Friday, 8 September 2017

Kirkstall Abbey

For reasons which need not detain us here, I have recently been in a position to visit Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds a couple of times. Despite the place being in reasonably close proximity to the area where I live, this was my first time there since my school days (the early 1980s, to the best of my recollection), when it was a popular destination for day-trips of an educational and enlightening nature.

Kirkstall Abbey is a monastery which was founded in the Middle Ages, and it is situated in the northern suburbs of Leeds. Although today's tourist attraction is basically a set of ruins, it is still a fascinating and thought-provoking place to encounter, exuding some eeriness, but also considerable grandeur and spirituality.  The abbey and its grounds are now surrounded by ordinary residential streets and the normal hubbub and noise of modern commercial activity, and this apparent incongruity only makes the tranquility (both then and now) of the former monastery seem more welcome and desirable....

As I slowly made my way through the various sections of the abbey, what crossed my mind was how the scale and intricacy of the architecture and structures, impressive as it is/was, throw into sharp relief the achievements of other, earlier civilizations in terms of engineering,building, logistics and sheer human effort, ingenuity and endeavour. On the face of it, the things constructed and operated by the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and so forth, hundreds or even thousands of years before, were scarcely less advanced or complex than what was created there at Kirkstall Abbey.

The abbey is yet another of those places which makes me wish that I could have my time again, in order that I could train and work as an archaeologist or a historian! It was quite easy to visualize, looking at the ruins, what the scene would have been like all that time ago, as the monks went about their daily tasks and rituals. The state of some of the ruins also leaves plenty to the imagination, as one speculates what function such and such a row of stones might have fulfilled back when the monastery was active and vibrant.

My recent strolls around the ruins brought back memories of my childhood visits, and I sought in some respects to reproduce the atmosphere and spirit of those times, even to the point of buying myself an ice-cream (complete with chocolate flake!). Looking back, as a callow and somewhat shy youth I was insufficiently inquisitive or outward-looking to fully appreciate what I was seeing, or being told, about the abbey and its history. These virtues have only come to me in comparatively recent times. Better late than never, I'm forced to admit...

If you are staying in Leeds, or even just passing through, Kirkstall Abbey is well worth a quick visit.

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