is also one of my favorite cites in the UK as you can explore the whole of the ancient center on foot and there is so much to see. These three articles are packed with history which it took me many painstaking hours to research. Also, as with many of my other travel articles, I inject my own style into them by including poems inspired by the locations. It's for these reasons that this is some of the work I am most proud of on steem.

I hope you enjoy this trip to York/Jorvik 🙂

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The history of the city of York stretches as far back as roman times. The Romans first built a fort here in 71 AD between the rivers Ouse and Foss. By the mid 2nd century a small town had started to develop, serviced by craftsmen and merchants working to support the nearby garrison.1 However, there is sparse archaeological evidence left of these early roman histories in the architecture, which is predominantly from medieval times.

As you wander through York the medieval history seeps from the buildings. In most areas it is a kind of blur between the modern and ancient. In the picture to the right this is evident as I look off into the distance along the medieval town wall toward York Minster. This fortified wall is the most complete example of a medieval city wall still standing in England today and was built in the 13th and 14th centuries to replace the former viking palisade.2

The modern merges with the historical, as the various roads crisscross the city like tarmac snakes weaving their way through the gates (named Bar's in yesteryear) of this medieval wall. It is a little surreal at times but as someone who finds huge inspiration in historical buildings/architecture, these sights catapult me into lands of imagination. Inspiring daydreams of realms of fantasy, set in the tumult of war.

The Reincarnation of Stone

A city encircled by history,
Ouroboros in re-hewn stone,
Roman roads, Viking fjords,
horns of change fiercely blown.

Soldiers build, farmers sow
reap the crops for leavened bread,
while settling, groaning ancient stone
draws memory from a silken thread

that stretches on, through age-worn past

encircling all memory,
until at last a new belief
tears down walls of hegemony.

© Rowan Joyce

York Minster & The Shambles - Layers of History

York minster is another amazing medieval feature of the city which sits on top of an even older site of archaeological significance. The ancient Roman fort I mentioned earlier was located in this area and the remains of the Basilica, the ceremonial centre of that Roman fortress, have been found in the undercroft beneath the Minster building3.

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The pictures of this grandiose and ornate Minster speak for themselves. It towers up to the sky tickling the heavens with a balustrade of steeples. It is easy to see how ancient peoples were convinced of the divinity of church and state when you consider that these were the only buildings that stretched up so high. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to visit the inside of the Minster but I have heard it is amazing.


The shambles are a twisting maze of alleys and back streets which make up the medieval heart of York. There is a street actually named the shambles which is arguably the finest, and best preserved, medieval street in the world.

The story of this iconic street is both grisly and gruesome. In the picture to your far right, if you look closely near the top and center, you will be able to see a hook hanging from the eves of the shop front. The Shambles was originally a street of butchers’ shops and houses, many complete with a slaughterhouse at the back of the premises4. The carcass were hung from hooks in front of each building so that the blood could drain into the drains of the street below, but also as a kind of medieval advertisement for the quality and freshness of the meat. This type of tale is the sort of thing I love to discover as a writer. The atmosphere of walking those streets, coupled with this history has already been sparking inspiration for my fantasy fiction world. It is easy to see how George R R Martin, as a student of medieval history, came up with some of the more depraved story lines in the game of thrones series of books.

The Shambles is where today's adventures in the historic city of York ended, but I shall be visiting some other awesome attractions over the next couple of days, and shall be writing about them next week when I return home to Liverpool.

© Rowan Joyce





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Jorvik - York's Viking Past

The city of York's viking history stretches as far back as 866 when an army Led by Halfdan and Ivar the Boneless,1 attacked the city of Eoforwīc on All Saints Day, November 1st of that year. Eoforwīc is the Anglo-Saxon name for York, which translates as wild-boar town2. The sacking of Eoforwīc, on All Saints Day, was a tactical master-stroke, showing the level of sophistication that the vikings possessed in assessing the strengths and weaknesses of their enemies. There understanding of Christian custom and practice, aided by the somewhat blinkered attitudes of the church at the time, allowed the vikings to ambush the town on a festival day with minimum casualties.

The town was used as a viking garrison for a short time before being taken back by the English and then retaken by viking forces in 867. The city changed hands multiple times until a large viking army took Eoforwīc in March 867 killing the Northumbrian kings Aelle and Osbert. By the year 878 the former city of Eoforwīc (York) had been made part of the five boroughs of the Danelaw3 and was thence forth known as Jorvik.

The vikings stamped their mark on the city in many ways. Most notably their settlement made Jorvik a river port of no small measure. Archaeological records show Jórvík's trading connections reached to the Byzantine Empire and beyond, with both Byzantine silk recovered and coins from Samarkand 4 (a city in Uzbekistan). However, there is very little evidence of the vikings left in the architecture of modern day York as they built structures mainly with wattle (wood and mud) walls and thatched roofs.

Jorvik Viking Centre - The Excavation of Coppergate Street

Most of what we do know about the viking city of Jorvik comes from excavations of the Coppergate street site by York Archaeological Trust between 1976-81. The Jorvik Viking Centre 5. now sits atop this archaeological dig, providing an emersive experience into the lives of the people of this bygone age.

After descending a double flight of stairs, the museum experience starts above the old dig site, where they have a suspended glass floor with areas of excavation beneath. There is an archaeologists in this room dressed in full viking clothing ready to greet you and talk over the various artifacts on display.

Unfortunately, the low lighting and my rubbish phone camera doesn't really do this area justice in the picture above but it does give a general impression of the atmosphere. The area includes the original foundations of various buildings, both viking and from later medieval eras. As the friendly viking archaeologist talks you through the different indicators of style; building material, architectural structure etc, you do get a glimpse into the process behind the historical analysis.

The next section of the museum tour was my favorite. As a writer I am constantly trying to piece together setting through focused observation. Drinking in sights, sound and smell to build a believable backdrop with words to future stories and poems. The animatronics ride experience at Jorvik, builds that impressionistic step-back-in-time very well. The ride gives the feel of stepping back to the flee ridden, earthy smoke of ancient Coppergate street. They even pump in realistic smells as you ride through the recreation. I have written a short story which will be published separately from this post that was inspired by the Yorvik Viking Centre and particularly this part of the tour. In the mean time here is a short video of the ride, filmed on my phone's camera, complete with viking music as the microphone didn't capture the commentary very well. You will just have to imagine the smells 😉

The ride ends and you disembark into a more traditional museum setting. Many of the artifacts recovered in the dig are displayed in this section and the historical context is represented excellently.

One interesting thing I discovered was that seemingly every-day items were considered status symbols to the vikings. Bone combs were owned by the wealthy and those in high society among the vikings took immaculate care in personal grooming. There were a number of other combs on display of varying size and type, including one that could very well have been a beard comb.

In another area we were asked to guess the use of various artifacts (see picture below). This exhibit was presented in an immersive way as another archaeologist in full costume presented a group of items that you were allowed to touch, before asking what you thought they were.

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Shoe of Bone

Severed antler, crown of stag
worked with axe and grinding stone,
polished smooth by trammeled waters
wearing rivers frozen foam.

Bedecked in circlet of leather,
ensorceled in wyrd-woven spells,
to walk on water weathering
kissed by ice where Skaði dwells.6.

© Rowan Joyce

Have You Guessed it Yet?                           It is a Viking Ice Skate!

Apparently, they were attached to the bottom of shoes by circlet's of leather and people would use them to skate across frozen rivers as well as hard packed snow. This was not for fun but rather a means to travel more efficiently, a way to get from A to B quickly in the frozen winter. It is this type of fascinating detail which I find invaluable for building setting in historical or fantasy fiction and the Jorvik Viking Centre was a real gold mine for this type of hidden history.





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Barley Hall - Magic & Mystery

Just over a month ago I visited the ancient city of York in the UK and wrote a series of posts about the city and its Viking history. We spent four days in this amazing city and this is the story of what we saw on the final day.

Barley Hall is a reconstructed medieval townhouse which was originally built around 1360 by the monks of Nostell Priory. The archaeological importance of the building wasn't discovered until 1984. In 1987 York Archaeological Trust acquired the derelict building and started the process of restoration to its original medieval state.

As you wander around, it does come off as somewhat of a tourist trap, but if you're a history enthusiast like me, the props and information only add to the experience. I like to immerse myself in the feeling of a place like this, the oak beams and the tapestries allow you to wander back in time in your mind. As a writer, this type of research is one of the most effective things you can do to learn how to paint an authentic patina into the setting of historical and fantasy fictions.

The hall is an impressive attraction in itself but the thing that drew me to visit that day was the exhibition of medieval magic that was running at the time. This is a subject that has fascinated me for a long while and an area of study/research that bears particular relevance to my writing. Elements of medieval magic are a deep undercurrent of many of my favourite fantasy author's work and I found this exhibition to be very comprehensive. Here are a selection of the many pictures I took of various exhibits and accompanying explanations.


In the latter Middle Ages the concept of natural magic became popular, although it was not accepted by all. Natural magic is perhaps best described as the science of the hidden properties of things, which were otherwise mysterious at the time. For instance, the healing characteristics of plants, or its power to ward of bad luck, were thought to come from the stars or planets. Alternatively, a plant’s yellow colour might make it especially suited to treating jaundice, or its liver shaped growths might suggest its usefulness in the treatment of liver complaints, as in the case of liverwort (a small flowerless green plant).

A 13th-centurary bishop of Paris, William of Auvergne, was the first to use the term ‘magia naturalis’ in his writing; stating that this sort of magic comes through the natural ‘virtues’ of animals, herbs and stones, which communicate with each other in secret ways.

An understanding of these hidden forces was useful to medieval physicians, who consulted works on astrology to decide when and how to treat patients. One of the pilgrims in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, written at the end of the 14th century, is a ‘doctour of phisik’. Chauser introduces him as an adept in ‘magyk natureel’, and ‘grounded in astronomye’.


The area describing alchemy was amazingly detailed, with a full mock-up of an alchemist's lab and even a robe for the (cough cough) children to wear 😉

Panels detailing the eminent leaders of the field in alchemy and natural magic.

The amount of information in this exhibition was far more extensive than I could possibly present in this article. When I find a well-spring of information like this I am always looking for that elusive story that captures the imagination. The small detail that sparks my inspiration toward writing a short fiction.

In the post I wrote about the Jovik viking museum there was a certain exhibit that inspired one of the best stories I've ever written The Madness of the Gods. I found a similar exhibit at Barley Hall that has inspired a short historic/fantasy fiction (soon to be published exclusively to steemit).

This aspect of benevolent magic fascinated me as I had not heard of it before. The witch bottle was a way to remove the influences of a spell by filling the bottle with pine, nails, urine, animal or human hair. It was believed that the energies of the spell got caught in the materials thus removing the curse. This practice shows parallels with shamanic and voodoo practices which fascinated me even further, inspiring research in both those traditions of magic.

I left Barley Hall with some excellent inspirational material and I would recommend this place to anyone, casual tourist or roving writer alike.

After leaving Barley Hall we walked the length of the York city walls before stopping for dinner at the street food section of the Shambles Market.

One of the strangest things to find in a medieval city - Korean food 😆 honestly that was one of the nicest meals I've had in a long time, although spicy as hell!

Haunted York and the Golden Fleece

After a fiery Korean bibimbap box, what better way to cool the furnace than a pint in a haunted pub! Apparently, York is one of the most haunted cities in the whole of the UK. I can't really attest to this as where we stayed was a house-sit for a friend who lives in the area, close-ish to the city but definitely not in the centre where most of the spooky happenings... happen. Our rather nice two up two down was just haunted by an elderly cat. But as I was in the spookiest city in the north of England I had to visit at least one 'supposedly' haunted location - The Golden Fleece Pub.

When you walk in, you are struck by how small it seems to be. The decor is like something from a 1970's sit com and the familiar smell of stale beer tickles the senses, causing flash backs to my days as a barman.

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The pub is deceptive though, as it stretches back a long way, finally opening out into a larger room where a skeleton sits forlornly at the bar. This is where we decided to sit for a well-earned end of day drink. I'm not sure what to say here. It did have a slightly eerie feel in the corridor but that might have just been the effects of the rather flat lager I had just drunk. The main room (pictured below) was atmospheric and the fish and chips were passable but I'd say unless you're prepared to pay to stay overnight, don't expect much horrific goings on.



All pictures/video used in these posts are my own work unless specified below the image. If you have enjoyed these travel articles, please do check out my other work on my homepage @raj808. Thanks for reading.




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