In many cities, they have alleyways, in York, they have Snickelways . Here’s more about both walking the Snickelways of York and walking what is, perhaps, York’s biggest Snickelway of all: its mostly-intact (and very walkable) medieval walls.
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When I was a kid, in the days when kids spent bored Summer days playing outside, I spent some time lurking in neighborhood alleyways. Inventing clubs, playing hide-and-seek, and sometimes being up to no good made long Summer days with nothing to do pass quickly. When I visited York, I imagined all of the mischief I could have managed there with York’s many snickelways as my stomping grounds.
What is a Snickelway?
What’s a snickelway? York’s medieval city layout means that many narrow passageways between the buildings exist. These became known as the Snickelways of York.
“Snickelway” sounds like it could be a charming Old English word or something from Harry Potter. And some of the Snickelways have names that tickle my muggle sense of humor (Nether Hornpot Lane, for one.) Therefore, I was a little disappointed to find that (at least according to the venerable Wikipedia,) author Mark W. Jones coined the word. And not in The Year of Our Lord 1600 but 1983 CE.
A Snickelways Journey
When you walk York’s Snickelways, you might find your 3.5-mile walk turning into a daylong adventure. There’s plenty to get distracted by along the way. I gave up trying to record my walk and attempted to recreate the route later (see the map below.)
The map is a close approximation to the way described in the book, and the path I walked. However, a few shortcuts (like the in and outs in the Shambles,) were difficult to map.
If you want to walk all of the snickelways, your best bet is just to get the book. It’s the best available reference and includes handwritten print and delightful black and white sketches. It’s a keeper and, somehow, one I’ll keep looking through from time to time even if I never get back to York.
Your Snickelways journey starts at the hole in the wall just past Bootham Bar (in York, the gates are bars, and the streets end with -gate.) It takes you past many (but not all) of the places I’ve listed in the Things to do in York post, including the ever-popular Shambles.
Walking York’s Walls
Walking York’s Walls
The Snickelways of York book suggests that York’s biggest snickelways are its walls.
Other medieval cities like London, had walls, of course, but only fragments remain in most. In York, large sections of the medieval walls remain and are very walkable.
Walking York’s walls was my favorite way of getting around the city during my stay. My AirBNB in York, located near Mickelgate bar, was near a wall entrance, and I frequently walked the wall on my way into the central part of town.
York’s Wall Routes
York’s walls end in some places. Despite the signs around the route with handy QR codes, I got confused in spots and had to search for the next walkable portion of the wall. For the best experience, you might want to bring a guidebook. The Friends of York Walls website has maps and a handy guide for a thorough wall walk.
There’s also a written Walking Guide to York City Walls available on Kindle or as a paperback.
Some parts of the wall have a safety fence on one side, and a few sections have a drop off with no barrier. Where I live, there would be fences and signs all around to prevent
lawsuits injuries. But it seems York (fortunately) trusts in the common-sense of the visitor.
Walking the walls also made me feel a bit like a kid again — or a nosy neighbor. Some sections of wall adjoined homes and gave glimpses into some beautiful backyards.
Here’s a short video I put together last year of some clips of some of the many Snickelways I walked down.
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