York – Clifford’s Tower
It is Michael’s week to feed and entertain us—even though it is an ongoing negotiation each day—the responsibility lands squarely on his shoulders if we both come up empty with no particular—I really want to… And today he has a plan—a simple walk along the river with Clifford’s Tower being our ultimate destination—and I need to find a drugstore. My beauty supplies are dwindling fast. Michael needs to replenish our ever shrinking supply of food.
The day is almost warm—the warmest it has been during the entire thirty days we have been in England. I worry about donning my raincoat. But the lightweight black covering is more than that, with ample pockets, it is a perfect substitute for a purse. We step outside face to face with Jalou, a beautiful old church turned nightclub. Last night it rocked beyond belief. Michael even left the apartment to see where the noise emanated from. “The church,” I told him, but he found that hard to believe. Then back inside, sitting on the roomy sofa he confirmed my theory, “It’s the church.”
Walking toward the tower we are diverted from our appointed rounds by the opportunity to board a tour boat that leaves in just ten minutes. We use the gift of time to order an English gin and tonic from the bar, adding a bag of crisps for the yin and yang effect—crispy and salty they are appropriately named. The boat barely has any passengers–which is not a bad thing in my estimation. The day is pleasant with no wind. Sitting on the top deck is more than bearable—it’s nice.
Back on dry land we resume our walk toward our ultimate goal. This time we are waylaid by the opportunity to board a hop-on-hop-off bus that is just barely closing its doors. We choose not to hop or pop, we stay put the entire hour, touring mainly outside the old city walls, not within. As I survey the wall from the top of the doubledecker bus I remember what I told Michael when we first saw them, “They are too short to defend anything.”
“OK let me see you try to scale them.”
“But I don’t count. I’m a girl. And I’m too short.”
Since our short conversation regarding the short walls I discovered a few things. The original Roman walls cordoning off the city were covered with mounds of earth by the Viking invaders who then built a spiky wooden wall on top of the heap, making it a bit more difficult for potential attackers to breach them. The stone wall, visible to the attacking tourist hordes of today, was built in the 13th and 14th centuries. I still think they are too short.
Finally we reach Clifford’s Tower, and who in the heck was Clifford anyway? I discover no one knows for sure. What I am pretty sure about is it looks like the walls are going to collapse outward—perhaps on top of me? And that the hill it sits upon looks really really tall. We scale the heights—all of them.
I discover many things—some of them quite devastating. The point of land has been used since Roman times. William the Conquerer was the first to establish a castle here—built of earth and wood. Then at the very end of the 12th century it was destroyed by fire when 150 Jewish citizens took refuge in the castle as tensions between Christians and Jews began increasing throughout England. The reasons were various but mainly because many people were in debt to Jewish moneylenders and also because much crusading propaganda was directed not only against Muslims but also against Jews. Rather than fall into the hands of their persecutors they committed suicide and set fire to the building.
Will history ever stop repeating itself?
After that terrible event repairs were made, but in the middle of the 13th century Henry III decided he needed a completely new stone tower on the mound of earth, not really used as a royal residence but for imprisonment, storage and judicial sessions.
I am not sure when my head will ever stop spinning. Everything I see and touch in this country has so much history with so many stories, more than any 1,000 people could collectively absorb and remember in their lifetime.
Leaving the high green hill behind us, we walk toward the town center looking for a Boots pharmacy, and looking at each other. We broke our own rule. One thing a day, and only one thing a day, got thrown out the window.
City Walls of York