Britain's remarkable ruins

18 February 2019

Which of these ruins have you visited?

For Henry James a delight in ruins was a ‘heartless pastime’, but since antiquity humankind has been irresistibly drawn to these vestiges of the vanished past. Dreamy and beautiful, melancholy, broken, they speak volumes to us of our history.

In Northumberland Hadrian’s Wall, stretching 300 miles, reminds us of centuries of Roman occupation. The fractured remains of friaries, abbeys, monasteries, priories and nunneries recall the great land grab that was Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. The Civil War saw more wanton destruction. Fire, neglect, and the shifting sands of coast and time have wrought further destruction. Some great houses, such as Elizabethan Kirby Hall in Northumberland, have simply fallen into neglect. In Cornwall abandoned mines bear witness to the centuries of tin mining on the Atlantic shores.

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The sight of vandalised religious houses littering the land must have been a sore affront to the Tudor populace, but age lends a patina of romance, and from the latter 1800s, no confected ‘picturesque’ landscape was complete without its own ivy-swagged Gothic archway.

The Wye Valley, as Jane Eastoe reminds us in her new book, Ruins, for the National Trust, became the centre of domestic tourism, with Wordsworth penning ‘Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey’ (which, also, JMW Turner was moved to paint). Whitby Abbey would have its day, too, in the 1890s, upon the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

Exhorting us to ‘Discover Britain’s Wild and Beautiful Places’, Eastoe tells the stories of diverse ruins, from the enigmatic giants of Stonehenge, to Maunsell Fort, in the Thames Estuary, a legacy of WWII; from Tintagel Castle, steeped in the myth of King Arthur, to Cardoness Castle in Kirkcudbrightshire and ‘a cautionary tale of greed and violence’.

You can buy Ruins: Discover Britain's Wild and Beautiful Places by Jane Eastoe at the Saga Bookshop for £13.34 

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