Wednesday, 12 August 2015

A Tale of Two Abbeys

On our recent holiday to North Yorkshire, we visited two sites of Abbey ruins, both managed by English Heritage. Clutching our new membership cards, acquired with Tesco Clubcard points, we were eager to make use of the benefits.

The majesty of Byland Abbey

Having visited the well-known Whitby Abbey on a previous occasion, we had planned to visit Rievaulx Abbey, having seen it on the BBC programme Secret Britain. However, before we got round to making that visit, we stumbled across a sign for Byland Abbey, which we had not heard or read about, but decided to explore.

The route took us along windy country lanes and we half expected to find a minor ruin at the end of it – a heap of stones or partial wall – but how wrong we were! As we rounded the final corner a stunning sight met our eyes!

The ruins are actually quite substantial, certainly ample enough to give you the feel of what the original abbey would have been like. There is also a small museum on site, housing a model of how the abbey would have looked in its heyday. The setting was quite something too, surrounded by peaceful countryside and overlooked by neighbouring hills, making it a very tranquil spot. Following this visit we knew that Rievaulx would have to go some to beat it.

The day arrived of our planned Rievaulx visit, so we packed up our picnic and followed the signs from Helmsley to the more publicised ruin (it’s given twice the space of Byland in the English Heritage handbook and has a large gift shop and café, whereas Byland just has a small kiosk). Our initial reaction was slight disappointment at the location – the abbey appeared to be shoehorned into quite a small area, whereas Byland enjoys more space. It’s true that a larger part of the original structure is intact, yet it somehow didn’t seem as impressive as we felt it should.
This also has a museum/exhibition that’s slightly larger than the one at Byland, but there was no model of the original abbey as we’d expected. We do know that the museum was about to close for refurbishment (strange at peak visitor time) so maybe it will undergo an improvement.

We still enjoyed our visit to Rievaulx, but felt it was a bit of an anti-climax after what we’d been lead to expect, whereas Byland was a surprising little gem.

Exploring Rievaulx

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