Snickelways of York a walk through time

Walking the streets of modern day York you are navigating over, through and around layers of history reaching back through time to the foundation of the Roman fort of Eboracum around 71 AD. From Romans to Saxons, Vikings and Normans, from Medieval through Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian the city has evolved, grown and prospered.

York is famous for its Minster and its great city walls. It is also home to a plethora of charming (and not so charming) narrow alleyways or lanes some of which can trace their history to the very beginnings of the city of York.

Mark W. Jones first published his book "A Walk around the Snickelways of York" in 1983 and in doing so coined the term "snickelways" as a collective noun for the "snickets, ginnels, alleyways, courts, yards and footstreets" which he guides the reader around. As of the time of writing this (October 2016) the book has reached its ninth edition.

Bootham Bar : an entrance to the original Roman fort of Eboracum would have stood just about here.

Having bought the book during a family holiday to York in the summer of 2016 I decided to return to the city in order to walk the Snickelways in their entirety as guided by Mr Jones. So it was that I found myself at Bootham Bar, one of the ancient entrances through the city walls and the starting (and ending) place of the walk on the morning of October 6th 2016.

This photo tour is in no way intended to replace the wonderful guide book written by Mr Jones which is a work of art in its own right, comparable to Alfred Wainwright's guides to the fells of the Lake District. The book is excellent value for money and I would recommend it to anybody who is planning a visit to York. It is available from Amazon and I found my copy in the "local interest" section of the branch of Waterstones in York (to be found on Coney Street not far from St. Martin's Church at time of writing). It is well worth every penny of the asking price of £5.99 and then some!

The Hole In The Wall. Snickelway no. 1!

Having walked under the pedestrian arch of Bootham Bar we soon encounter our first Snickelway : Hole-in-the-Wall. This short alleyway cuts through a pub of the same name leading from High Petergate to Precentor's Court.

Hole-in-the-Wall leading to Precentor's Court and the first of many "uncommon" views of York Minster.

Walking towards the Minster we dive off to the left at the end of Precentor's Court to walk through Dean's Park.

Dean's Park with the Minster Library ahead.

Exiting Dean's Park we now walk along Minster Yard until we pass The Treasurer's House (alleged scene of a famous Ancient Roman haunting) at which point we take a left turn and head down Chapter House Street.

Chapter House Street leading to Ogleforth. Treasurer's House behind the wall to the left.

After admiring the buildings along Chapter House Street there is only one way we can continue at the end, right along the wonderfully named Ogleforth and on towards Goodramgate.

Gateway to the garden of The Treasurer's House and views along Chapter House Street and Ogleforth.

We dive left off the busy Goodramgate down the ancient pathway known as Bedern and are immediately transported back in time to 1349 with the chapel of The College of Vicars to our right. We continue down through a much more modern housing development until we reach an archway leading onto St. Andrewgate.

The entrance to Bedern passage is quite wide but still remarkably easy to walk straight by. Looking back the way we've come to Goodramgate, 14th Century chapel on the left.

We now make our way along St. Andewgate and around the back of St. Andrew's Hall before continuing towards King's Square. The Minster can be glimpsed above the rooftops of the modern housing development to the right.

Modern housing, ancient place of worship.

Entering King's Square we walk ahead and to the left, not yet entering The Shambles but instead walking straight along Newgate to emerge in what is now The Shambles Market before turning right down Patrick Pool, left along Church Street and out into St. Sampson's Square.

Beautiful buildings are everywhere you look in York.

Our next Snickelway cuts through another pub, this time The Three Cranes and leads us out onto Swinegate for a little way before we head off into another, the wonderfully named Mad Alice Lane.

Three Cranes Lane, Swinegate and Mad Alice Lane.
The "former" name seems the more colourful.

Walking the Snickelways one is often struck by the sudden removal of noise, crowds and bustle. One moment you can be on a modern main shopping street the next you are walking through a medieval courtyard and look back to see people rushing to and fro through the "window" back into the normal world which is the end of the alleyway.

Emerging briefly from Mad Alice Lane we now cross Low Petergate and head straight into Hornpot Lane at the end of which can be found 12th Century Holy Trinity Church. Stop in for a look if you so wish before we pass out onto Goodramgate (highly recommended if the church is open, it's a lovely place).

Holy Trinity Church lurking at the end of Hornpot Lane and the gateway leading back to Goodramgate (seen from Goodramgate).

Now we head left along Goodramgate then cross the road to head under the archway that leads onto College Street. The massive east end of the Minster rises before us and at the end of College Street we turn left and head along Queen's Path. Now we pass a Roman column and a statue of Constantine The Great who was proclaimed Emperor near this very spot in 306 AD.

Archway leading onto College Street with the Minster beyond.
College Street and the Minster.

Just after the Roman Column and statue of Constantine there is a left turn we take down Minster Gates and then over the Petergates (meeting place of "High" and "Low") into Stonegate which can be a very busy and bustling place indeed. You will see a sign which stretches overhead from one side of the street to the other which advertises "Ye Olde Starre Inne". We are looking for a small opening on the left just before this which is marked with a small red devil figure high on the wall above the alley. You are about to enter one of my favourite Snickelways : "Coffee Yard"

The entrance to Coffee Yard.

If you only "do" one Snickelway in York, make it Coffee Yard. It's long (220 feet) and narrow (less than three feet wide in places) with three tunneled sections (as low as 5' 10") and can trace its history back to the medieval period. You will pass right through the middle of Barley Hall along the way which dates back to the 14th century. Enjoy the chance to take a look through the full height windows in to the reconstructed medieval hall as you proceed.

Some views along Coffee Yard ending with the exit into Grape Lane.
A shot looking down into Coffee Yard through a glass window at Barley Hall during my visit on the day following my main Snickelways walk.

We now walk past the end of Grape Lane and down a stretch of Swinegate before taking a right onto Back Swinegate and immediately left to head down the wonderfully named Finkle Street. Finkle Street leads us back into St. Sampson's Square near The Roman Bath pub. I took a detour for "refreshments" here and a visit to the cellar where you can see for yourself the remains of the Roman bath house (for a charge at time of writing of £3.50 and well worth it).

Back Swinegate, Finkle Street and the Roman Bath pub.
Hypocaust of the caldarium of the Roman Baths which can be seen below the pub of the same name.

Now we head across St. Sampson's Square to Silver Street, through the end of Jubbergate and onto Little Shambles. Here we are about to take in no less than 7 Snickelways in the space of a couple of minutes as our path slaloms in and out between The Shambles and The Market until we are finally headed out near the end of The Shambles through a passage next to St. Crux Hall and onto Whip-Ma-Whop-Ma-Gate - the shortest street in York and with the longest name!

Various Snickelways around The Shambles.

We now head along St. Saviourgate, past the Central Methodist Church which features four huge columns. Crossing the road we head to the old St. Saviour's Church building which is now used by the York Archaeological Trust as the "Jorvik DIG".

Central Methodist Church, St. Saviourgate, Jorvik DIG just to the right.

The Snickelways book told me to walk around the rear of the church building, through the gardens and back onto Hungate. Here I encountered the first obstacle to completing the walk as described in the book - the gate back onto Hungate was chained, locked and blocked by wooden pallets. I re-traced my steps and made my way along Hungate which features a remarkably unlovely entrance ramp to a multistory car park. Never mind, Hungate is but short in length and soon we are heading back up The Stonebow and towards Black Horse Passage on the opposite side of the road.

Hungate with the "lovely" car park ramp, "gardens" in what was the churchyard of St. Saviour's Church (now Jorvik DIG), But I don't DIG this blocking of the gate I should be passing through! Back the way I came and then onward beyond this lump of concrete, back on my way.
Black Horse Passage

Black Horse Passage features a wall which is in part the remains of a Carmelite priory which used to stand here. The intrepid Snickeller passes through towards the British Telecom building and the River Foss before heading back into town via Straker's Passage.

River Foss and Foss Bridge. Snickelway number 30 is a set of steps leading up to the right here.
Straker's Passage, leading to Fossgate.

Straker's Passage pops out onto Fossegate conveniently close to my favourite place for a good coffee in York - Spring Espresso. After popping in for refreshment (or not) we carry on up Fossgate (away from Foss Bridge) until we see a seeming dead-end on the left. Yes, we're heading down there and may not be apparent that it's not a dead-end until we get to the very corner. Here we head into another of my favourites : Lady Peckett's Yard.

Lady Peckett's Yard.

I love the timber framed building in Lady Peckett's Yard, a personal highlight of the Snickelways. Just a few yards beyond this lovely old building we emerge blinking onto Pavement - right at the heart of the bustling shopping area of modern York - so enjoy the peace here while you can.

Looking into Lady Peckett's Yard from Pavement.

The route now heads up along Parliament Street which is full of modern chain stores and usually bustling with shoppers. We take a left onto Market Street and then left again to head down Peter Lane which is a little more like what we're used to. Directly ahead down Peter Lane are actually two Snickelways. We want to take the left hand fork at this point to walk up Le Kyrk Lane and out onto High Ousegate (the Snickelway to the right here is Pope's Head Alley and we'll be walking back down that way a little later).

Peter Lane leading to Le Kyrk Lane and High Ousegate beyond.

Crossing High Ousegate we head through All Saints' Passage (Snickelway 35) and then across Coppergate. Follow the sign for the Jorvik Centre although at time of writing the centre is still closed following the flooding of Winter 2015/2016.

River Foss behind Fenwick's store.

Keeping to the left of the square we are aiming for a passage to the left of the Fenwick's store which leads back out to the River Foss. Turn right and follow the river for a few yards and we're in to the Castle Car Park where we want to loop back around to our right and aim for Castle Walk to the opposite side of Fenwick's to the passage we took earlier. Now we turn left, climbing up a slight incline by the side of St. Mary's Church and towards Castlegate where we turn left once more to head back towards the prominent landmark of Clifford's Tower.

Clifford's Tower taken from "The Eye of York"

Keeping to the left of Clifford's Tower atop its mound we now walk right around the oval of grass known as "The Eye of York" before heading down the hill towards Tower Street with St. George's Field beyond. To the right of the path just inside St. George's Field is a flood level marker which had not at the time of my visit been updated to show the level reached the previous winter.

Flood level marker in St. George's Field.

We follow the wall on which the flood level record is kept towards the source of quite a lot of that flooding - the River Ouse. Here we turn right and take a pleasant stroll alongside the river until we pass the King's Arms pub and climb some steps to cross Low Ousegate right by Ouse Bridge.

A pleasant stroll along the River Ouse for a few minutes forms this part of the walk.

After crossing Low Ousegate the Snickelways guide book tells me to head down some steps right by the side of the river on the opposite side of the road. Here my way was obstructed for the second (and last) time. Right over the entrance to the steps leading down towards "Fish Landing" were two advert signs placed there by the nearby bar.

You shall not pass! But if you do then you have all the charm and beauty of Fish Landing to admire!

The map was clear and it showed this as a public right of way down to Fish Landing. I was about to head into the bar to discuss the matter when as if by my summons two Officers of the York Constabulary appeared. Following a brief explanation of my plight they were quite happy for me to move one of the adverts to one side and continue on my way. They were, I think, a little bemused by my enthusiasm to enter Fish Landing and as I smiled and waved up to them I called out "it's certainly very scenic down here" - which it wasn't.

People were staring at me as I emerged from Fish Landing into the beer garden behind the "offending" bar. I probably looked something like Lawrence of Arabia having just crossed the Sinai Peninsula. I was emerging from somewhere people wouldn't expect anyone to appear from. Or at least no-one in their right mind...

Pope's Head Alley

Ignoring the curiosity being shown in me I headed right up Church Lane to emerge back into the bustle of Low Ousegate shoppers, turning left onto High Ousegate. Next I had to wait whilst a couple of people made their way up Pope's Head Alley, which I was wanting to head down. You would need to be on quite intimate terms with somebody to try and pass them during the first few yards of this Snickelway.

Pope's Head Alley leads back into Peter Lane which we now say goodbye to having traversed both of the Snickelways to which it leads. Heading up Feasegate we re-enter St. Sampson's Square and heading towards The Roman Bath we take a left turn before we reach it to take in Hornpot Lane Nether.

Hornpot Lane Nether

Out of Hornpot Lane Nether we turn the corner of Back Swinegate and head into Little Stonegate (being our 47th out of 48 Snickelways). Little Stonegate appropriately enough returns us to Stonegate proper where we turn left and walk on ahead through St. Helen's Square, most likely marveling at the queue to enter Betty's Tearooms. Resist the urge for a pot of tea and some cake, at least for now. We only have one more Snickelway to find. Turn down Coney Street keeping to the left side of the road but keeping an eye out for St. Martin's Church on the right. As you look at the church from the road there is an alley upon either side - take the one on the left, we'll be returning along the one on the right.

St. Martin's Church

Walking by the south side of the church there is a cinema dead ahead. Take the path to the left of the cinema which will lead you around to the side of the River Ouse once again. Turn right and walk by the outdoor tables of a cafe / bar and then turn right again to head back towards the church and the alley which leads back to Coney Street.

Wooden sculpture to be found behind St. Martin's Church.

And that was Snickelway 48, the final Snickelway of the tour!

But we're not quite finished yet. We need to get back to where we started, so having rejoined Coney Street we turn left and head up Lendal emerging onto Museum Street where we turn right and keep our noses pointed at York Minster. Turn the corner to the left onto High Petergate and before us is the ancient gateway of Bootham Bar. Keep to the left, pass through the left hand pedestrian arch of Bootham Bar and now we are finished.

The "Red House", doorway into St. Wilfred's Church, view along High Petergate with Bootham Bar at the end and The Hole In The Wall pub where we passed through our very first Snickelway - back when we were different people.

Reward yourself with a pint or three at one of York's excellent pubs, have a meal at one its many fine eateries or go and walk the biggest Snickelway of them all - the City Walls.

Passing under the pedestrian arch at Bootham Bar to end the walk.

All photos taken by the author, Chris Tweed, using a Fujifilm X100T - the only camera I took on the trip as it is relatively small and light. It being in possession of a fixed prime lens saved me from lugging loads of glass around and wondering which piece of glass I should use to take each photo.

With huge thanks and much respect to Mr Mark W. Jones who's guidebook "A Walk around the Snickelways of York" I found so inspiring and so much fun to follow. Thank you sir! (the links to the book on Amazon are NOT affiliate links, I'm linking to it just to make it easy to find for others, not to try and make a few quid off the back of it).

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Chris Tweed


Chris Tweed.

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