view of york city walls by station arches
Olivia Brabbs

Olivia Brabbs

York City Walls – Heritage Photography

The York City Walls will always be central to any experience of the City for locals and visitors alike.  I have always loved the walls and will often find an excuse to take the scenic route along them when out and about in the City.  Walking along them gives an new experience of the City.  Including the opportunity to view York Minster dominating the City skyline or to peep into normally out of bounds gardens.

During the height of lockdown I was so thrilled to be commissioned by York City Council to document the full circuit of the walls.  This meant my own set of keys and private access to the walls which were closed due to social distancing restrictions.  I had already been using downtime during the lockdown to document my home city and so it was wonderful to have the opportunity to take this exploration to a completely new level!

I covered off the photography across several sessions to juggle things around the weather and of course traffic and people on the ground.  One of the days I started at 5am and didn’t want to stop – I photographed all the way through to 4pm and covered some serious miles!  On this day I was also privileged to have private access to the Museum Gardens to document the Roman Multangular Tower and ruins of St Leonard’s Hospital. 

multagular tower york city walls

It was fairly nerve wracking to begin with getting to grips with the huge set of keys.  It was especially daunting managing the access on Monk Bar which plunges you into darkness at the bottom of the narrow staircase once you close the door behind you.  I have been asked if I encountered any ghosts but apart from that panic in the dark I always felt very relaxed and calm on the walls.  There is something peaceful about being tucked away above the streets.

My favourite moment was sitting on the walls in the early morning sunshine coffee and breakfast in hand with a glorious view of the Minster.  It was simply amazing!  I couldn’t resist an Instagram moment and set up a self portrait – very unlike me! 

yorkshire photographer olivia brabbs on york city walls during a heritatage photography commission

One particular area of focus for the photography was to create a portfolio linked to conservation work by the City Walls Management Team.  Images were taken to document completed conservation work but also to get close into specific areas that may require work in the future.  

The final portfolio was pretty in depth but I have picked out some highlights of my experiences and favourite landmarks.  My style and approach to heritage and location photography is always to create imagery that is very authentic to the eye.  Landscape photography is currently saturated with over use of filters and photoshop which I believe distorts how things really look. 

I could attempt to share some of the history and heritage surrounding the walls but certainly wouldn’t do it justice.  I can therefore definitely recommend a visit to the ‘Friends of York Walls‘ website.  They offer background and also trails to follow.

It is wonderful that the walls are now open again.  They are operating on a one way system to support social distancing so do recommend researching your access and exit point before embarking on a walls adventure.


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Get in touch

Thanks for your interest in my commercial and branding photography. To discuss a commission in more detail please do get in touch. If you’re in the early stages of developing a photography brief I’m always available for a chat to bounce ideas around.

I’m based in central York but it’s very much a case of, “Have camera will travel”, so my client list spreads across Yorkshire and the rest of the UK.

T: 07779 345819 E: