I was recently in England with my wife, and one of the highlights of the trip was a spur-of-the-moment tour we took in York Minster of the stone yards and exterior scaffolding.
Like lots of cathedrals, York lets you go up to the top of its towers, and the view from there is great; but the stoneyard and scaffolding tours are more unique.
In the stoneyard, you get to see how the restoration work is planned, and how stones are actually carved. You spend some time with the master mason in the main office, then head off to the workshop where the stones are actually carved.
York is one of the few cathedrals that still has its own stonemasons on-site, and they’re busy restoring several areas, including the East Front.
One especially cool feature of the tour is that it give you a chance to see some up close carvings that normally you only get to see from the ground.
For someone like me who’s interested in how people work, and how work changes over time, it’s a really interesting experience.
The scaffolding tour is just as cool: you put on a hard hat, go up eight stories of scaffolding, and see how restoration work is actually done.
York Minster is also interesting because there was a lot of restoration work done in the early 1800s that now has to be replaced, because they used a different kind of stone than was used in the 1300s, and the two stone types are actually (very slowly) attacking and eroding each other.
York Minster is beautiful and the standard visit is well worth it, but I highly recommend checking out the stoneyard and scaffolding as well.