Thursday, May 29, 2014

British Isles # 3:
The Snickelways of York

Many moons ago (dozens, in fact), I stumbled upon an enchanting book tucked away in the dusty corners of a used bookshop. A Walk around the Snickelways of York it was called. Well, that title was enough to snatch it up but the sketchy illustrations and all of the fantastic hand lettering sealed the deal. Dollars were exchanged and this gem found a new home on my shelves (which are no less dusty than those in a used book shop). Serendipitously, I would one day find this book useful as I journeyed to York to explore said snickelways.
What is a snickelway exactly? The author/illustrator/calligrapher extraordinaire, Mark W. Jones, explains that a snickelway is a "narrow place to walk along, leading from somewhere to somewhere else, usually in a town or city, especially in the city of York." The word itself is a fusion of three others: snicket, ginnel, & alleyway. A snicket is Northern British dialect for a passageway between walls or fences. A ginnel, also Northern British, is a narrow passageway between buildings. And an alleyway is simply a narrow passage.
So, through the dark and narrow, hedged in and overhung we went.
I'm not sure if the book is still in print, as my copy is from 1987, but if it is and you find yourself traveling to York, do procure a copy for yourself. Do note the Mr. Jones is a native of York.

A fold out, hand drawn map in the back with numbers corresponding to snickelways throughout the book.
Exploring the snickelways was grand. Unless it was lined with trashcans (and some were) or it had mysterious goings-on at the other end (and some had), I darted into any passageway that a car could not enter. York, especially around The Shambles, is incredibly labyrinth-like and lost is exactly where you want to end up. And so we did. We explored some in the day and some at night. The nightwalking in York was especially lovely and haunting. The streets were mostly deserted, all the pavement and cobbles wet, and the air damp enough to diffuse every light into a glow. It was effortless to imagine myself in another time. (Note that low lighting, my tiny camera, and many pints of ale resulted in very poor evening photos of York - blurry and blurrier). Here are a few of the snickelways through which we ambled...

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