Kirkstall Abbey seems to be one of the first places everyone recommends that you visit in Leeds. Located just 20 minutes from the city centre, visiting Kirkstall Abbey seemed like it would be an afternoon trip like any other.
It was a quiet Saturday afternoon. The sky was cloudy and the rains held off until the moment we arrived at the bus stop. We huddled under the bus shelter to escape the wind that was circling. That’s the one thing about Leeds – everyone warns you about the rain, but no one mentions the wind. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before we were on the bus and on our way.
The bus twisted and turned along the two-lane street, which often looked far too small for the vehicles on it. We passed through a series of what I thought were small towns but were actually just suburbs of Leeds. With the rain hitting the window, I was happy enough to sit on the bus and just stare out the window. This is exactly what I thought England would look like—rock walls, row houses with gardens, and quaint little villages with pubs, bookshops and more. I spent the entire trip with my head whipping from left to right, trying to take it all in.
And then, out of nowhere, like a sailor finally seeing land on the horizon, there was the Abbey tower, poking far above the surrounding trees.
We hopped off the bus and made our way towards the beautiful and lush park where the Abbey stood until we found ourselves face-to-face with the monstrous ruins.
Established circa 1152, the Kirkstall Abbey was a medieval Cistercian monastery that was disestablished in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the auspice of Henry VIII (source). Since the 18th century, Kirkstall Abbey has attracted the interest of tourists and artists, who visit the Abbey en masse to take in its picturesque ruins.
Although there were a few other groups on the grounds that afternoon, it was almost dead quiet as we wandered throughout the ruins. This gave our visit a calm but eerie feel; I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if a ghost had popped up – okay, that’s a lie, I would have been terrified, but if there was ever a time to see a ghost, that would have been it.
Through the nave and cloister, the quarters and the gardens, we explored all of what remains of the impressive Kirkstall Abbey, imagining what life would have been like for the monks who called it home so many years ago.
It had been nearly an hour when the rains began to fall harder. Mother Nature had decided that we’d spent enough time exploring on that cold and cloudy day, so we ended our visit and made our way out of the ruins. It was time to say goodbye to the Abbey and to step back into the present.
Kirkstall Abbey is located just 20 minutes from the centre of Leeds, but it feels like a world away. The substantial ruins are surrounded by lush greens and the grounds border the River Aire, giving the entire park a calm and peaceful atmosphere. It was the perfect way to spend a quiet Saturday afternoon in Leeds.
The Abbey is open six days a week, and admission is free. For more information, visit: VisitLeeds.co.uk.
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