A new walking guide to York’s city walls will make you view them with fresh eyes. ROSANNA O’DONNELL reports

FOR those of us lucky enough to live in York, the city walls are a familiar, satisfying backdrop. For visitors, meanwhile, they are one of York's star attractions.

But whether you have walked the walls a hundred times, or are about to explore them for the first time, Simon Mattam's new walking guide will let you see them with fresh eyes.

Simon, a member of the Friends of York Walls, says there hasn't really been a proper guide to the walls published before. His A Walking Guide To York's City Walls aims to change all that.

Almost two years in the making, the guide provides a detailed account of the history of the walls. But it is much more than that. Its real focus, Simon says, is on the walls today – and what walkers see as they follow the City Walls Trail.

That trail, created 15 or twenty 20 years ago, was Simon's inspiration for the guide. It consists of a line of brass studs along and between the walls, taking walkers from “one [wall] to the other along the best route”.

Investigating the Trail, Simon says he discovered “all sorts of folk stories” about what the brass studs were supposed to represent, but very little solid information.

The trail was "strangely ambiguous", he says, but it continued to fascinate him.

He joined the Friends of York Walls shortly after it was formed three years ago. "It was partly to keep an eye on them,” he laughs. "I wanted to have some influence if they did anything I disapproved of.”

He suggested that information about the trail needed to be made more widely known. “Then someone in the organisation suggested we should write a more substantial book.”

Which is precisely what happened.

The result is a 120-page book, divided into sections, which leads the reader around the walls, pointing out interesting snippets of history or odd or unusual things to look out for as you go around. Instead of just describing what visitors to the wall might once have seen, he wanted to focus on what people experience now, Simon says.

So black and white photographs and drawings by artist David Patrick – direct readers towards small details which they may otherwise have missed. "His (Patrick's) technique helps us see what's there but is easily missed when you glance at the actual view or a photograph of it," Simon says.

Another feature is the beautiful hand-drawn maps, which contain a wealth of information about what to look out for as you walk – not only on the walls themselves, but in the parts of the city you can see from them.

A series of "off trail extras" suggest things it is worth getting down from the walls to explore: Fairfax House, Jorvik, the ruins of St Mary's Abbey – or even a great place to grab a coffee (Barker Tower’s Perky Peacock) or something a little stronger (Monk Bar’s Keystones pub).

Simon's favourite spot – certainly one to visit – is “just South of Monk Bar”. This is partly because Monk Bar is where most tourists stop, he says, and partly because of the oddities which you find on that stretch of the wall. These range from medieval toilets to a mysterious tower which he thinks the Victorians mucked about with. "In fact, quite a lot of what we see is what the Victorians thought we’d like to see if we were looking at medieval things," he says.

Nevertheless, this is a “really interesting part of the wall” he says. And his favourite view is just around corner. Turn to face eastwards, then look back along the wall in the direction Monk Bar. "You’ll see walls and towers right back to Monk Bar and the Minster beyond,” he says. A sight not to be missed.

While the book is now out, the research which prompted it continues. The guide is really “part of a bigger project” to rediscover the city walls as they are now, he says. “In a sense it’s not finished yet”.

He hopes the guide will be the first step towards further research into the walls. There are “continuous updates and corrections to be made”, as new facts and findings are discovered, he says.

It is even possible that the guide could one day go interactive.

"There is the possibility of splitting up the text and adding extra information and adding QR codes for smart phones,” Simon says. These could be placed on placards along the wall, so that walkers would be able to access detailed visuals and information about the walls at their fingertips, as they walk along.

A very 21-century twist on the city's ancient, iconic walls - one that would make it easier than ever for walkers to enjoy and explore at their leisure.

A Walking Guide to York’s City Walls, written for the Friends of York walls by Simon Mattam, is published by Eboru priced £5.99. It is available from Visit York on Museum Street, and from Amazon. Proceeds from sale of the guide will be split between The Friends of York Walls and Oxfam.