Don’t ask me how I got here. One minute I was strolling along the Leeds and Liverpool Canal; I took a quick detour to pick up a sandwich from Morrisons; got distracted by a sign advertising a short river walk; and then, suddenly, there it was in front of me: Kirkstall Abbey.
I’d heard of Fountains Abbey; I’d visited Bolton Abbey; but Kirkstall Abbey? Had I known about it before? I’m not sure.
My first view of the Abbey was through a steady stream of rain, and across an expanse of purple and white crocuses. The building was dark and imposing; it had a Gothic sense of mystery, even menace. The staff at the visitor’s centre, on the other hand, couldn’t have been more friendly, even when I asked with dark suspicion, how much it is to enter.
Free! I was sold.
“Just watch out for the ground, it’s a bit muddy today.”
On a squally Yorkshire day, I appeared to be the solitary visitor. I walked through the ruined naves and monumental cloisters in spectacular isolation, and monk-like quiet. The sheer height of the tower and scale of the site was not obvious until you were within the massive, stone walls.
The feeling of being part of a Gothic horror persisted. A black crow hopped through a crumbling opening, as though leading the way to a previously undiscovered room and, above, towering structures were silhouetted against a grim, grey sky, leading thoughts towards heaven whilst anchoring the body firmly on earth. I felt very small amidst such surroundings.
I explored for a while longer; enjoying the solitude; heedless of the rain. I found a sheltered place to eat my sandwich; all the time watched by black crows, both real and imaginary.
© E. C. Glendenny
Travel writer E. C. Glendenny gets a sense of scale at Kirkstall Abbey.