Out on the tiles in North Yorkshire

YORKSHIRE IS RICH in the ruins of abbeys and other religious institutions, which were all dissolved (closed down) by Henry VIII in the 16th century and left to decay. The better known of Yorkshire’s ruined abbeys include those at Fountains, Rievaulx, and Whitby. In the North Yorkshire district of Ryedale, there are the extensive ruins of a former Cistercian abbey, founded in 1137 and called Byland Abbey. Having visited ancient but still intact and well-preserved Cistercian monasteries in various places in France, I have a reasonable idea of what these places look like. What I particularly liked about the ruins at Byland was that although much of the old stonework has been taken away and incorporated in other buildings, sufficient remains not only of the abbey church but also of the many buildings (e.g., the refectory, the cloisters, the chapter house, and the abbot’s house) that made up the monastic settlement. Having seen the monasteries in France I was able in my mind’s eye to create an image of how Byland might have looked in its heyday.

Apart from its great beauty as a ruined church, the abbey’s vast former church has something that I cannot recall ever having seen at other ruined abbeys I have visited. Exposed to the open air and risking being trod upon by visitors are many quite large expanses of mediaeval floor tiling. Many of the fired clay tiles still bear their coloured glazes. There are patches of tiling where they are laid out in circular geometric patterns. It was surprising to see such a great number of these tiles because even in many of the still intact British churches and cathedrals, such ancient flooring is quite rarely preserved to such an extent as in the ruined Byland Abbey.

I was told that when the abbeys were dissolved by Henry VIII, their roofs were removed, and this ensured that the buildings became unusable and fell into decay. The west end of Byland’s huge church contains the remains of a masonry circle that was once the frame for an enormous rose window, believed to be a prototype for the rose window that still can be seen at York Minster. While the Minster is a sight not to be missed, so is Byland Abbey. The latter might not have such a spectacular location as the ruins at Whitby and Rievaulx, it is, in my opinion, a far more interesting place to explore.

Travelling abroad at last

WE ARRIVED IN ENGLAND from India on the 27th of February 2020. Because of the covid outbreak, we had not left England until today, the 13th of September 2021. Some, especially those who live there, regard Cornwall as being another country, rather than part of England. We have visited that southwest county of what most people regard as England, since we arrived back from England. So, it would be pushing things if we said that we went abroad to Cornwall,

Today, we travelled abroad, leaving England for a few hours. To reach our destination we did not have to take covid tests or show evidence of double doses of vaccine or, even, show our passports. However, leave England we did. We crossed the River Severn to leave England and enter Wales. Crossing the Severn Bridge on the M48 did not require us to pay a toll as used to be the case, as the crossing is now free of charge. A few years ago, a toll was charged for crossing into Wales, but no longer; it has been abolished.

Tintern Abbey

Well, I hear you say, Wales is not exactly ‘abroad’, but when one has not left England for over 18 months, it will do as ‘abroad’. Wales has its own parliament and most signs, be they on the road or elsewhere, are bilingual (English and Welsh) and, if you are lucky, you will meet a speaker of the Welsh language. To us, crossing over into Wales, after so many moths without foreign travel, felt like going abroad.

We drove along the beautiful Wye Valley and stopped at the attractive ruins of the former Cistercian Tintern Abbey (Abaty Tyndyrn in Welsh), the first ever Cistercian foundation in Wales. At the ticket office, I expressed my joy at being abroad after so many months, and the cashier said to me in a gently Welsh accent:

“I like your style.”

We have visited Tintern Abbey (founded 1131) many times in the past and each time it has been a wonderful experience. Today was no exception. Set in a wooded valley, the ruins of the gothic buildings look great against the background of trees with dark green foliage. After spending about an hour in Tintern, we drove along roads which were mainly in Wales but occasionally crossed the border into England. When we reached Wrexham (Wrecsam in Welsh), we headed off north and east into England, our trip abroad having been completed.