York’s Medieval Walls / Bar Walls
The three-mile walk around the Medieval Walls of York is a great way to see the city from a different and slightly elevated perspective. As you walk around you’ll encounter lots of historic structures, some dating from Roman times.
The walls as you see them today were mostly built in the 14th Century although some of the original Roman structures have been incorporated. The gates to the city were called Bars and four of these have been preserved. These are Walmgate Bar, Monk Bar, Bootham Bar and Micklegate Bar. Two of these are home to museums – the Richard III experience in Monk Bar and the Henry VII experience in Micklegate Bar. These offer a fascinating insight into two of England’s best-known kings.
The York walls were originally erected by the Romans in AD71, later improved by the Vikings from AD867 and in 1226 rebuilt in stone. In 1800, the stone walls were no longer needed to defend the city and York City Council wanted to pull the walls down to help the city expand. Public resistance to this enabled the survival of the walls, which now provide one of York’s best free attractions.
Walking around the Bar Walls
The York walls path is an easy walk with some stairs. There are plenty of places to rest along the way. The walls are very often busy with walkers and the narrow paths can somedays be crowded and difficult to walk along. Best to avoid the middle of the day if you want an easier walk.
The York walls route is circular. You can start the walk wherever is convenient and travel either clockwise or anticlockwise. This guide starts at Bootham Bar and travels clockwise to finish at Barker Tower.
It is very easy to follow the route around. Simply follow the footpath at the top of the walls, this overlooks the city centre along the way. The walls are not continuous, in some parts the walls have been destroyed and in other parts, walls were not necessary because the area used to be covered by water.
There are a number of checkpoints to guide you along the way. Each checkpoint has a poster explaining some of the history of the walls and a map to help with navigation. Starting at the Bootham Bar, you will visit the following checkpoints: 1. Bootham Bar, 2. Monk Bar, 3. Layerthorpe Bridge, 4. The Red Tower, 5. Walmgate Bar, 6. Fishergate Bar, 7. Fishergate Tower, 8. Baile Hill, 9. Micklegate Bar and finally 10. Barker Tower.
The York walls are open from 8.00am each morning and close at dusk. The closing time for each month is available on York City Council’s website. The walls are closed on Christmas Day and during icy/slippery conditions.
Due to steps along the York walls, there is no disabled access. Dogs are not permitted on the walls.
Bootham Bar to Layerthorpe Bridge
Bootham Bar is opposite the City Art Gallery in Exhibition Square. The walls which you can see next to the art gallery once protected the Abbey of St. Mary and there used to be a linking wall to the Bar Walls. Sadly, this was demolished in the 19th Century.
The three-storey structure has some stonework (the main archway) which dates from the eleventh century, although the majority of the building dates from the fourteenth century. The Bar was used to display the decapitated heads of criminals and traitors which acted as a warning to visitors to the city.
A set of stone stairs lead up to Bootham Bar from street level. As you walk through Bootham Bar you can still see the old portcullis.
The walk from Bootham Bar to Monk Bar provides the best views of York Minster in the city.
Monk Bar the tallest of the four main bars along the walls has four floors and also still has its portcullis. A set of stone stairs down to street level is inside the stone wall. Walk down to admire the Bar from street level. The Richard III museum is located inside the Bar.
Climb the stone steps across the street to continue your journey around the walls. The next section is a short walk along a narrow section to Layerthorpe Bridge. Once you have descended the steps at Layerthorpe and gone through the archway, it’s a five-minute walk to the next section starting at Red Tower. The checkpoint poster will point you in the right direction. Cross over the junction and River Foss. Continue along the side of the river towards the Red Tower.
William the Conquerer dammed the River Foss, creating “The King’s Fishpool”. This flooded the whole area between Layerthorpe and the Red Tower which is why there are no walls here.
The Red Tower to Fishergate Tower
Red Tower is built from brick not stone, hence its’ name. This section is my favourite, it is usually the quietest and there is no safety railing, so you get a good idea of what the walls were originally like in medieval times. Of course, you have to ignore the ever-present traffic on the adjacent roads.
It’s not far to Walmgate Bar, which is the most complete bar along the walls. Walmgate Bar still has a barbican – an extension from the main gate. This creates a tunnel which would trap enemies in a vulnerable position. Originally, the main bars at York all had a barbican.
During the civil war in 1644, Walmgate Bar came under heavy fire. If you look carefully you can still see impacts from cannonballs and bullets.
You need to descend to street level and cross the road to continue your journey towards Fishergate Bar. There is actually a coffee bar inside Walmgate Bar which is worth visiting if you have the time.
In 1489, King Henry VII raised taxes to the dismay of the population. An angry mob set fire to Fishergate Bar to protest this. if you look carefully at the archway you can still see scorch marks. Walking on you you arrive at Fishergate Tower at the end of this section.
Baile Hill to Barker Tower
It’s a few minutes walk from Fishergate Tower to Baile Hill. Leave Fishergate Tower and cross the road and head towards Skeldergate Bridge which crosses the River Ouse. The road passes the Castle Museum on the right-hand side and crosses the River Foss. Once past the walls of the museum, you should be able to see Clifford’s Tower, also on the right. Now cross Skeldergate Bridge and the entrance to the Walls at Baile Hill is in front of you.
This section has no wall because a large gateway next to Baile Hill was demolished in 1807. This helped to improve the flow of horse-drawn traffic into the city. The remaining walls were sadly demolished to build Skeldergate Bridge in 1878.
Enter through the gate and continue your walk around the walls. The next point of interest is Victoria Bar which was opened in order to to reduce congestion at Micklegate Bar.
You can walk straight over Victoria Bar and now in front of you is Micklegate Bar. This was the main entrance to the city for over 1000 years. You can drop down to street level if you wish to see the Bar. The Henry VII experience is inside Micklegate Bar. If you don’t want to visit just keep walking past the entrance and onto the next section of the walls.
The final part of our walk towards Barker Tower gives a great vantage point and splendid views of the Minster and city. Down at street level continue over Lendal Bridge, past the Museum Gardens and then turn left into Exhibition Square where our walk started.
If you purchase a York Pass you can get free entry for a day to 25 city-centre attractions. If you are thinking of visiting a number of places the York Pass is great value for money. Other places where you get free entry include Clifford’s Tower, York Minster, JORVIK Viking Centre, York’s Chocolate Story, York Dungeon, Mansion House, York Castle Museum, York Cold War Bunker, Fairfax House, York Art Gallery, Yorkshire Museum, York Army Museum, Treasurer’s House, Richard III Experience, Henry VII Experience, Goddard House & Gardens, Merchant Adventurers Hall, Roman Bath Museum, DIG: An Archaeological Adventure, Bar Convent and Barley Hall as well as tours by City Cruises and the Hop-on Hop-off City Sightseeing Bus.
Other things to do in York
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