Following Medievalist.net’s recent post on the “Top 10 Medieval Ruins in England”, which can be found here:
I’d like to add my own two-cents’ worth of ruin-lust, which primarily centres on the North of England. Everyone loves a good ruin, and luckily English history (particularly the Civil War) is able to provide us with no shortage of them.
Interest in ruins has perpetuated in English tourism since the eighteenth century, when the Grand Tour and the advent of cheap railway travel within England allowed men and women the opportunity to indulge their lust for the fragmented past. As the subjects of countless watercolours and sketches, ruin imagery means that today we have an inexhaustible supply of material from which to study ruins prior to their subsequent collapse.
Today, ruin scholarship is alive and well; as attested by the Forming Ruins Symposium held at Nottingham University in mid-2014 (sponsored by the AHRC Landscape and Environment Programme), as well as the Ruin lust exhibition recently held at the Tate Britain, which spanned from the 17th-20th century, and included an installation dedicated to the ruin of imagery itself (to name but two recent examples).
My own particular interest in ruins centres on spoliation and the re-use of material from other sites. Often, however, these were deliberate and abrupt acts of ruination, rather than the result of environmental destruction. For a crude dichotomy of different disciplinary approaches to ruins, the afterlife of ruins seems to be the particular focus of art-historical studies, while archaeologists often focus on the sites left behind in the material record. Urban decay and the thrilling dangers of urban exploration are other pet interests of mine. No doubt you will hear much more from me on these subjects in time!
For now, while I love Whitby, Fountains and Middleham, I’m going to leave you with a few more of my personal favourite ruins.
St Mary’s Abbey, York
These thirteenth century Benedictine ruins are particularly beautiful under a blanket of snow. They are also conveniently located next to a ruined Roman fortress tower 5 minutes from York station!
If you’re in the Yorkshire Dales visiting Middleham Castle (as advertised by Medievalists.net), please make a stop at nearby castle Bolton. I was lucky enough to be taken to both sites by John Goodall, author of ‘The English Castle’, and this ruined site is a fascinating window into the lives of late-medieval aspiring gentry.
I will return time and again to this ruined Cistercian monastery. Not only for the nearby ruined castle at Hexham, where the back of one of the towers has simply sheared off into the moat, but for its stunning location in the North York Moors National Park. While its sister abbey, Fountains, is situated in a picturesque deer park, Rievaulx features a pleasant walk from the nearby town along the river. Apart from the church itself, Rievaulx has a splendid Chapter House; wonderfully intact (well, for a ruin…) dormitory and refectory; and lots of that ingenious Cistercian plumbing to play in.
This Cumbrian priory demonstrates unusual opulence for an Augustinian house, rivalling the grand Cistercian abbeys of Yorkshire for size, and constructed entirely out of the rich, red local sandstone. When I visited Furness, I had fun guessing which monastic buildings would have stood where – an integral part of exploring all ruins…
Richmond has a variety of ruinous buildings. While the main keep remains relatively intact, Scolland’s Hall, further around the curtain wall, provides a lovely Romanesque ruin for all twelfth-century buffs. The turrets along the way are delightful to poke around in.
While I would love to go on and on and on across Europe with my ruin-lust post, I will have to call it a day. For now, I’ll leave you with a picture of my best friend exploring the ruined houses of her native town near Tirano, Italy.
All images in this post are my own property and as such, are subject to copyright.