15 July 2006
Both of these buildings – the Minster and Barley Hall, are tourist attractions. Indeed York is one big tourist attraction in the summer months in particular.
This general busy-ness of places, and the fact that the light is rather harsh in the middle of the day, means of course that it’s best to take photos either in the evening or very early in the morning.
Most of us are either larks or owls – being at our best in the morning or the evening. I can’t remember the last time I was out of the house by 6.15am, but here I am, wandering around York very early on a Saturday morning in summer, so early that I seem to have arrived at the same time as the milkman. As milkmen (and ladies) are becoming quite rare, I was pleased to capture an image of not only a milkman, but a milk float too.
Here’s the Mulberry Hall shop on Stonegate, handsome and ancient, and particularly fine with these classy hanging baskets. Ordinarily I’d not dream of wandering along Stonegate to take photographs, as together with the Shambles it’s one of York’s most visited streets – because of buildings like this one. But this morning there wasn’t a soul around.
So many times I’ve planned to get out this early in the morning, but it’s never worked. I think the last time it happened was because I’d not actually gone to bed. That day, in the Museum Gardens I saw rabbits on the grass in the low light. Gillygate was deserted. Apart from the milkman. Possibly this very milkman above. Anyway, I digress. But you tend to when you’re tired.
On this occasion, I hadn’t been up all night discussing the meaning of life, but had woken up at about 3.30 after going to bed about 12.30. I don’t know why it is, but I think it’s a universal phenomenon, that things that aren’t really big problems all come in to assail you if you’re awake in the middle of the night. By 4.30 I’d had a whole range of imaginary arguments with people who owe me money, neighbours, online retailers, and it would have spread to encompass absolutely everyone if I hadn’t decided that I should instead get up and go for a walk.
So, I managed to emerge into this unknown part of the day called Very Early Morning. Feeling like my head was holding nothing at all, but feeling slightly mad and unhinged. And, rather appropriately, here’s the snickelway formerly known as ‘Mad Alice Lane’, so the sign tells us.
As it’s just after the World Cup, England flags are to be seen in many places still, initially proudly displayed, now just looking forgotten about. Above, left, a flag in the window of the recently converted building on Petergate which I think used to be York College for Girls. And, above, right, a shop window displaying St George’s flags with "England Expects" on the packaging. As our expectations came to nothing, they’re a special offer now, at £2.50.
Here we are at the area known as the Eye of York. Above left is Clifford’s Tower, also known as York Castle, one of our ancient monuments. People who live here don’t tend to visit monuments like this, unless we’re taken in childhood, on a school trip. I do remember though, many years ago, climbing this hill on at least one occasion on a hot summer night, and admiring the view over the darkened city. This morning, as there are no tourists around yet, I wandered up the steps to look at the city in the early morning. From this historic place what struck me most was the view towards the Foss area, and two tall buildings in particular. Rowntree Wharf, and the old chimney on Foss Islands Road. Both Victorian buildings, and landmarks on the skyline. A reminder of an industrial past, and the factories that York used to have. These industrial premises closed long ago. And our factories carry on closing.
Still, when you see buildings like this around you, it’s difficult to remain gloomy. All Saints’ Church, Pavement, lit by the morning sun, with its splendid lantern tower. Which once used to guide travellers in from the wilds of the forests outside York’s walls.
It’s now rather marooned in the middle of traffic and shops. But that’s the good thing about taking photographs – the way you can frame a building in the picture and cut out all the modern clutter around it, and then see it as if for the first time, though you’ve glanced at it so many times before, on your way to Marks and Spencers.
And then there are the buildings like this, which aren’t tourist attractions at all. But they form an important part of our streetscapes and the skyline we see as we head towards the city centre. One of the minor landmarks here on Goodramgate. This building is very tall, and is visible from Deangate alongside the Minster, its cheery red attic windows a welcome sight. It looked particularly striking against the blue sky on this sunny summer morning. Goodramgate is indeed a good street, containing a range of buildings from all periods, and some shops useful to local people.
Goodramgate was just beginning to wake up to its Saturday morning. I saw one person, having a cup of coffee outside his restaurant, and we exchanged a few cheery words, as you do on a bright summer morning, and are less likely to do on a dark winter one.
I started my wanders at the riverside, where the river was calm, untroubled by river traffic, reflecting everything on its banks. Here, Barker Tower next to Lendal Bridge, the more modern office building on the other side of the bridge, and of course Lendal Bridge itself. Further up, just hidden from view – and most would say that’s a good thing – that hotel that used to be called the Viking Hotel, now called something else, but just as unattractive as it always was.
This is a weird photo – as it’s come out looking a bit unreal – it reminds me of those "artist’s impression" things you get on brochures for new housing developments. It is real though – it’s Queen’s Staith in the city centre at about 7.30am. A couple on one of the balconies were having their breakfast. They didn’t chuck me a croissant, unfortunately.
A little further along the bank – it’s clear that many don’t yet feel ready to face the day. A large gaggle of geese, all still snoozing, heads tucked under wings. As I approached, one or two at the back did stir, and honked a bit, threateningly, so I decided to retreat.
Gradually, more people appeared on the city centre streets, as shops began to open. After at last finding food for breakfast, I looked for somewhere quiet to eat it, settling for the quiet of the Museum Gardens, near the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. To find the Museum Gardens quiet, however, is unusual at this time of year – unless you visit at 9am.
This photo was taken near the start of my wandering, at 6.45am. These red boats were resting quietly by Lendal Bridge, though later in the day the city’s visitors would be taking them up and down the Ouse, and the river’s surface wouldn’t be glassy and calm as it is here.
Some of these photos of an early summer morning make York look like some kind of idyllic place. But of course, it isn’t. Plans to photograph streetscapes were forgotten when I found huge wheelie bins and bags of rubbish stacked up on the pavements. Indeed, the litter collectors were out, sweeping up the broken bottles and pizza boxes, at around 6.30am, because many humans are too stupid to find bins.
Still, looking at these neat red boats on a calm river makes you feel that all is well with the world.