Kirkstall Abbey

On Saturday we decided to explore a bit further afield and ventured over towards Leeds. Our first destination was Kirkstall Abbey, somewhere we've wanted to visit for quite some time.

JMW Turner Kirkstall Abbey on the River Aire

Kirkstall Abbey is one of the best preserved Cistercian monasteries in the country, founded over 800 years ago.

The abbey is known to have been visited by Patrick Bronte, and it is believed that this is where he proposed to Maria Branwell. Bronte wrote of the abbey in his collection of poetry The Rural Minstrel:

Hail ruined tower! That like a learned sage,
With lofty brow, looks thoughtful on the night;
The sable ebony, and silver white,
Thy ragged sides from age to age,
With charming art inlays,
When Luna’s lovely rays,
Fall trembling on the night,
And round the smiling landscape, throw,
And on the ruined walls below,
Their mild uncertain light.
How heavenly fair, the arches ivy-crowned,
Look forth on all around! 

The African American novelist William Wells Brown visited Kirkstall Abbey in 1851, writing about his experience. Using poetry and poetic language, he described the beauty of the, then, desolate ruins. He showed a highly tuned appreciation of British literature as well as an interest in nature and local history.The poet he quotes from, is Bernard Barton, "the Quaker Poet", and the poem actually concerns Leiston Abbey, in Suffolk.

…A pleasant drive over a smooth road, brought us abruptly in sight of the Abbey. The tranquil and pensive beauty of the desolate Monastery, as it reposes in the lap of pastoral luxuriance, is almost beyond description, we stood for some moments under the mighty arches that led into the great hall, gazing at its old grey walls frowning with age. We could fully enter into the feelings of the Poet when he says:

Beautiful fabric! even in decay
And desolation, beauty still is thine;
As the rich sunset of an autumn day,
When gorgeous clouds in glorious hues combine
To render homage to its slow decline,
Is more majestic in its parting hour:
Even so thy mouldering, venerable shrine
Possesses now a more subduing power,
Than in thine earlier sway, with pomp and pride thy dower.

Today the Abbey is very close to Leeds and Headingley, and there isn't a great deal of "pastoral luxuriance". However, the grounds are beautifully maintained and the River Aire still flows peacefully by.

Our next stop was Salt's Mill in Saltaire. We arrived just in time for a late lunch in Salt's Diner and then enjoyed a happy hour mooching around the excellent bookshop.

A quick pop into Keelham's Farm Shop, near Skipton, completed our lovely day out in Yorkshire.