methods: data analysis
astronomical databases: miscellaneous
stars: dwarf novae
novae, cataclysmic variables
Aims. The shaping mechanisms of old nova remnants are probes for several important and unexplained processes, such as dust formation and the structure of evolved star nebulae. To gain a more complete understanding of the dynamics of the GK Per (1901) remnant, an examination of symmetry of the nova shell is explored, followed by a kinematical analysis of the previously detected jet-like feature in the context of the surrounding fossil planetary nebula.Methods. Faint-object high-resolution echelle spectroscopic observations and imaging were undertaken covering the knots which comprise the nova shell and the surrounding nebulosity. New imaging from the Aristarchos telescope in Greece and long-slit spectra from the Manchester Echelle Spectrometer instrument at the San Pedro Martir observatory in Mexico were obtained, supplemented with archival observations from several other optical telescopes. Position-velocity arrays are produced of the shell, and also individual knots, and are then used for morpho-kinematic modelling with the shape code. The overall structure of the old knotty nova shell of GK Per and the planetary nebula in which it is embedded is then analysed.Results. Evidence is found for the interaction of knots with each other and with a wind component, most likely the periodic fast wind emanating from the central binary system. We find that a cylindrical shell with a lower velocity polar structure gives the best model fit to the spectroscopy and imaging. We show in this work that the previously seen jet-like feature is of low velocity.Conclusions. The individual knots have irregular tail shapes; we propose here that they emanate from episodic winds from ongoing dwarf nova outbursts by the central system. The nova shell is cylindrical, not spherical, and the symmetry axis relates to the inclination of the central binary system. Furthermore, the cylinder axis is aligned with the long axis of the bipolar planetary nebula in which it is embedded. Thus, the central binary system is responsible for the bipolarity of the planetary nebula and the cylindrical nova shell. The gradual planetary nebula ejecta versus sudden nova ejecta is the reason for the different degrees of bipolarity. We propose that the "jet" feature is an illuminated lobe of the fossil planetary nebula that surrounds the nova shell.