Although a popular attraction in West Yorkshire, Kirkstall Abbey seems to receive little mention in national guides to abbeys and attractions - which, given how extensive the ruins are, seems unfair. Possibly it stands (metaphorically) in the shade of more historically important Yorkshire abbeys, such as Rievaulx, so is overlooked. A shame, because the ruins are extensive and very well-presented.
Particularly interesting is the drainage system, which can still be followed on its route through the abbey grounds. The abbot's house remains (having survived misguided Victorian restoration efforts) and most of the night-stairs are intact. Although no 'interiors' remain on site, some surviving tiles and architectural finds are on view in the visitor centre. The cloisters retain an atmosphere of enclosure and the height of the ruins around the main transept give a sense of scale that's often missing from abbey ruins.
There are information boards throughout, making interpretation of the ruins very easy, and there are also child-friendly features. A cafe, museum and shop are opposite, and it stands in an extensive park - great for dog-walking (dogs are allowed on leads.) The site is owned by Leeds Museum service rather than NT/EH and the shop sells items reflecting this. Frustratingly, I couldn't find a guide-book - but the information boards did make up for this.
On a previous visit, a fun dog-show was taking place in the Abbey and there are also weekend markets held there - so if you are making a visit from far afield it would be worth checking in advance - you might want to avoid the 'events' if you're going primarily to take photographs and contemplate the site - or on the other hand they might enhance your visit, depending on your tastes - also it's not always open on Mondays.
As a bonus, the Abbey entrance and car-parking are free (there is a charge for the Abbey House museum) - all in all, definitely worth a special trip from far afield, and deserves more fame outside Yorkshire.
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