Breath in York's new approach to the great outdoors

PUBLISHED: 01:16 11 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:41 20 February 2013

Breath in York's new approach to the great outdoors

Breath in York's new approach to the great outdoors

York's new approach to the great outdoors is like a breath of fresh air, as Chris Titley discovers Photographs by John Cocks

Dave Meigh has no hesitation when asked to name his favourite spot in York. Sitting on the Millennium Bridge, watching the world go by, he says. The car-free bridge, with its elegant bicycle-wheel arch, spans the River Ouse south of the city centre. For Dave, City of York Councils head of parks and open spaces, its in the perfect location as it gives him a view over the riverside walks and leads directly into Rowntree Park.

York is blessed with many and varied open spaces. Perhaps the
best known is Museum Gardens, home to abbey ruins, summer picnickers and squirrels, and described on national radio recently as the best setting for any museum in the country.

Rowntree is one of Yorks three big parks, the other two being Hull Road and West Bank. It was designed as a memorial to the workers at the confectionery factory who fell in the First World War. With a lake, playground, ever-changing gardens and tennis courts, it has something for everyone.

But the large formal parks are only part of the story. There are the ancient tracts of land known as the strays. They are the citys lungs, and the council has accessed extra funds to look after them, through a 10 year environmental stewardship agreement with Natural England.

At the other end of the scale are Yorks smaller, neater gardens with floral displays and immaculate bowling greens. One example is Glen Gardens. I caught up with Dave Meigh at this park in Heworth, about a mile east of the city centre, after hed shown round inspectors from the Green Flag scheme. The equivalent to the Blue Flags bestowed on Britains best beaches, Green Flags are awarded to our finest open spaces.

Five council sites have Green Flags in York. Were very pleased, says Dave. Its taken an eight year programme to get up to five.
Weve got two more sites wed like to get up to standard, Hull Road Park and Scarcroft Green.

An award has multiple benefits. It gives staff recognition, it says to the public this is a quality site we fly the flag. And it gives us a work plan and a way of measuring what were doing.

Why does it matter that a citys parks are well-maintained? Its important for residents to be able to enjoy relaxing, quality spaces. Its helpful towards peoples health.

We also create spaces where we can have events and bring the community together. Then theres the citys external reputation as a pleasant place for tourists to come and visit.

Unlike, say, Harrogate or Scarborough, York was never a place which traded on its floral displays and parks. But as traditional heavy industries have dwindled, and tourism increased, city leaders realised that this was an area ripe for improvement.

Hence the concerted plan which has seen York garner five Green Flags. But thats only part of the story.

After a decade when the city chose not to enter Britain in Bloom, it started again from scratch four years ago. This year its made the national finals.

The council heads a team including volunteers, charities and businesses, which is putting together a Britain in Bloom entry to showcase everything from parks to nature reserves to allotments.

Weve doubled the number of people on our allotment sites in about six years, Dave says. Weve brought more land back into cultivation and weve split plots so theyre smaller and more manageable for people with other commitments in this day and age.

Recently the National Lottery awarded 50,000 to improve Bootham Stray allotments in York, following a successful bid by the allotments association backed by the council. This will bring about 50 plots back into cultivation, Dave adds.

He heads a team of about a dozen gardeners maintaining the councils 1,200 acres of open space. Keeping outdoor York looking good is not just down to the council, of course its a community effort and the city has some hidden gardens which are worth seeking out. Places like the Quilt Museum garden. Its only two years old but its stunning, he said. Youve got the inside of the city walls as a backdrop.

My mother gave it her approval. She went to the Quilt Museum
and she came back raving about the garden.

Wherever you are in York, youre never more than a few feet from a cat. They climb walls, stalk pigeons and tiptoe along rooftops. And yet they never move. These are cat sculptures, attached to homes, offices and shops another quirk of this unconventional city.

Now you can spot them all on the York Cat Trail. The brainchild of Keith Mulhearn who runs tourism business Complete Yorkshire, the trail has been produced in association with The Cat Gallery on Low Petergate. It is even having its own cat installed to mark the event.

Leaflets are available in the gallery if you want to do the trail yourself, or Keith can arrange a guided tour.

He explained that the feline decorations began in 1920 when Sir Stephen Aitcheson put two on a building he owned in Low Ousegate. One has since been removed, but the other, a rather mean looking ginger fellow, is still in place.

Yorks cats were boosted with the arrival of Tom Adams, an architect who always doodled a little cat silhouette on his drawings.

When he came here and saw that we had a few cats round about he thought what a good idea, Im going to put cats on some of my buildings, said Keith. Tom commissioned artist Jonathan Newdick to create the cats. Although Tom died in 2006 he left his mark on York both with his buildings and their kitty adornments. In Andrewgate there are two Tom Adams houses next to each other. Theres a cat on the railings, but the one opposite is a kitten because that house is No !

Getting there: All roads lead to York the A64 from Leeds, the A59 from Harrogate, the A1079 from Hull and the A19 from north and south. Its also on the East Coast Main Line for rail travellers.

Where to park: Large council-run 24-hour car parks include Castle, Marygate and Nunnery Lane.

What to do: Walk the city walls, visit the National Rail Museum or Jorvik Viking Centre and chill out in the parks.

The print version of this article appeared in the July 2011 issue of Yorkshire Life

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