I SPY LEEDS the definitive DG guide to sights-worth-seeing Kirkstall Abbey
Location: Abbey Road, Kirkstall, LS5 3EH [map] Open: dawn - dusk (Abbey House open 10am - 5pm) Admission: free 5-word summary: the remains of monk-y business Website:www.leeds.gov.uk/kirkstallabbey Time to set aside: half an hour to half a day
One of Britain's best preserved Cistercian abbeys is located in the heart of suburban Leeds. Kirkstall Abbey is set in what would otherwise be a fairly ordinary park, on the wooded banks of the River Aire, just up the road from rows of desirable Victorian terraces. Back in the mid 12th century this waterside meadow was the perfect spot for a bunch of monks to establish their God-fearing community, and to build a magnificent cloistered church around which they could live and worship. The monastery survived for nearly 400 years until Henry VIII shut the place down, after which the place went into a steep decline. Most of the tower eventually collapsed (and the local main road was even driven directly through the nave of the church), but a surprising amount of the original building survives.
Yesterday afternoon the grounds of Kirkstall Abbey were full of children and families out enjoying the Easter holiday sunshine. They kicked balls around, they waved big sticks in my face, and some of them even stopped to look at the architectural heritage looming above them. The one remaining wall of the tower makes for an imposing sight, but the church beneath has had to be sealed off behind iron gates to prevent unwitting damage and vandalism. I was still able to gain entrance to the cloister and chapter house, and imagine how it must have been to live out one's entire life in reverent silence (save for a lot of prayers, psalms and plainsong). Elsewhere swathes of daffodils bloomed brightly across the kitchen and infirmary, while children scurried and larked amongst the low stone walls of some old outbuilding across the park. Older visitors were more likely to head for the tearoom in the Abbey House museum on the other side of the main road (which, thankfully, has been diverted and no longer bisects the church).
This is a charming spot, and all the more pleasant for being properly ancient and easily accessible. OK, so I doubt that you'll be in the area to enjoy this historic Abbey at any time in the near future. But should your job ever take you to the suburbs of Leeds on a beautiful spring day, travel expenses paid, it would seem a shame not to stop by and indulge in a bit of brotherly history. London really can't compete on this one. by bus: 33, 33A