Gathering with Water: Look at Your City Walk

 Gathering with Water: Look at Your City walk

Virtual Tour

Thursday 25th July 2019

How can water be welcomed in the design of the new public space in the Castle and Eye of York? Whether that is dealing with flooding, encouraging use of the Foss, referencing past moats and river defences, or adding in playful fountains and pools.

We have created a virtual tour of our walk around the city, looking at how water already works while generating ideas for the open brief for the new public space in the Castle and Eye of York.

Exhibition Square

The walk began at the fountain in Exhibition Square, the only manmade water feature on the tour. Whilst people felt that the fountain was appropriate for the setting and formality of the space, they also felt that the water could encourage people to engage it more, to congregate and stay in the space.  It could be more accessible to children, if safe and separated from traffic (e.g. planters to create green screen).  Good examples cited included Sheffield, Newcastle and Kings Cross.

Benches are located at the side of the square, leaving the rest of the space quite barren. Wouldn’t it be nice to sit closer to water on days like today?  Shade is also important, as the paving gets hot.  This feels like an escape within the city from where to appreciate the magnificent view, despite the city centre noise.  The square is underused by the city.

Museum Gardens Riverside

The generous width of the riverside encourages people to linger and take in the river, with plenty of space to feel safe away from cycle route. It is not clear whether the asphalt path is for cyclists or pedestrians.  The trees provide welcome shade, but the angular tree barriers discourage people sitting on them.  The sloped bank is designed to dissipate waves when water rises.  People liked the differentiation of the edge of the bank with cobbles in helping to keep people in the right place.  River cruises could venture further along the Ouse to Naburn and Bishopthorpe, and perhaps introduce rowing boats on the River Foss.

The Museum Gardens are separated from the riverside by shrubs, trees and a fence, which discourages people to flow between these areas.

Exploration of wild swimming was discussed but felt not to be a good idea in the city centre rivers due to both safety and water quality. There could be opportunities elsewhere where water is clearer.  Indeed, there once was an open swimming pool in the south-west corner of the Museum Gardens (see image below), and also one in Rowntree Park.

Source: Imagine York (c) City of York Council

North Street Gardens

North Street gardens would be a safe area for children to explore and wander around, if there were more activities such as (hopscotch, pop-up cafe?) The garden feels hemmed in, secluded, dark with too much shade and often has litter left. The riverside could benefit from some interpretation to tell the story of the river (site of Rowntree factory, Guildhall).

People would like to see the riverside walkway outside City Screen extended, with new links through to the river from Coney Street without having to navigate bars and restaurants.

The Beach

This area needs more activity at street level to encourage use of the Queen’s Staith river bank, like it’s counterpart the King’s Staith. The area benefits from the morning sun and is separated from vehicle flows.  Woodsmill Quay provides an interesting backdrop, and also highlights the need to consider the impact of activities on the residential properties here.

King’s Staith

This part of the riverside is heavily used by three pubs for outside seating, and for river cruise launches. The cycle and pedestrian route from the New Walk and Millennium Bridge could continue into the city centre, but the abrupt end with steps at Kings Arms is a problem.

Tower Gardens

This area provides a transition from the busy King’s Staith into a quieter space. The landscape of Tower Gardens differs to Museum Gardens due to the active flood plain, whereby silt, a lack of daylight due to trees, and habitation by geese all combine to limit opportunities to sit on the grass.  The current planting isn’t working with the environment.  Grass does encourage people to walk on it and populate the space, which no other planting would achieve.

Could the lower part of the gardens create a natural swimming pool area (although poor water quality noted), or bog-land planting to create a more interesting river edge that accepts the frequent flooding and wet environment? Could the upper levels be terraced and planted, perhaps with a platform up and over flood wall?  A deck solution could retain flood capacity.

Clifford’s Tower cannot be seen from Tower Gardens, nor the river from Clifford’s Tower. There is an opportunity to create a visual connection between both areas. Are there too many trees?  Some of the trees are significant and should be maintained, like those lining New Walk, along with a clear connecting routes through.  Reviewing the lifespan of trees and planting new ones for the future of the gardens, and to create a new structure.  Could be used as a place for coach parties to gather on their way to the coach park at St George’s Field.


And so, that brings our tour to its conclusion. We want to know what areas of water already works in York and any ideas for how water flow (or otherwise) might feature in the future of the Castle and Eye of York area?

If you’ve enjoyed this blog, why not come to one of our many events over the summer to hear ideas and share your thoughts on the project. Book on at  or offer your thoughts to us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or even write your own blog!

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