Some towns seem to contribute more than their fair share to history. Take York for example where I visited this week. Evidence of settlements in York can be traced back to 8000BC and the region has been populated by not just Mesolithic English tribes but subsequently invaded by Romans, Saxons, Vikings and more recently not a few Eastern Europeans. Founded in AD 71 it’s best known for a Big Church (York Minster) and Chocolate (Rowntrees); I may be wrong but I don’t think Milton Keynes (founded in 1967) is best known for churches or much else for that matter.
Fortunately for those that like to run, the city of York presents a handy 3-mile long perimeter wall which, like the Brigantes and the Parisii tribes is just asking to be conquered and which I took on when I visited. The route is something of an urban environment but if you get into the history of the place you can ignore Waitrose, Dunelm Mill and the other more contemporary features along the outside and look inwards to the sturdy, if partly demolished stonework of the old city wall as you make the circuit.
You can’t run along the entire wall like you can in the city of Lucca and other Tuscan fortified towns but you can get onto it in parts and besides, looking up at it from the outside is pretty awesome when you think of how old it is and how well preserved most of it remains. And if you choose, you can cut across town via one or more of the gates in the wall and lose yourself in the myriad of tiny cobbled streets overlooked by ancient timber-framed houses. Every once in a while a gap in the brickwork will flash a glimpse of the astonishingly huge York Minster; all Gothic and menacing in the early morning mist.
Somehow, York has retained much of its architectural charm despite the ingress of Macdonalds and Marks & Sparks. I imagine the planning regulations like those that enforce it have derived their ferocity from the medieval guards from whom they must inevitably be descendants.
I stayed in the very modest yet comfortable Monkgate Guest House which was convenient for the centre of town and serves quite one of the best Full English breakfasts I’m ever likely to encounter but if your budget can stretch to it, stay at The Grange, slightly less central but much more luxurious.