The medieval city in lockdown: there is hope beyond the walls

By Grace Pritchard

There are eerily quiet streets, the usual rumble of traffic has subsided and the hordes of tourists snapping pictures of the Minster have dispersed.

York City Centre, By George Hodan

The landscape of York city centre looks very different today compared to how it usually would at this time of the year. As the temperature slowly begins to creep up, so too normally would the number of tourists flocking to York’s medieval streets. However, as York, much like the rest of the country, remains firmly in the grip of the battle against Coronavirus and in lockdown, the city centre has become a ghost town. Footfall counters installed in the city back in 2009 recorded the lowest footfall since records began on Sunday, March 29 with only 1,221 people recorded walking past the counter in Parliament Street, usually one of the city’s busiest spots.

While the residents of York are clearly keeping away from the centre, many are instead enjoying their one exercise outing a day in the green spots that sit just outside the city’s walls. And York has plenty to offer them in terms of walking routes and picturesque green spaces, much of which goes overlooked by the millions of tourists who visit every year. But as the country remains in lockdown, the one hour a day of freedom for some much-needed exercise has provided me with an opportunity to see a different side to a city I love so much.

In the first week of lockdown I stumbled across a gem, just at the end of my street. St Nicholas Fields, once York’s rubbish tip, is now a 24-acre wildlife haven that lies just one mile from the city centre. St Nicks has now become my go-to for the daily attempt at a 5K and it never gets repetitive. The reserve hosts a variety of routes to explore and seemingly an infinite amount of opportunities to get lost while crisscrossing its winding paths. For those of us who sometimes need a break from the hustle and bustle, St Nicholas Fields is a must-visit while on a weekend visit to York, or one to explore while in lockdown.

Millennium Bridge, York

Another must-do is York’s Orbital Cycle Route, a circular cycle route which wraps around the city. The route begins and ends at Millennium Bridge and along the way is marked by metal ‘way-markers’ at key points. In its entirety, the route is 13.2km and completing the whole distance would take one to three  hours depending on your pace. Under the current circumstances it may be best to try out snippets of the route and save the full hog for a post-lockdown blowout.

A personal favourite of mine, perfect for clearing your head in these turbulent times is Fulford Ings trail. Only 1.5 miles in length this route is a hotbed for Instagram-able content at sunrise or sunset as the path follows close to the river bank. Again, this beauty spot is only about a mile from the city centre, a perfect addition to a summer’s day walk around the city or a great starting route while tackling Couch to 5K.

Fulford Ings trail

While the Government’s social distancing guidelines remain in place enjoy the outside space if you can and it’s safe to do so. And while we remain inside, for now, the sun will still be shining and these beautiful places will still be there for us all to enjoy once these troubling times have passed.

What do you think?