By Tim Murgatroyd
Every spring I have an elevated Yorkshire ritual.
Not a dramatic one like abseiling down Flamborough Head while dodging the mating puffins or scaling the Central Tower of York Minster like a parkour-ninja.
No, all I need for my elevated trip is a stout pair of shoes and a glad heart. Oh, and bit of a thirst (but we’ll get to that later).
Is it just me who welcomes in the spring with a leisurely stroll round York City Walls?
There seems no better place to smell a change in the air and, above all, look at the daffodils.
Because there’s something you can’t help loving about our humble York daffodils. Every year they pop up like bright yellow flags on the ramparts, a bunting you never grow weary of seeing.
That’s why I climb the stone steps at Bootham Bar with a sense of anticipation every year, steps worn smooth by centuries of feet and countless visitors, to take a modest but grand tour of the walls.
And as soon as I’m up there I feel like a tourist visiting our wonderful historic city. Something thousands of visitors from all over the UK and the world travel countless miles to do.
Now that’s a fine feeling. To know somewhere well and yet still feel a sense of discovery.
Aren’t we all tourists on this earth, in a way? Part of the trick of a happy life is to see the beauty around you when and where you find it. And in York we’re so blessed in that department it’s easy to take our blessings for granted.
Easy to take for granted: York's city walls, complete with daffs...
That’s why I’d advise people to subscribe to the Friends Of York Walls newsletter and visit their informative website. They are a charity close to home very well worth supporting.
Often as I walk the walls my thoughts are drawn to the miracle that they still exist.
Back in 1800, the then city council decided to pull them down as an out-dated, costly eyesore.
Only campaigning by such notables as Sir Walter Scott, who in 1826 reportedly offered to walk from Edinburgh to London if it would save Micklegate Bar Barbican, and our own William Etty kept the circuit of battlements intact for later generations.
There’s a lesson for us all in that. As I write, City of York Council is horribly cash-strapped due to Government austerity measures.
An inevitable pressure on councillors arises to prioritise essential (and statutory) services like social care or housing.
I sometimes fear that as the cuts in public spending planned by the Government over the next few years bite deeper and deeper, the pressure to prioritise people over our heritage will become overwhelming. After all, ancient stones don’t have feelings. Or the vote.
Yet such a slow decay would be, in my view, a slow-burn tragedy for our city.
Besides, such a scenario is easily avoidable if the very wealthy in our country were obliged to pay a sensible, proportionate rate of income tax in line with ordinary human needs.
Let’s face it, maintaining our ancient monuments is an expensive business requiring specialist skills and infinite care. And I use the word “our” advisedly.
The walls belong not just to the present generation but to our children’s children.
All of that may or may not lie in the future. Let us hope sanity prevails.
It’s very easy to hope as you catch a glimpse of the Ouse glittering on a sunny but crisp day in March, endless blue skies stretching into a horizon of rooftops and jumbled cityscape.
Even easier to feel hopeful when that thirst I mentioned earlier guides you into The Phoenix Inn, near Fishergate Bar.
Here you can sit in their picturesque beer garden over a pint and look up at people walking on the ramparts, all heading the same way you intend to walk.
The American poet Robert Frost once wrote: “Good fences make good neighbours.”
Is it just me who celebrates our wonderful city walls as a circle of unity between people from all over the world and us York folk? Enjoy those daffodils. They only dance each year for a short while.