Journalist and Yorktour director ALFRED HICKLING has written a new guidebook to York. He explains why...

Another guidebook to the city of York? Surely dozens, even hundreds of the things exist already? Well yes - and no.

My wife and I recently became directors of Yorktour - a company that has been introducing visitors to the city for over forty years - and a question we are frequently asked is whether there was a book that follows the route we had taken? Nothing too deep and definitive, just an accessible, entertaining history of the city with some up-to-date photography and a selection of the stories that make the place unique.

Realising that there wasn't anything quite like that on the market, we decided to write it ourselves.

In compiling the new book, Yorktour: A Walk Through the Walled City, I wanted to pay homage to two inspirational books that had opened my eyes to my home town as a teenager - Patrick Nuttgens' York: the Continuing City and Mark W. Jones' A Walk Around the Snickleways of York.

The second, in particular, has become legendary for its off-beat approach, meticulous calligraphy and dry, companionable humour. It would be very hard to improve on those - yet both of these books first appeared in the 1980s, when Barley Hall was yet to be uncovered behind a layer of dirty, Victorian brick and the stucco of Fairfax House was still smothered beneath multiple layers of emulsion paint.

York Press:

Alfred Hickling leading a walking tour of York

Things have moved on since then; and as the title of Nuttgens' book implies, York is a city that continues to evolve - not even history stands still.

A Walk Through the Walled City aims to take the visitor on a stroll through York as it looks today, rather than how it appeared forty years ago. Though I couldn't possibly match Mark W Jones's incredible draughtsmanship, I am a journalist and photographer; and the guide contains some of the first views of the east end of the Minster, looking magnificent since the scaffolding came down on the five-year restoration project.

Also included are some of the first published views of the revamped St Leonard's Place appearing crisp as a newly iced cake: though this handsome, Regency crescent marked the only time that a section of the city wall was demolished to make way for a modern housing development.

There are even some completely new paths to be discovered. A Walk Through the Walled City is the first book to follow the route that has opened up behind the art gallery, connecting the grounds of St Mary's Abbey with Exhibition Square.

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The new walking route behind York Art Gallery. Photo: Alfred Hickling

This previously off-limits patch of land not only contains the quirky sculpture garden curated by CoCa (the Centre for Ceramic Art) it also gives great, previously hidden views of the hamlet of St Mary’s - the only part of the city's defences ever to have been breached when Parliamentarian forces blew it up during the Civil War. We like to remind our visitors that only other person to have broken through the walls in open combat was Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart (which was pure Hollywood fantasy as William Wallace never made it this far south).

But as well as brand new photography, we also wanted the guide to be full of old stuff - just not the same old stuff that everyone has already seen before. To this end we enlisted the designer Dick Raines, whose hoard of vintage images of York is unparalleled. All the archive material in the book has been pulled out of Dick's overstuffed drawers of memorabilia, postcards, antique guides and old railway posters. My particular favourite among this hoard is a group shot of the ninth British Esperanto conference standing outside the Minster in 1916, looking rather like a group who already realise their initiative is doomed to failure.

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The map of York from Alfred Hickling's new book

Having plotted a new route through the city, we decided that what we really needed was an original map. So the book comes with a fold-out street plan, based on the first map of the city printed by John Speed in 1610. At the centre is Speed's quixotic - and frankly unrecognisable - woodcut image of the Minster, to which we have added later additions in John Speed's style. Hence it is the only map of York in which you will find a John Speed railway station, a John Speed Coney Street clock and a John Speed Viking museum.

The book is being launched at Clifton Library’s Summer Fair on July 22 from 10am-1pm, where I’ll be happy to sign copies, exchange stories and say hello. But who is it primarily intended for? Obviously the 300-plus tourist groups we bring to the city each year who kept asking for it. But also anyone who lives in, or has lived in York and fancies becoming absorbed in an armchair guide that shows the city looking as proud and resplendent as it does right now. And if there's a single teenager who happens to pick it up, follow the route, and fall in love with a place they had previously taken for granted, I will be very well satisfied. It's what Mark W Jones's Snickleways did for me.

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  • Alfred Hickling will be signing copies of Yorktour: A Walk Through the Walled City at Clifton Library Summer Fair on Saturday July 22 from 10am-1pm.

The book is available, priced £7.99, from the Little Apple Bookshop, High Petergate, York (01904 676103 or and the Visit York Information Centre, Museum Street (01904 550099).

For details of guided walks and specialist tours visit