Kirkstall Abbey Adventure

Today I ran down to Kirkstall Abbey, in West Yorkshire, just a 50 minute walk or 20 minute jog from where I live in Headingly, Leeds. Becca and I visited the abbey on Saturday when it was sunny and families were picnicking and playing football in the park surrounding it, but we got there too late to go inside. I couldn’t have left England knowing I didn’t visit the sights so close to Leeds. Isn’t it funny how we travel hundreds or thousands of miles to see new places, but don’t explore everything that is so near us? That is how I feel about the Grand Canyon and Mexico when people hear I’m from New Mexico.

This abbey is one of the oldest buildings I have seen, other than those in Rome. It is a monastery dating from before the 12th century, when Cistercian monks built it next to the River Aire before there was ever a Leeds. There are many abbey ruins in the British Isles, as there are many in France and Spain as well as other parts of post-Catholic Europe. (appropriate field trip for my Catholic Europe History module I just finished, don’t you think?) While these may be normal sights for the average European, I am all enamored with the historical grandeur of such a place as this. Perhaps it is because we don’t have thousand-year-old structures built by human hands in North America, to my knowledge. I suppose we do have cave drawings, and thousand year old redwoods…

As I walked around the grassy grounds of the abbey, I like to imagine the monks and lay brothers who lived, worked, and ate here so long ago. Not even a hundred years after the abbey was decommissioned by Henry VIII in the 1500’s, a market was set up and later the main road to Leeds was built straight through the church corridor. Passersby carved their initials into the stone columns. One meticulous piece of graffiti I found on the wall of the monks’ small library looked more calligraphic than criminal. There was spelled out a man’s initials and last name, complete with the date 1816. If all graffiti artists today were as articulate as this man’s, I might not mind it so much. The other thing that impressed me upon my inspection was the monks’ use and design of waterways. There are still some existing wash basins in the walls of chapel’s the adjacent rooms. They empty out the bottom, through a spout either onto the tile floor or down through the stone walls into the ground floor and into the monastery’s water channel. I could imagine they used this channel to transport waste outside the monastery as well. The designers’ ingenuity from such an early time amazes me, not to mention how they built such impressive structures out of hand-hewn stone blocks. And just where did they get the stone from? As amazed as I am at the remains of people who lived so long before us, I am happy to belong in the 21st century.

Since my camera is out of commission, I will have to rely on Google images of the abbey:

Winter in Leeds…

Today marks my one week living in Leeds, England. The “harsh winter weather” lasted only the first 4 days I was here. It snowed lightly and the temperatures dropped to below freezing, but this is no Boston, that’s for sure! The ice on the streets was the worst part – I literally ice skated down the road from my flat, and then there was another couple hundred meter stretch of ice skating rink until you hit the main road which was covered in black slush, or “sludge” as they call it here. We wanted to go sledding down the hills nearby,  called “sludging”, appropriately, for when the ices melts into sludge.

Well, the weather warmed up a bit, and immediately I saw less winter clothing. A local post man has been wearing only shorts and a short-sleeve shirt all this winter, with thick socks and boots, of course. I saw him one day and commented on ‘how you must be cold’ to which he laughed and replied in his thick accent, “wore dem straight through since summer!” I knew at that point I was just egging on his mantra. Trying to get a feel for the fashion in England, I have been surprised by the number of girls in this town I have seen wearing tights and short skirts or nothing at all except long sweaters. From the back it looks like they’re wearing nothing under their coats other than boots.

I am doing consequently exactly what the British love to do – talk about the weather. They’re even proud of the fact that they talk about the weather so much. “We’re on an island, you see, so we get all sorts of weather.” Yes, but usually not any drastic changes. Their snow is like soft Nutcracker suite glitter, and their rain like faint April mist. I wondered how the British could walk everywhere in such wet weather. Now I understand. It’s like an ever present wetness in the air, not heavy American Midwest humidity, more like wafting sea mist. This is a bit of an overstatement; I don’t know how to describe the difference in the humidity better here than to show pictures of what it does to my hair. Stick straight in New Mexico, my hair was a frizz by time I got out of the taxi in Leeds. Here are some pictures inside my apartment after a brief walk outside to drop off a CV.

Also, some pictures from my 7th floor flat of the surrounding city and the snow while it was there. Now I wake up to thick fog every morning, and sometimes rainbows when it begins to clear.