A “Castle,” the Moors, Sand and Surf, and Three Abandoned Abbeys


Whitby Abbey


My wife went off with the Flacks to the famous Railway Museum here in York this morning, while I attended to some online matters that needed attending.


You should definitely click to enlarge this photo of Castle Howard.


Then we drove to Castle Howard, the magnificent country house at which both a television mini-series and a movie based on Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited were filmed, and at which the Pride and Prejudice sequel, Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, has also just now been filmed.  (I’d been there before, but had never actually gone inside the building.  I was intrigued to learn that the famous Oxford classicist Gilbert Murray was a Howard family son-in-law.  This is a minor fact, but it’s meaningful to me — since, inter alia, his book Four Stages of Greek Religion was an important text during my undergraduate studies.  And thereby hangs a trivial but amusing tale that I may tell someday.)


After touring house and grounds at Castle Howard, we continued on our journey toward Whitby, the wonderful early medieval abbey where, among other things, Caedmon, the very first English-language poet, served as a monk.  The drive takes one across a portion of the famous North Yorkshire moors, which are a very different landscape than England’s ordinarily green and pleasant land.  In a fog, or in darkness, I can easily imagine them being terrifying.


We spent quite a bit of time in and around the Abbey (see the photograph above), which is perched on a cliff overlooking the North Sea and is one of the most evocative places one can imagine.  (It certainly evoked something in Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula; he visited Whitby on numerous occasions and set at least seven scenes in his novel in or very near a fictionalized version of the Abbey.)


Our weather, as it has been throughout this trip, was sunny and clear, so the view was gorgeous — as, for that matter, it was last year when we visited Whitby.


Then, having left the Abbey, we walked a bit on the beach to the north and, thereafter, enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner.


The North Yorkshire coastal town of Whitby, with the ruins of its famous monastery on the hill above


Leaving Whitby, we decided to visit the ruins of two other abandoned abbeys, Rievaulx and Byland.  We had visited the first previously, in its isolated and beautiful valley, and had fallen in love with the place.


The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey seen from above


Rievaulx from up close
(click to enlarge)


It being still pretty light — we’re in the middle of summer, and we’re fairly far north — we also managed to have a look at Byland Abbey, which was a huge Cistercian foundation in its heyday.  It is, if anything, even more isolated than Rievaulx, and also very beautiful.  The sky was growing darker, and, though the gate was open, there was absolutely nobody around.  So, for a magic forty-five minutes or so, we had this splendid and wonderful place all to ourselves.


This really doesn’t do justice to the beauty, solitude, and spirit of Byland Abbey


Within what was once the nave of the enormous abbey church at Byland


 Posted from York, England.