There are at least eight very good reasons why you should come and experience York and Yorkshire for yourself. Whether you are interested in History, Activities, Sports, Festivals, Culture, TV and Film, National Parks or Adventure, you will find something remarkable that simply cannot be found anywhere else. York and Yorkshire are truly unique.
“The history of York is the history of England” – King George VI.
But we would go further: the history of York has influenced the history of the world. With archaeological evidence in the heart of the city to show that the area has been settled for somewhere between four thousand and eight thousand years, it’s hardly surprising that this strategically-important political and religious centre has been at the heart of some of the most defining events in world history. Capital of Britannia Inferior, York was the site of a huge Roman palace, and emperors lived, governed, and died here. Crucially, Constantine the Great was himself (illegally) crowned Emperor on the site where York Minster now stands, and the development of the western world would undergo a dramatic change.
Constantine marched from York with his army, killed the rightful emperor, and accepted Christianity into the Roman Empire, spreading its influence throughout Europe and Africa. Because of this single event, begun in York, the beginnings of the moral, family, legal, political, and social systems you see today were set in motion. York truly is at the beginning of everything you see around you.
Legend has it that once the Romans left the city at the beginning of the 5th Century AD, King Arthur took control but could not resist the Anglo-Saxon influx that followed. In 627, the Saxon King Edwin married the Christian princess Ethelburga in the earliest version of York Minster, and this led to the whole of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms converting to Christianity as a consequence. Not far away in Whitby, church leaders made the momentous decision to adopt Roman practices and fall into line with the rest of mainstream European Christianity. Our small island had made its first moves into a wider Europe, from Yorkshire’s doorstep!
In AD866, Ivor the Boneless led a massive Viking invasion of York, and the city became the capital of the largest Viking kingdom in Britain. When, about a century later, the Viking king Eric Bloodaxe was defeated by the Anglo-Saxons, the story of England was about to change. The Vikings soon tried to regain the city, fighting two bloody battles here – the battle of Fulford and the battle of Stamford Bridge – and the weakened Anglo-Saxon armies were not strong enough to fight the Norman French invasion at the Battle of Hastings just three weeks later. They lost, the Norman French king marched his armies into London, and the history of England was to change again. And again, York had played a crucial role.
The new king, William the Conqueror, made York his northern capital, building two castles here. But the people of the north rebelled, setting these castles alight. In retaliation, William’s “Harrying of the North” finished with eight out of every nine northern English men and women dead, animals slaughtered, buildings destroyed, land and crops poisoned and – evidence showed – nothing to keep the remaining people alive but cannibalism.
But this was nothing to what was about to happen. In 1190, during a wave of anti-Semitic persecution in England, the Jews of the north of England took refuge in York’s castle. Upon realising they could not survive against the angry local mobs, the story goes that the men first gave their wives and children a quick death, and then burnt themselves alive by setting the castle on fire. In the records is the word “holocaust”, the first time it had been used to describe such a bloody massacre.
But York itself continued to prosper. Kings lived here, the Parliament of the North was established here, the Royal Mint printed money here, and the Archbishop of York gained a status he (and perhaps one day she) retains to this day: technically, the Archbishop is more important in the British hierarchy than the Prime Minister! York also played a crucial part during the English Civil War, with Charles I living and attempting to govern from here before being driven out by the republican Parliamentary forces.
As time went on, York’s riches and its importance diminished, but it still kept its place in the annals of history. Guy Fawkes, a man born in York, became immortalised as the world’s first terrorist, being hanged, drawn and quartered for attempting to blow up the King and bring down the British constitution. The British still celebrate his death every year, on November 5th, with bonfires and fireworks, and you can see a stylised version of his face every time you see pictures of “Occupy Wall Street” and the hackers’ group Anonymous.
York and Yorkshire gained wealth and importance again, in the Victorian period, as George Hudson, the “Railway King”, brought the railways to York. Suddenly at the centre of industrial Britain, half-way between London and Edinburgh, the city became vital to the infrastructure of the Industrial Revolution and the industries that powered the British Empire. And the north of England, with Yorkshire’s mills and factories, were at the very heart of it all, and the empire could not have survived or grown had it not been for this region. Indeed, it was from Whitby in Yorkshire that Captain Cook sailed and discovered Australia, setting up the first colonies there and spreading “the western world” all the way down into the furthest south you could go.
It was also in this period that York played a crucial but almost unknown role in the development of two of the things that have become part of our everyday life – chocolate and socialism! So important was York to the history of chocolate that there might be no solid confectionery chocolates around had the city not existed; and so much chocolate, candy, and sugar was produced here that it became known throughout England as the “chocolate city”. At the other end of the scale, Karl Marx himself credited a writer from York as being among the people who greatly influenced his communist ideology. Who knows what communism, socialism, and the left would have looked like had this not been the case. And into the modern period, a man from York played a crucial role in the development of Gay Pride. The city and region continues to produce moments of surprise, significance, and importance even to this day. A city of great history, but equally, a city of the present.
Are you you interested in photography? Climb the steps of the York Minster tower to take superb panoramic photos from the top or walk on top of the medieval city walls to catch some beautiful shots of the landmarks. Take a trip out to the North York Moors to photograph the great expanses of sky over the heather moorlands. If you go onto Whitby to shoot the abbey perched menacingly on the clifftops with wild waves crashing below, you will see why Bram Stoker was inspired to write Dracula in this town. If you have interest in wildlife and especially in birds, the Yorkshire coast is a sanctuary for sea birds. Each year over 250,000 of them flock to the cliffs between Bempton and Flamborough Head. Between mid-April and mid-July puffins make their home here. From February to October thousands of gannets nest on the cliffs of the only mainland gannetry in England. Bempton also has the largest kittiwake colony in mainland Britain. Of course we know that there should also be time for that other popular activity, shopping, especially in York and Leeds. York specialises in boutique and independent shops selling unique items, whereas Leeds is famous for its beautiful Victorian indoor shopping arcades, full of exclusive shops selling top brands.
Whether you are a fan of one of the world’s most popular sports, football or you want to know more about lesser known, but equally special traditional ‘British’ sports, like cricket and horse racing, Yorkshire is the place to come.
Sheffield in Yorkshire is recognised by FIFA as the birthplace of club football, because Sheffield FC is the oldest association football club in the world. Two men from Sheffield codified a set of rules for the game in 1857, these were known as the Sheffield rules. Sheffield Club Hallam’s home ground Sandygate Road, was first opened in 1804 and is recognised as the oldest ground in the world. There are several other significant clubs in Yorkshire like Leeds United, Hull City and Huddersfield Town.
Yorkshire is by far the most successful in the history of the county cricket championship: they have won the title 31 times. Their home ground is Headingley in Leeds. The first cricket club in Yorkshire is thought to have been Sheffield, founded in 1751. Thomas Lord founder of Lord’s Cricket Ground in London, Geoffrey Boycott, the cricketer and Dickie Bird, the umpire are all from Yorkshire.
No other region in the UK is as passionate about horse racing as Yorkshire. The county is synonymous with the sport of kings, with no fewer than nine top class courses – more than any other region in the UK – holding over 170 meetings each year and home to numerous winning stables including Middleham, Malton and Richmond. Yorkshire has six flat racing courses at York, Beverley, Pontefract, Redcar, Ripon and Thirsk, a specialist National Hunt course at Wetherby, and dual courses offering monthly racing either on the flat or over jumps at Catterick in the north and Doncaster in the south. Famous racing festivals staged in Yorkshire include the Welcome to Yorkshire Ebor meeting and the St Leger at Doncaster – the oldest classic horse race in the world. There is evidence of horse racing in York going back to the Roman times, but the modern racecourse was probably founded in 1731.
In the London 2012 Olympics competitors from Yorkshire won 7 gold medals, 2 silver and 3 bronze. If Yorkshire had been treated as a country, it would have come twelfth in the overall medal table.
The area also hosts a number of music festivals, such as The Great Yorkshire Fringe, The Rydale Festival, Bestival, The Galtres Festival, Tramlines Festival, Leeds Festival, and many, many more. The city of York alone is fortunate to have high-quality live music, every night of the week at a variety of venues, for free.
And if it’s music you love, Yorkshire has it all. From the classical – with Gustav Holst, Edward Bairstow and Frederick Delius sitting alongside John Barry, the film composer responsible for the James Bond scores – to the modern, with Pulp, the Arctic Monkeys, The Cult, The Beautiful South, Mick Ronson, Kaiser Chiefs, The Sisters of Mercy, Def Leppard, Whitesnake, Chris Rea, Paul Carrack, Joe Cocker, Bryan Ferry, Robert Palmer, James Arthur, and Fatboy Slim. Yorkshire had its fair share of 80s pop bands too. The likes of Soft Cell, The Human League, ABC, Heaven 17, and Thomson Twins, all took the singles charts by storm. Even David Bowie had Yorkshire roots, as his father was born not far outside York!
The Yorkshire landscape and character has inspired countless works of art. The Wakefield artist Barbara Hepworth still has a world-famous gallery named after her in her birthplace, while David Hockney is perhaps Britain’s best-known living painter whose gallery in Saltaire near Leeds draws thousands of art-lovers every year. Henry Moore, the sculptor, has been enormously influential but also controversial, with many of his sculptures being vandalised. His works, as well as those of many others, can be found in the beautiful setting of the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield. The English greats Turner, LS Lowry, and John Constable have all been inspired by Yorkshire.
We have galleries aplenty. Every year York plays host to a city-wide art exhibition as its many local artists all open their doors to members of the public (The York Open Studios). York City Art Gallery houses work by Mark Hearld and Grayson Perry, as well as the National Centre of Ceramic Art; Leeds Art Gallery is one of the highlights of any trip to the region the Ruskin Collection, gathered from one of Victorian England’s most influential critics, can be found in Sheffield; while art, we must remember, is not all sculptures and canvass: York Minster’s Great East Window is a triumph of sacred glass painting, considered by many to be the finest work of medieval glass art anywhere in the world; ancient stone carvings from hundreds and even thousands of years ago can be found all over the countryside; and a visit to one of “Capability” Brown’s landscape gardens, found all over Yorkshire in the parks and the stately houses, will show art and beauty as they breathe and bloom magnificently through the seasons.
York and Yorkshire have also been immortalised in literature. Indeed, some of the earliest English translations of the Bible were made in York (famously, for instance, by Miles Coverdale), and York printers were heavily involved in the earliest Bible printings. Charlotte and Anne Bronte both stayed in York while writing their novels, and Wilkie Collins (who wrote The Woman in White and Moonstone) also stayed here and included aspects of the town in her work. In the first half of the 20th Century, authors such as EM Forster and Virginia Woolf would meet in York as part of the famous “Bloomsbury Group”, while WH Auden, famous for his lyrical “Stop All The Clocks” ballad (read out heartbreakingly during the film Four Weddings And A Funeral) was born in the city. Sisters Margaret Drabble and AS Byatt were both educated in York as young girls, and the area features heavily in their output. Jung Chang, author of the award-winning Wild Swans, was also educated in York.
Charles Dickens wove York into some of his most famous stories, and there is an intriguing and bloody connection between one of York’s most famous sons and Shakespeare’s MacBeth (as well as York featuring in Shakespeare’s “Wars of the Roses” plays, such as in the brilliant Richard the Third). Novels as varied and acclaimed as Pillars of the Earth, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, Race to Death, The Sweetest Thing, and more, have been inspired by, set in, and heavily featured York. Outside the city, Lewis Carroll came up with many of his Alice stories while staying in nearby Whitby, Bram Stoker wrote Dracula there, and had the fiendish Count land in the Yorkshire fishing town (where legend has it, his bones still lie). The metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell was a Yorkshireman and the Bronte Sisters (and their tragic brother) lived and wrote their entire output in the county.
TV and Film
York and Yorkshire are always on our screens. Gritty, modern dramas like Kes and Billy Liar stand proudly alongside beautiful period pieces like Brideshead Revisited, Downtown Abbey and The Railway Children. Modern classics like Billy Elliot, The History Boys, The Full Monty, This Is England, and Brassed Off would not have had half of their power and beauty without Yorkshire’s character and countryside, while locations around York and Yorkshire inspired and were featured in all of the Harry Potter movies.
Beloved TV series such as Heartbeat and All Creatures Great and Small can be found just a short drive out of York, Game of Thrones not only features many Yorkshire actors, but was inspired by The Wars of The Roses, a civil war which raged in England hundreds of years ago between the royal House of York and the royal House of Lancaster, and the city itself has featured in countless screen productions. Famous local actors include Dame Judy Dench, Sean Bean, Patrick Stewart, Ben Kingsley, Michael Palin, Malcolm McDowell, Brian Blessed, and James Mason.
Yorkshire is home to two national parks. The Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors.
The Yorkshire Dales includes some of the finest limestone scenery in the UK, from crags and pavements to an underground labyrinth of caves. Each valley or ‘dale‘ has its own distinct character, set against expansive heather moorland tops. Stone-built villages sit amongst traditional farming landscapes of field barns, drystone walls and flower-rich meadows. Spectacular waterfalls and ancient broadleaved woodland contrast with the scattered remains of former mine workings and other rural industries which remind us of the area’s rich industrial heritage.
The North York Moors has the largest expanse of moorland in the UK. This special habitat, and the plants and animals it supports, is nationally and internationally important. An area of 44,000 hectares of moorland has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest for its heathland habitat and breeding birds. It’s also a Special Area of Conservation (an important plant habitat within Europe) and a Special Protection Area (important within Europe for breeding birds). The area has also been included in the European Natura 2000 series of sites, confirming it as an internationally important site for merlin, golden plover, heathland and bog.
The Yorkshire Dales has a wide range of outdoor adventure for visitors. For example, many people come to the Dales for walking, horse riding or other exercise. Several long-distance hiking routes cross the park, including the Penine Way, the Dales Way and the Coast to Coast Walk. Cycling is also popular and there are several cycleways and mountain bike centres. There are also outdoor centres, for example at How Stean Gorge, offering caving, canoeing and gorge scrambling.
The North York Moors is home to Dalby Forest or the ‘Great Yorkshire Forest’. It is a centre for mountain biking, zip wire, adventure sport and astronomy. You can also find hiking and mountain biking trails all over the moors and along the coast.
And last, but not least, YesYork is here, and there’s really no better reason than that to come and visit.