The secret studded streets of York

There’s a secret embedded on the streets of York. Have you figured it out?

All around the centre of the town, opposite cafes and shops and down streets and on bridges, are a series of small coloured studs set into the ground. Some of them are a little worse for wear, filled in with dirt and life, but they’re most definitely there. Greens. Ambers. Odd little flashes of colour against the street. Vibrant flashes of light when the sun catches them.


These are the remnants of the York Breadcrumbs trail, an initiative from 2005 which saw the creation of three custom walking tours located in and around the centre of town. The stories locate themselves in the fabric of the city and see adventures located within the recognisable settings and locations, both above ground and below and, as this reference shows, originally intended to be viewed at the dark with the aid of torches.

Cover image for York Breadcrumbs : Read the Tale and Follow the Trail, Tales of Adventure That Trace a Path Around York

I first came across the York Breadcrumbs story whilst in the library, looking for something else. It’s often the way with research: you find the intriguing things when you’re not looking for them. I was instantly intrigued by the catalogue record and hunted the book out. I’ve known York for a long while, and I’d never heard of anything like this. I wasn’t even sure of what the book meant when it referred to a trail and whether what that was would still be visible. Eleven years is a long time. The project had done its work but not, somehow, lasted. Maybe it was too economically friable, or the numbers simply weren’t working or something. What was clear was that these stories had marked the canvas of the city and now, simply, were gone.



The more I investigated however, the more I came to realise that this project still marks the city. Above, for example, is a mosaic in Exhibition Square. You can just make out on the left hand side of the picture a link to the Breadcrumbs website (now sadly defunct), and the goose and the fox link to the content of the stories. The mosaic is located right in the middle of the square, next to the fountain, and it’s something that I’d walked past a thousand times and never looked at.

But it’s a memory of story, of what was located here and what, in a way, still is.

Story has a permanence, even in its most ephemeral state, and when linked to place, that permanence becomes fixed. It may fade in and out, be seen or unseen, be known or lost or forgotten, but it is always there and it always will be there. Fixed. Embedded.

I find York Breadcrumbs fascinating on many levels and much of that centres on the afterlife of the work. I see, often, initiatives that promise great things but rarely seem to recognise the afterwards. There is always an afterwards. Talk about changing the world, about challenging the system, and then enable the afterwards to happen. I wonder what will become of York Breadcrumbs in a few more years; will it sink deeper into the ground and be consumed by the city or will it suddenly flare back into life?

I rather hope for the latter.


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