Ike bubbles up in urban green space – St Nicholas Fields

As you’ll know if you’ve been reading lately, Helen & Traff have been exploring walks and green spaces close to their home in York. They’re taking Ike with them so that I can share their adventures my lovely GC community. You can follow Ike’s York Adventure on this interactive map:

St Nicholas Fields (or just St Nicks) is a 24-acre urban nature reserve around the corner from Helen & Traffs. As they are in the same bubble, Ike, Helen & Helen’s mum Margaret (regular contributor of postcards for the Paw Print Map and knitter of Ike Jumper) went on today’s walk.

The earliest records for the site are when the land was leased to the hospital of St Nicholas in the 12th Century, probably for the monks to use for the grazing of cows. St Nicholas parish church was also added nearby, and survived until the Civil War when the church and tower were ruined. Then the site became a scrap yard for the stone from the demolished buildings along with grazing land for local commoners and freemen.

From 1837 a brick works was built, and clay was extracted from the site to make them. This continued to the 1950s when York Corporation decided to use the claypits for waste disposal.  Finally, in 1974, the tip was closed due to resident complaints of rats and the smell.

Planning for creation of a nature reserve started in the early 1990s and in 1994 a 0.5m capping layer of clay was added to the whole area to seal in any hazards from the refuse. Then the Friends of St Nicholas Fields took over management of the site for the council & started to plant several thousand trees and shrubs, sow wildflower meadows, construct new pathways and clear tons of rubbish. Finally, in 2004 it was designated as a local nature reserve.

Ike started his walk at the Environment Centre. This opened in 2000 and contains features such as a wind turbine, solar panels, rainwater collection, compost toilets and a ‘living roof’. Although lockdown has paused most of the activities, many different projects are usually run from the centre. Helen & Traff participated in a pilot project a few years ago to provide composting facilities to households without gardens to reduce landfill rubbish.

The most well-known feature locally of St Nicks are the Dragon stones. This mini Stonehenge was created in 1995 from stones found on the site.

Ike eventually reached the northern border of St Nicks, the Foss Islands Cycle Path. This is route 658 on the National Cycle Network and follows the route of the old Derwent Valley Light Railway line. Now there are several sculptures & murals along the route:

However, the first artist to immortalise the area was LS Lowry with “A View of York (from Tang Hall Bridge)” in 1952 – the land on the left of the painting is where St Nicks is now.

There are 2 small streams (called ‘Becks’) running through, and under, St Nicks – Osbaldwick Beck and Tang Hall Beck. These are normally very sedate waterways, but during the 2015 floods large parts of the site were underwater. Ike took a photo to compare to one Helen took in 2015. This entrance is nearly 100m from the beck.

More information can be found on St Nicks here.