Sunday, 24 April 2011

Thornton Abbey

Above, the impressive gatehouse facade and barbican leading to it from the car park.

Easter Sunday – if you celebrate tradition, Happy Easter. I do miss not having an Easter egg – send me one in your thoughts.

Today I thought I’d take advantage of the sun and, with a friend, drove across the Humber Bridge into sunny North Lincolnshire and paid a visit to Thornton Abbey. This is an English Heritage site so it cost a couple of bob to get in but for a local, it’s worth every penny.

Thornton Abbey - sounds like a BBC drama series!

Now this isn’t Alton Towers, no rides, no attractions nor is there anything to do particularly; this is a place of tranquillity, peace and quiet in the middle of lovely countryside.

Thornton Abbey these days consists of a huge and unique gatehouse, lots of green field and a ruined Church. Nice weather was a big benefit today because it’s a popular spot for visitors to have picnics on the lovely grass in amongst the ruins of the Church.

The Church was founded as long ago as 1139 for Augustinian Canons and indeed on the front of the gatehouse is a surviving statue high up on the wall of St. Augustine himself. William le Gros, Lord of Holderness and Earl of Yorkshire, the founder is buried in the Abbey grounds.

What is impressive about this place is the incredible, unique and imposing 14th century gatehouse as you enter the site via a barbican, a sort of causeway from the car park. I can honestly say I’ve never seen such a strange construction and you can enter the gatehouse and move up to the upper floors up spiral stone staircases.

Above, one of the many twisting passageways on the upper floors

Hidden everwhere are hundreds of carvings, gargoyles, faces, weird creatures, green men, statues, some weird, some frightening, some benign, some weathered beyond recognition but all entertaining in their own way.

Uneven brick narrow passageways is the only way to visit the first floor great hall which is now a sort of history of the Abbey which is very informative. This used to be the Abbot’s court room.

Up to the second floor and there is a large hall; wooden floorboards, bare and expansive, it is atmospheric. It was probably divided into smaller rooms centuries ago. Leaded windows provide a dusty view onto the outside world. Sadly, I guess that for severely physically disabled people, a trip up to the upper floors of the gatehouse is not possible, even if you could get up the narrow spiral staircases; there are multi levels and steps in the passageways. (The grounds offer no such obstacles.)

Above, the second floor hall, which was probably sectioned into many rooms, centuries past.

Leaving the gatehouse you wander across a lovely meadow and grassed path with earthworks either side demonstrating evidence of centuries of activity in the grounds behind the security of the gatehouse.

Above, on the grass path looking back to the inside of the gatehouse

Arriving at the derelict church, the chapel still survives and on a rainy day, you can get a small amount of cover to keep dry which I think is in the surviving parlour. The outline of the church is still there and very clear and there are gravestones which are protected by plastic sheeting which is a shame because they can’t be read. The nave and cloisters can be seen in the walls that remain.

Above, the northern nave wall looking back toward the gatehouse

The atmosphere in the grounds is wonderful. No sound of traffic, sheep bleating in a nearby field, skylarks twittering high above the field, a heron floats lazily by toward the Humber and a swan passes by in the opposite direction toward nearby ponds. Crows, ravens, swifts, pigeons, finches flit and call; insects, bees, butterflies go from dandelion to clover to lilac to chestnut tree flowers all of which provide a heady scent on the warm, sunny, spring breeze. Trees and bushes are dotted everywhere surrounding the site. I watched for ages a tiny, tiny bee with legs laden with pollen looking for more in the microscopic plants hidden in the grass.

Even if you don’t believe in God, it can’t be denied that nature is bloody wonderful.

If you have to travel a long way and don’t have an interest in the history and can’t marvel in the elaborate buildings, then this is probably not for you. But if you ever end up near Scunthorpe or the Humber Bridge and have a couple of hours to spare – go for it – you won’t be disappointed.

It’s open 10am to 6 pm most days; it has a car park, very small shop and excellent toilet facilities. The sat nav will take you straight there with ‘DN39 6TU.’ If you need any more information, contact English Heritage on

I hope you are enjoying all this lovely spring weather in the UK although a lot of you have had rain and a few thunderstorms – nothing like that here although we do need the rain.

Chat soon



  1. You know what I like about you ? You appreciate that which is right under your nose.And you do a fine job of sharing it with others. Well done. Happy Easter

  2. Thank you for your guided tour of Thornton Abbey. Most enjoyable, but next time could we have the sound effects to go with it too :-)

  3. Donna
    You are so kind and I hope you have an excellent Easter too. My ex-colleague who is 60 and just retired has decided to spend the next couple of years exploring his own county and country, something, he says, he's never really done. It's all on the doorstep.

    Hi Jarmara
    Thank you for your kind comment. The sound effects would make you drift off with the lightest of hearts and with all the love of everything and everyone about you!

  4. It sounds and looks a really interesting place, but I think I'll have to put it down as one for when I find steps less of an issue!

    I'm sorry you didn't get an easter egg 'though ...everybody should have at least one! xx

  5. Interesting post. I agree about Nature. My husband likes to say, wryly, "Isn't evolution brilliant to have designed a peacock's feather?"

  6. Hi Elizabeth
    You'd enjoy it without going into the gatehouse. Hope that issue gets resolved soon. I sort of love Easter eggs for their taste and fun factor (refridgerated and brittle chocolate) but I sorta don't need the calories.

    Hi ChrisJ
    Yes indeed it is - nature is incredible and although we heard the call of a peacock at Thornton Abbey - we never saw it.

  7. As a bit bit of a history buff, after all these years I still get annoyed at the beauty that was destroyed by 'our 'eneriy. Still it led to the freedom to worship. So that's a plus.

    I reluctantly agree though. There is a beauty in ruin.

  8. Hi Wheelie - interesting view point. I agree there's a sort of sad beauty in such places, I tend to find they are fairly serene places in which meditation is easy and welcomed.

    Henry was a strange character and despite a few books I've read about him, his life and wives etc., I'm not sure I can sum up the driver which turned him into what it did. Simply the desire of a son? I doubt it.