York Bridges and a Bit of Flooding

Postcard From York, there are some rude words in this one; actually, the words are not rude but some of the syllables may be viewed as a little extreme!

Now I have your undivided attention, off we go.

“Can you lead the York walk next week?”, It’s a text from George Preston, our sub-governor who’s been doing a sterling job keeping the boys in line whilst Governor George has been on leave. I’d been working on a walk with The Pilgrim that took in the bridges and also made reference to the flood defences; at the time of planning, we had no idea how significant the latter would be.

We meet the boys off the train and make an immediate exit of the station towards the Ouse and Scarborough Bridge. As we emerge from the snicket it’s obvious that the river is well above comfort levels due to the torrential rain that ha hogged the majority of the day on Wednesday. The drains and culverts of York had done what was expected on the day and there were few issues; however, the cloud burst had added to the already drenched moors and it was this that was peaking as we approached.

Scarborough Bridge

Scarborough Bridge is the appropriately named bridge that carries the Eastern Branch Line that connects the Main North-South line running through York to Scarborough. It was built in 1845 and was the second bridge to be erected over the Ouse in York. It originally carried two tracks and a walkway that was sited between them, clearly, there was still an element of bravado where humans and the smoke and steam belching iron horses of those years could live in such close proximity. Walking between two main lines with locomotives running at 15mph and very little likelihood of them arriving on the bridge at the same time and even if they did their relative speed would be less than 30mph. It makes me shudder to think about standing in the middle of the track now with two modern machines passing me at a relative speed of 250mph! Anyway, it was rebuilt in 1875 and the footpath moved to the south side out of harm’s way and that’s where it remains. It is heavily used to this day and £6m was spent on it only two years ago.


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Anti-Flood Measures

We pass under it and take in the scene. If the river had been another foot higher all of this area would be flooded and further upstream gates would have been opened to allow excess water to flood the fields and reduce the risks within the city. I know that the gates on the Foss in the middle of town were lowered last night to prevent the water of the Ouse flowing up its length and flooding the city as it did a couple of years ago. The pumps would now be busy moving water into the Ouse and all of this done without recognition and little fuss. The only time that the anti-flood measures are recognised is when they don’t work!

The river has crept out in several areas but has now peaked and we enjoy a brisk walk in glorious sunshine along the river bank track for about a kilometre until we reach Clifton Bridge. The British Army built a temporary bridge here in 1961 to deal with the additional traffic that was generated by the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Kent in the Minster. A permanent one was built two years later in 1963. This one is of modern design not in the same ornate league as the ones in the city. It contains 4000 tons of concrete and 50 tons of steel. It’s not ugly but does look like a ’60’s bridge and does its job with simple efficiency. Today, one of its jobs is to allow us to progress to the other bank and on the way it allows me to assess the odds on us being able to utilise the riverside track on the east side of the swollen river.



The assessment is not good, there is water lapping the hedge and the riverside track is itself a stream although there is a small area of grass near the hedge that is slightly raised and this gives us the option of following the river instead of a detour into Clifton.

Pete is a snazzy dresser and has dressed for the city rather than a walk on semi-flooded soft ground and grass so there are questions asked about my parentage as we take our first tentative steps along this narrow strip! At the end of the hedge come fence, the land broadens into a field with a flood bank. There’s a lady who has already passed us once riding her bike along the submerged path with her little boy in a child seat behind her. She was enjoying the experience but I think he was asleep. She’s been along to a flooded element of the otherwise dry grass and advises us to go back to the flood bank and use that.

It’s a short detour to get on the flood bank but the fact that we’re now 10 feet or so above the surrounding area gives us excellent views of the river and the relatively few flooded areas one of which is being well utilised by two dogs who clearly love swimming. They’re chasing whatever they can including a ball and the odd coot, we’re watching them, it’s joyful and brings a smile to all our faces.

At St Mary’s we’re in reminiscing mode and remember being able to park there without the need of a bank loan for the meter. We agreed the protocol was park, go to the ice cream van on the cobbles near the river for a 99 then into Museum Gardens to eat it and walk through to the city.

The water is over the pathway so a detour takes us into Museum Gardens via the side entrance and up on to the flood bank which has been carefully curved away from the river. This was due to an edict from the planners to find a way of building it without the need to destroy the trees that were growing near the river so there’s the reason for the curly flood bank.

On exit from the park, we turn left away from Lendal Bridge as the riverside walk is completely underwater and we will be able to pick it up again on our way back to the railway station. Apart from that, it gives us the option to go to Mannions for some excellent coffee and a piece of unbelievable sausage roll. Next time you’re in York I would urge you to try these spectacular pieces of bakery with a cup of tea or coffee, there’s an area out the back which is quite sheltered and catches the sun if you prefer to be outside. The tables are shared so don’t be surprised if you’re with someone else – it may mean you have to talk and make new friends.

Half an hour later we’re off again and making our way through the town via Coffee Yard and Grape Lane – Now here’s a tale that is worth a re-tell.

Grape Lane!

Grape Lane has a history; well all streets have a history but this one is a little more ‘interesting’. Most streets have a name that can be traced to either a family e.g. Churchill Court; a place e.g. Leicester Square or, the type of activity that was prevalent in that part of town e.g. Baker Street and this will be the case here…

Sooo, many lanes and roads in York have more than one name and you can see plaques that have the current name then underneath they have the words “Formally known as” and then the olde name. This particular street only has the current name and as I give you a little bit of history you’ll appreciate why.

In the early 13th century this part of town was frequented by working ladies who were responsible for exercising the men – you might call them medieval gym instructors! The Bishop was somewhat worried about his priests being distracted on their way to mass and had wooden walkways constructed that avoided the necessity to walk along this particular lane. There were, of course, some priests who spent time with the ladies purely to help them from their fallen status – yes, really! You may by now be wondering what the ‘formally known as’ name of this wonderful street and I’m coming to that (if you’ll pardon the expression).

Some words were in common usage in the 12th to 15th century and although classed as a bit vulgar they were not taboo. In fact, Chaucer was not averse to the use of some of these highly illustrative words and there are numerous other instances where they can be seen in common usage.

During the 2010-2015 coalition government, an official petition was raised and received by the civil servants that study these things and was rejected because street names are not a function of national government so reinstating the names of all of the lanes, streets and avenues in London, Swindon, Newcastle and Bristol to their original Gropecunt Lane was refused and the last recorded use of such a name in 1561 will remain just that, the last recorded use.

My illustrious friends are amused by this tale and although I have lowered my voice to deliver this life-changing information I note a lady at the entrance to the coffee shop smiling and nodding before returning to her work.

As we walk to the end of Grape Lane I’m amused at the thought of who upset the guy on the way to the naming ceremony for the town of Shorpe pre-Domesday. He must have been seriously peed off to add four characters to result in Scunthorpe!

We’re heading towards Parliament Street intending to avoid more flooding near the river and cross to the dry side via Ouse Bridge.

We walk to the middle and The Pilgrim leaves us for a prior appointment and I go into education mode with the team:

Ouse Bridge

The original Roman bridge over the Ouse was eventually replaced by a wooden bridge built by the Vikings. In 1154, it collapsed under the weight of a crowd which had gathered to greet St William of York on his return from exile. It was then replaced by a stone bridge.

It has an interesting claim to fame due to the first public toilets in Yorkshire, and likely England were opened on the bridge in 1367. Part of the bridge was swept away by floods in the winter of 1564–5. The repaired bridge of 1565 had a new central arch spanning 81ft. This bridge was dismantled between 1810 and 1818 to make way for the current Ouse Bridge, designed by Peter Atkinson the younger and completed in 1821.

The pubs below on Kings Staith will not be trading for a day or two whilst they clear out the silt but they’ve redesigned them nowadays with electric sockets up a height and the cellars all upstairs so a quick pressure wash will do the trick and the beer will be flowing again just as soon as the floodwaters abate.

Clifford’s Tower

We need to walk away from the river again and navigate past Cliffords Tower where the wonderful display of daffodils bears testament to the reconciliation that took place in 1996 between the Christian and the Jewish Faith.

York has not had a good reputation with Jews and in 1190 a hundred and fifty jews had barricaded themselves in the Tower and in those days it was made of wood. The mob demanded that they come out and be ‘converted’ but they refused and it was set on fire. Many of them committed suicide and the others were burned to death rather than submit to becoming Christians. In 1996 there was a service of reconciliation and the daffodils that were planted around the Tower are a special variety that has 6 prominent petals that are meant to depict the points of the Star of David. They’re very beautiful and a fitting memorial.

We walk into the Tower Gardens to walk up the steps to Skeldergate Bridge but the floodwaters impede this idea and we cut back towards Tower Roundabout and get onto it there.

Skeldergate Bridge

Designed in a Gothic Revival style by civil engineer George Gordon Page and built between 1878 and 1881. The small arch at the east end has an opening portion, powered by machinery in the Motor House, which also served as a toll house and accommodation for the toll keeper and his family. It opened to admit tall-masted ships to the quays on either side of the river between Skeldergate and Ouse Bridges. It was formally declared free of tolls on 1 April 1914. Together with the attached tollhouse, it is a Grade II listed building.

We cross the bridge and take advantage of the offset recluse areas to make a few photographs of the floods below then turn right to descend the steps to the dry but threatened river bank and traverse the arch to emerge downstream of the bridge on Terry Avenue.

Rowntree Park

It’s only a kilometre to the beautiful Rowntree Park and we walk amazed at how close the water is to the top of the bank but is still contained in its channel. Well, it is on this side and we take note that it will be impossible to take the riverbank route back on the other side.

Rowntree Park was established by Joseph Rowntree in memory of his employees who were lost in WW1. It’s 20 acres and many people including some people in York don’t know of its existence. Even if you are not a walker I would urge you to make the effort to walk here. It’s got a cafe come library/reading room, children’s play area, skate park and a couple of lakes.

We emerge at the Millennium Bridge.

Millennium Bridge

Built to a competition-winning design by Whitby Bird and Partners, opened on 10 April 2001, cost £4.2 million. It carries a cycle path and a footpath and is not open to vehicular traffic. It is a key link in the Sustrans National Cycle Routes 65/66 and is part of the orbital route for York completed in 2011. The bridge also acts as a meeting place for local people, as it has a waist height shelf spanning the whole structure which facilitates sitting and admiring the view. While riverside paths regularly flood several times a year the bridge is higher and rarely floods.

The bridge is illuminated by banks of lights in different colours, the colour changes every few seconds.

The bridge is near a quay that was used to supply Fulford Barracks and there are small-gauge-railway-lines nearby. Just slightly upstream a rope ferry plied its trade a couple of centuries ago.

We walk the bridge and decide on the easiest route to Fulford Road as the water has scuppered our chances of using the riverside track.

We’re hungry now and looking forward to Walmgate and a Polish restaurant called Barbakan. Highly recommended both through the day and especially in the evening – you must book.

After an hour and a half sojourn, we make our way across York to Lendal Bridge.

Lendal Bridge

Built in 1863, Lendal Bridge stands on the site of a former rope-ferry where the city walls break for the River Ouse. This was the ferry used by Florence Nightingale when she visited York en route to Castle Howard in 1852. The bridge connects two medieval towers: Lendal Tower on the east bank and Barker Tower on the west. It was designed by civil engineer Thomas Page, also designed London’s Westminster Bridge. It is made of cast iron and has a single span of 175 feet (53 m).

Page’s bridge was the second attempt. The first, in 1860 by William Dredge, collapsed during construction, five workmen were killed. Parts of the structure were used in the Scarborough Valley Bridge. In 1861, permission was obtained from Parliament for a new bridge to be built, and the Corporation of York requested Thomas Page to design a replacement. His Gothic Revival bridge opened in 1863. Lendal Bridge was used in Damon and Debbie, a 1987 spin-off of soap Brookside for the scenes where long-running character Damon Grant was murdered.

We arrive back at the York Railway Station after a much-rerouted 10km (just over 6 miles). We’ve enjoyed it as a walk and it’s even better when you can follow the riverbank paths.

Enjoy the snaps…G…x

Acknowledgements Wikipedia, Yorkpress.com and History of York. Please feel free to google the street name. You’ll find it’s true 🙂

With Cecilia Kennedy, George Preston, Dave Rider and Peter Hymer

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