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a grand day out

Kirkstall Abbey

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The Shine Team travel back in time to the 12th Century to learn about the beautiful Kirkstall Abbey


Where to Go                 

Kirkstall Abbey, Abbey Rd, Kirkstall, Leeds LS5 3EH



The abbey is in the suburb of Kirkstall, a few miles north-west of the city centre.





Free to all Leeds Residents – but remember to bring a proof of your address. This could be a driving license or a household bill. For people who don’t live in Leeds, it’s £5 adults/ £4 children.



There are toilets onsite, a shop and a café over the road.


Getting There                 

Bus numbers 33 and 34 from Leeds City Centre go to Kirkstall Abbey from Stand 17 at Leeds Bus Station. The bus also has City Centre Stops on the Headrow (opposite Dortmund Square) and on Wellington Street near the Train Station. There is a 33 or 34 around every 15 – 20 minutes. On the way back, cross the road to head back into Leeds City Centre. The bus stop is easy to find on the other side of Abbey Road (A65). Bus are every 15 – 20 minutes.


0113 378 4079 (10am – 4pm)



Opening Times

Monday: closed*


Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 4pm
Last admission: 3.30pm


*Open Bank Holiday Mondays 10am – 4pm

If you live in Leeds, it’s easy to forget that you have a Cistercian Abbey on your doorstep. Kirkstall Abbey is the ideal setting for a day out. There’s a lovely new visitor centre, plenty to see and do and it’s situated in a beautiful park, right next to the River Aire. You can easily visit this 12th Century monument by bus – it’s only 20 minutes from Leeds City Centre. Our Grand Days Out Team decided to uncover the Abbey’s delights for themselves and investigate what sort of a welcome older people might receive.


The Bus Station was clean and well laid out following recent improvements. There was plenty of comfortable seating, a choice of food and drink, newsagents, and new free toilets. The Information Desk gave a good and pleasant service, A printed timetable was given to us on request. However, In the Bus Station departures are displayed on several easy-to-read screens.


Our bus was a new, clean and comfortable double-decker which left the Bus Station on time. We all sat downstairs and had plenty of room. Upcoming stops were clearly indicated on a screen in the bus.

We travelled down Wellington Street past landmarks such as an ASDA store and the ITV Yorkshire studios, then on to Abbey Road. Soon the bus screen showed Kirkstall Abbey, but we didn’t need the reminder because the Abbey ruins had already begun to loom on our left. Off the bus and straight into the grounds and the combined entrance and visitor centre. Easy!

THE basics


At the Abbey
By Julie Badon and Diana Al-Saadi

The welcome was a positive one by the reception staff, and they were delighted to welcome us. Whilst the visit round the grounds is free to all Leeds residents - you do need to be able to provide proof to the front desk of your address. So useful if you have ID with you such as your driving licence, passport or current bill showing your address. They will issue you with a card pass that can be used for your next entry. Free Maps are available at the site to show you the different areas of the abbey as you walk around for example cloisters, vestry, night steps. Located in the entrance area are the toilets, which are easily accessible to all and nicely decorated with a picture of the Abbey. 


If you have a smart phone there is a QR code upon entry into the abbey grounds that you can use to receive a guided tour, which explains about the range of features in the Abbey, identifying exactly how the monks lived back in the 12th century. It was very useful to listen to the commentary as we walked round. For those who do not have a smart phone, there are signs and commentaries located around the Abbey.  


Following our tour round the Abbey and exit through the interesting shop, we crossed the road using the pedestrian crossing. We entered then the Abbey House Museum cafe where we were able to enjoy a warm drink, soup and a sandwich at reasonable prices. Toilets were located just in the museum entrance and again were easily accessible. The museum is interesting and has an old, cobbled street where you can enjoy original shops set out like Victorian times. Well worth a visit if you have the time. 


Finally we left the cafe and walked down the slope to the bus stop so we could return back into Leeds City Centre. A positive end to a grand day out at Kirkstall Abbey!


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By Paul Atkinson and Anne Chitty


Diana lives near the Abbey and is a regular visitor.


In 1996, I moved to West Park and regularly visited the Abbey because it has a lovely park as well. We used to ride the little train that used to go through to Kirkstall Bridge. The Abbey has always been a lovely place for Christmas concerts and services. Once a month on the last weekend they have a lovely market selling delicious food, beautiful garments, all sorts of things. It’s so delightful and is very well attended. How fortunate to have Kirkstall Abbey on our doorstep. We take it for granted, but it must be one of the most outstanding abbeys in the country.”

the writer

Raye is particularly interested in the look of the Abbey and the beautiful grounds.


I like the beauty, the regularity of everything. The sheer size of it, just the aesthetics. The look and shape of it, so different to a modern building. It’s lovely. There’s lots of atmosphere - the trees around are part of that and they’re natural. The shape of the building lends itself to a certain kind of behaviour. Living in an organised way the Cistercians certainly were very silent and private. It’s austere but beautiful.


Gary and Denise are brother and sister who grew up in Kirkstall. Gary lives locally but his sister Susan was visiting from further afield.
GARY: We’ve lived here in Kirkstall since 1960. The Abbey used to be better when it was free obviously, but the improvements are tremendous, what they’ve done now to make it more sociable for people to come. We were just talking and reminiscing, how good it is for children now to come and play and how safe it is. I used to bring my two kids every week and we used to play hide-and-seek in amongst all the tombs and catacombs. It’s very easy to get to, easy for a bus from Leeds Bus Station, you arrive straight outside and you’ve got open-air entertainment. They have some very special events which are quite good and nice gentle walks. My sister hasn’t been for a long time because she lives in Burley-in-Wharfedale. This is an eye opener for her as she’s not seen how it’s changed.
DENISE: We used to play in the Cow Field when we were in our early teens which is across the road. Then we used to come here, it was one of our playgrounds. Probably not very safe and they certainly wouldn’t allow it now.”

 GARY: When I was 14 or 15, we used to come on a night-time, climb over the wall and come in when it was midnight and just wander around. It wasn’t very safe, and I wouldn’t advise it now. We never saw any ghosts or anything like that but when it’s dull and damp this part was a bit creepy. We used to spend many a time here when we were children, it was wonderful.”


Julie is part of the Shine Team and has some romantic tales.


I have heard from older people who say that Kirkstall Abbey was a place where they actually came along to meet their future partners. I know quite a number of couples who met and walked and spent a lot of time at Kirkstall Abbey and then got married. I guess that was just after the war.”


Gina is a student from India, visiting the Abbey with her friend.


I’m living near to here, so we’ve always seen this place. Daily we are passing through, so we just thought to come here. We like this place, but we don’t know what the history is. We are from India, and we are working in Leeds in a care home for the elderly people. I have been in the UK for 8 months and my friend only for 2. We particularly like that it is very calm here and I like it for mental peace. I like to sit here for some time, but also I like to spend time with friends and family.


Moira & her grandchildren were spending the day at the Abbey.


Reuben: I like coming here, I like running around.

Arthur: I love it because I love learning about castles.

Jenny: I like all the trails that they set up. My favourite thing is running around all the ruins.

Moira: It’s safe here, they can run around and there’s always something for them to do, some little trail, there’s plenty of space and it’s just nice. They usually come with their parents because they don’t live far away.



Kirkstall Abbey was founded the twelfth century by a wealthy nobleman called Henry De Lacy. The story goes that De Lacy fell seriously ill and promised that if he survived, he’d build an Abbey and dedicate it Mary, Mother of God. De Lacy did recover and set about building the Abbey at Barnoldswick. However, in 1132, a better site was found at St Mary’s Mount – later renamed “Kirkstall” (the place of the church). It was described as “a pleasant valley, with the River Aire running through the middle”. Construction began

using local stone and timber, covered with tiles. Monasteries were expected to be self-sufficient and all the work was carried out by the monks, especially the lay monks who were of poorer backgrounds.


Cistercian monks practised an ascetic way of life, in which privacy, silence and hard work were expected. The ornamental style of decoration adopted by Benedictine monks was not approved of – such as painted walls, stained glass windows, sculptures or pictures.


The main abbey took about 75 years to complete, but additions and alterations continued over the years. The Abbey was opened around 1152. Over the next three centuries monastic settlements in Yorkshire

prospered from the production of the superior local wool and other products. It is said that the resulting affluence had a moderating effect on the hitherto austere way of life of the monks.


The dissolution of the monasteries took place in the 16th Century. In 1542, Henry VIII gave Kirkstall Abbey to Thomas Cranmer. It later passed to the Brudenell family, who continued dismantling the site and re-using the stone. In 1889, the Abbey was sold to Colonel John North, who presented it to Leeds City Council. The Abbey is now part of Leeds Museums and Galleries and nowadays the cloister and grounds open for public events like concerts and theatre performances.


The outstanding architectural beauty of the original Abbey has been altered and adapted over time. Following Dissolution, much of the structure and artefacts were stolen or used elsewhere. Nevertheless, the story of Kirkstall Abbey, of the interior practices and status of the monks, their hard work, their care for the sick and needy, the background interplay between Church and State, provide rich and rewarding insights – even for today.


If you are inspired to visit Kirkstall Abbey yourself, do let us know how you get on. We’d love to hear from you. We’d love to print some of your experiences of the Abbey in a future issue of Shine. Email

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