Geography Cat followers Helen & Traff have been exploring walks and green spaces close to their home with GC’s official stunt double Ike. Today’s adventure is a circular walk along the River Ouse between Skeldergate & Millennium Bridges.
Ike started from Tower Gardens which contain the last piece of the City Walls for him to see. It appears to be much lower than the rest of the walls but that is because the ground has actually been raised here for the purpose of flood defence. There is also a sign showing the heights of various floods on the Ouse in past years. The highest shown is 2000 (5.4m) but the 2015 floods of 5.2m are not recorded yet.
A little further downstream is where the Rivers Ouse and Foss meet and where the cause of much of the 2015 damage occurred.
The River Foss barrier was installed in 1988 to help flooding on the Foss – because the Foss is a smaller river than the Ouse, during floods the water cannot drain out of the Foss easily and in fact water from the Ouse will back-wash up the Foss.
The barrier is usually raised but when the water level is expected to rise it is lowered (actually blocking the Foss) and the Foss water is pumped around the barrier into the Ouse. The barrier was lowered on 21 December 2015, but by Boxing Day the water flow started to exceed the capacity of the pumps and water began entering the pump house. As the worst possible scenario would be the pump and barrier electrics failing with the gate closed, meaning the Foss would be blocked and no water could escape, the decision was made to raise the barrier and turn off the power.
In total 500 homes along the Ouse, the Foss, Tang Hall Beck and Osbaldwick Beck were inundated. However, it is estimated that 1800 properties may have been affected if the barrier had been left down with no working pumps. Since 2015 £38 million has been spent increasing the capacity of the pumps, replacing the gate and raising the control room. Helen showed Ike some pictures she took in 2015 of the area for comparison.
Ike continued down New Walk – a tree lined promenade first laid in the 1730s as part of a plan to make York the leading social centre of Georgian Northern England.
Now it provides car-free access to the city centre for walkers and cyclists. On the New Walk is Pikeing Well which was added in 1752 when a mineral spring was discovered and to provide an interesting feature on the walk.
A much newer construction is Millennium Bridge – a foot/cycle bridge that opened in 2001 and is a good place to sit people watching.
After crossing the river Ike headed back into town along the other bank but he could not go into Rowntree Park as the gates were closed, ironically due to flooding earlier in the month. The park was created in 1921 by the Rowntree family in memory of all the workers from their York chocolate factory who had been killed in World War I. Joseph Rowntree, a social reformer and philanthropist as well as a businessman, stated that a park for rest and recuperation was more helpful to the people of York than ‘another stone obelisk’. The park gates were installed in 1955 as tribute to the employees who had lost their lives in World War II.
The facilities in the park have changed over the years but it still maintains the original purpose to “afford many rest and recreation from the turmoil and stress of life and bring health and happiness to a large number of young lives.”
To complete the circle, Ike travelled over Skeldergate Bridge, which was completed in 1881, replacing a ferry crossing. Although the bridge used to open to allow tall ships through, it was last opened in 1975 and the winding mechanism has since been removed.
You can locate Ike’s Adventures in York on this map by selecting any of the markers: