Isle of Albion
One of Yorkshire's lesser known monastic houses.
Photographed: Monday 19th July 2004
Site rating:  

Byland abbey was originally founded by the Savigniac monks - a little-known order that was eventually absorbed into the Cistercian fold in 1147. Sent from mainland Europe to establish a foothold in Britain, they founded a colony at Furness in Cumbria. From there, a daughter house was founded - initially moving location a number of times before settling at its present site.

The location wasn't considered ideal (the name of the adjacent village - Wass - originates from an old English word for Swamp) but this doesn't appear to have posed much of an obstacle to the monks. Byland was soon considered to be one of the three great abbeys of the North, alongside Fountains and Rievaulx. At its height, Byland housed a population of over 200 residents - both monks and lay brethren. By the time of the dissolution in 1538, the abbey was in decline and only the abbot and 23 monks remained.

Byland Abbey is another splendid Yorkshire ruin that seems to flounder somewhat in the shadow of Fountains and Rievaulx. Despite that, this is still a truly impressive site, with substantial sections of the main church remaining in tact, and featuring the best preserved monastic floor tiles I've ever seen. And yet when I visited at the height of July, there were only a couple of other people here.

On the positive side, the absence of people makes this a pleasurable site to visit. It was so quiet, I expected to find the attendant asleep in his little booth. He certainly had little else to occupy his time.

And sleepiness is the order of the day here. The whole ruin seems to slumber in quiet forgetfulness, obliging you to tiptoe gently around lest you disturb the tranquillity that enfolds the place. The bank of trees rising gently on the slopes above the site helps to lend an air of rural solitude that benefits the atmosphere greatly. An easy site at which to enjoy some quiet daydreaming.