We’re still back in time to July 2015 with this post, on the day after the end of the International Medieval Congress just reported, but a rather different sort of content, because we had business to do with my imminent move up to this fine city of Leeds that day and it was timed for late in the day, which left us the early part more or less free to explore. After a somewhat abrupt start to the morning, therefore, we got out and found it unexpectedly sunny, whereupon like a pair of medievalists would we hit upon the idea of going and visiting Kirkstall Abbey on the grounds that it was close by to where we were looking at living (and where I now type this, indeed). And this was a really good idea; Kirkstall is a bit like having one’s own St Andrews or Whitby just close by, ruinous, confusing and æsthetically impressive. Of course, I was about to move into a community of scholars who know it well, but at this point I did not, and these photos reflect my general confusion as well as my delight at it. There are, therefore, quite a lot, though you’re getting less than half of what I took…
This is a set of enigmas all of itself, because what is still standing is about the least significant bit of it (unless you’re really into waste disposal) so the rest of it is quite hard to reconstruct in one’s mind’s eye.
But the real deal is the actual abbey, which looms impressively over everything in lordly fashion.
But trying to work out how it all fitted together when it was up is not necessarily easy given the different and discontinuous bits that now remain upright.
It’s not that there’s any shortage of standing fabric…
But with a fairly serious church, a big cloister, an abbot’s dwelling stuck in the angle between the two and some other separate buildings jointed at corners, and really not much signage, it rapidly gets easy to lose track of where you are.
And before long you’re just photographing things on the grounds that you’ve walked round a corner and a photo just presented itself to you ready-made. And what’s wrong with that, after all?
But because the ensemble itself is difficult to articulate, the small features become both more immediately apprehensible and more divorced from the context that might explain them.
There are two special categories of feature that seem to have drawn our attention, however, of which the first could be entitled, “Inexplicable things people have done to windows”.
The other category, though, would have to be called “We’ve come about the drains”…
But despite its relatively low level of investment in interpretation (I gather that there is more of this coming) the site is also very much in use, or at least was this day. I don’t just mean the randomly-occurring public, though they were there.
But even as we arrived they were setting up for some evening event that was clearly going to involve no little sound and light, which led to some rather odd juxtapositions of medieval and modern.
But I am obviously going to need another visit or five to sort this place out in my head, hence the optimistic post title. I have no idea what these walls are, for example, but I hope that some day soon I will.