Long before Leeds was a settlement of any significance, Cistercian monks picked this rural spot on the banks of the River Aire to found a mighty medieval abbey. It thrived for nearly 400 years before being dismantled by King Henry VIII in the mid-16th century and absorbed into the fabric of Leeds city.
Gothic arches still soar beside riverbank grasses and tumbling walls now provide nesting grounds for pigeons, creating an atmospheric backdrop for programmes including the BBC’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Frankenstein’s Wedding, Kay Mellor’s Love, Lies and Records (BBC) and the Gunpowder miniseries starring Game of Thrones’ Kit Harrington
Now looming incongruously over the Leeds suburb of Kirkstall, the giant abbey ruins remain a picturesque window to Yorkshire’s past. In the 18th and 19th centuries they inspired artists such as JMW Turner and John Sell Cotman, and today the abbey’s bones form a stunning centrepiece to an area of parkland popular with Leeds residents.
Peering into its shadowy, vaulted walkways and abandoned courtyards, it’s easy to see how producers have used the abbey to bring to life dramatic tales – though it’s also featured in lighter-hearted programmes such as Don’t Tell the Bride (Ch4) and Emmerdale (ITV)
When it’s not playing a handsome part for film and TV producers, Kirkstall Abbey is also a celebrated local events venue that hosts street-food markets, Christmas parties and outdoor Halloween cinema pop-ups. It’s free to roam and well worth the short bus ride from Leeds city centre.