Green labyrinth and fort to be created in York city centre as part of York Walls Festival this summer

Momentous pivots in history have played out before York's city walls, which has borne witness to centuries of societal change.

Yet this scheduled ancient monument, say its charitable trust leaders, cannot be frozen in time when it today forms such a core of the city's identity. It is time for a 're-awakening', said the Friends of York Walls, as it sets out ambitions to re engage with heritage in contemporary ways. This summer could see labyrinths and forts spring up in the city, with ancient ponds and swamps to be marked out to recreate for families what laid there before.

"We are trying to modernise in a way that people can relate to," said Friends’ chairman Bill Hill, outlining ambitions to reconnect with communities ahead of its August festival.

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"This history is not something to be forgotten, it's something to be used, and to have a purpose relevant to the people who live here now."

Bill Hill unveiled plans for this year's York Walls Festival

York's city walls, first built around 71AD as Roman defences, are the finest and most complete set in all of England, visited by an estimated one million people a year.

While little remains of this original stonework, following Danish destruction, they were revived and restored under the Jacobite Risings and in Victorian times.

Huge numbers of people usually walk the walls every year, and visit the Friends' Fishergate Postern Tower, which was built in 1504 and remains largely untouched over the centuries.

But popular as they are, many are visitors to York, and the ambition has long been to reconnect with local communities for whom the walls form such a part of the city’s identity.

Mr Hill, who is from the Friends of York Walls, said the group has ambitions to re engage with heritage in contemporary ways.

Now this is accelerating, with a focus on participation to engage families and audiences.

"Heritage, in some senses, has a bit of a bad name," said Mr Hill. "It is associated with old, middle class, white people, who are often the main visitors to heritage attractions.

"The people who walk the walls are such a social mix, much wider than that which go to museums. They come to the walls because of the sheer enjoyment of walking them."

Among the plans for the York Walls Festival on August 14 and 15 are hopes for a grass labyrinth, reflecting York's Roman history, which could be created next to the ramparts.

Around a million people visit the walls each year

An area once covered by a lake known as the King's Fish Pool, formed in medieval times by damming the River Foss as a moat defence, could be marked out and mapped.

The ramparts, a 'green lung' to the city, could be reflowered with pollinator plants such as cowslips or bluebells, with events for families to join in.

And Baile Hill, described by Mr Hill as the "Cinderella-sister mound" to Clifford's Tower, could see it's historic fort recreated with a flatpack replica garrison as part of the festival.

For Mr Hill, the city's walls have survived centuries, vandalism and planning wars, because of a sense of ownership from the people of York who have long fought to protect them.

For their future, he believes that sense of purchase and purpose must be nurtured and cherished.

"There is no doubt that in the past, when there has been a threat to the walls, it was popular opinion that saved them," he said. "The walls give York a certain identity. It's that mixture of heritage and modernism, that makes it a nice place to live.

"We have inherited a remarkable survivor. We need to ask the question 'is it going to last another 700 years?' If we look after the walls carefully they will still be intact. That requires resources, and the continued pressure of public opinion to regard it as valuable."

Friends of York Walls is a charitable trust run by volunteers, formed 10 years ago for the promotion and development of the walls which are owned by York Council.

It owns Fishergate Postern Tower, first built in 1504 and remaining largely untouched since, which it is set to reopen in May and will increase its open days to catch up.

There are plans too to enhance this setting, with its original stone spiral staircase and untouched Tudor garderobe.

There are four main gates to the city, with the term 'postern' being an archaic term for 'lesser gate', but it still has grooves for it's old portcullis. There are hopes this could in time be brought back to be raised on ceremonial occasions.