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Furness Abbey (Barrow-in-Furness)

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Address: Barrow-in-Furness / Cumbria / England

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      17.03.2009 12:22
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      The second richest abbey in Britain and truly magnificant to look at.

      I have been here many times and it is one of my favourite places on earth, I just had to suggest it to Dooyoo and share this gem with fellow Dooyooers. My first memory of coming here is from about age 6 when I went one evening with my Grandad. The best memories I have of the Abbey were of before the visitor centre opened as it is today. My Grandad who knew everyone, knew one of the care takers and we would often jump the fence (naughty I know so don't arrest me) in the early evening when the abbey closed.

      I love history, old buildings and atmospheric places so this place ticks all the boxes for me. I have fond memories of coming here with my Grandad and listening to his tales (unsure if they are all true but it didn't really matter) Perhaps it is my memories of spending time with my Grandad and family picnics I cherish more than the actual Abbey but the two are intertwined for me.

      **** Where is it and how to get there ****

      Furness Abbey is situated on the outskirts of Barrow- in- Furness near Dalton around 5miles from Ulverston. For those of you who don't know Barrow-in- Furness is in Cumbria, North West England on the coast of Irish sea. It is on the borders of the Lake District a nice area to visit.

      To get here exit the M6 onto the A590 and follow the signs for Barrow in Furness. The scenery along this route is spectacular with lots of other things to look out for. The Abbey is well sign posted as a visitor attraction. There is free car parking ourside the visitor centre.

      There is also a railway station in Barrow-in - Furness with regular links to Lancaster and Blackpool. I think there is a bus that runs from near the railway station to the Abbey but this might involve quite a lengthy walk.


      **** History ****

      The history of Furness Abbey dates back to William the Conqueror and the Norman invasion. Furness belonged to Roger de Poictou, a Norman Lord who was granted this land for services to William, however he was banished from the kingdom and the land passed to Stephen, the Earl of Bolgne and later the King of England. The Normans were superstitious and therefore donated large areas of land to monastries in an attempt to save their souls. In 1127 Stephen gifted the 'forest of Furness' to Ewan d'Avranches who was the abbot of a small monastry at Tulkeith. He along with 12 other monks then moved to Furness.

      It is unsure exactly what order thw buildings that make up the Abbey were built in but it is assumed that a prayer room and sleeping quarters would have been built first. In 1147 the Abbey was taken over by the Cistercian Order - a Roman Catholic Order often refered to as the White Monks. They rebuilt the original church with a particularly ornate one. Most of the other buildings are dated in the 12th and 13th centuries. By the 15th century Furness Abbey was only second to Fountain Abbey in North Yorkshire in terms of wealth. There are strong links between the Abbey and the Isle of Man. The monastry owned mines on the island and built Peil castle to establish and maintain links. Salt and wool were the main sources of income for the monks at Furness Abbey.

      Being based so close to the Scottish- English border it is no wonder that the Abbey came under threat. After being raided by the scots in 1316 when the Abbey suffered serious damage Dalton Catle was built nearby to provide some protection. It is said that the Abbot reportedly paid Robert the Bruce (a bribe) as insurance to protect the Abbey. This ransom failed and the Abbey was pillaged and burnt by the Scots many times until 1346.

      The Abbey was closed in 1537 as part of King Henry VIII reign of supremacy over the church and the dissolution of the monastries. The Abbey was demolished soon after with the red sand stone and lead from the Abbey roof being used in other nearby building.

      ***** The Abbey ****

      Situated in vast woodland and between grassy hills Furness Abbey is idyllic and tranquil especially in autumn evenings. We have spent many summer days walking in the nearby woods, having picnics and playing football in the nearby fields. There is a natural ampitheatre opposite the Abbey which is an ideal spot picnis and a kick around. We just had to be near the Abbey to experience the atmosphere surrounding it.

      Built of red sandstone over 700 years ago most of the Abbey is now in ruins, although it is still possible to see the layout of the different buildings. The buildings that visibly made up the Abbey are the Church with its north and south Transept and Tower,the dormitory, infirmary and kitchen. Also visible are the cemetry, the Cloister Court, the Precinct, Outer court and Chapter House.

      As children we used to play hide and seek in amongst the ruins as there are countless arches and doorways to hide in. Some parts are now roped off as an attempt by English Heritage to preserve the sandstone. Twenty years ago none of us considered that climbing the steps and posing for a photograph would damage this magnificent structure.


      **** Museum and Visitors Centre ****

      The visitors centre has a large number of brochures and information guides available in different languages. When I went you were also able to get headsets that provided a commentary of a guided tour as you walked through the Abbey. Again this was in a choice of several languages. We tried using the head sets once and found otherselves completely lost and not following the same path as the guide. Not sure anyone else could manage this but me! I guess I was too used to following 'our' route. The good thing about this however is that because you all have individual headsets you can stroll around at your own pace by pausing the guide.

      There are souvenirs available too. Everything from the usual post cards and book marks to mugs, books and t shirts. There is also a small selection of local history books. Most of which are at reasonable prices.

      It has been a while since I visited so I am unsure of current admission prices. They weren't outrageous when I went. The phone number is at the bottom of this review if you want to find out prices and opening times.

      The museum is home to many artefacts including old pots and tools excavated from near. There are also tombs and the remains of the King of the Isle of Man, King Ronald I can be found here


      **** Myths, Legands and folklore ****

      It has been said that there are Ley tunnels under Furness Abbey linking it to both Dalton Castle and Piel Castle to allow the monks an escape route if under attack. It is not refuted that these castles and the Abbey had strong ties as Peil castle was built to strengthen trade links with the Isle of Man and Dalton Castle built to offer the Abbey some protection.

      It is also said that the Holy Grail and King John's missing Jewels are hidden someone near or in these tunnels. I remember my Grandad telling me about these tunnels and feeling excited at the prospect. (I even wrote an adventure story about finding these treasures) Saying this though there was also the disbelief that Peil castle was so far away. Saying that though if they can create a structure this magnificant without the technology we have today then what is to say they didn't have the ability to tunnel.

      My Grandad saw a monk here. My Grandad was not religous (he was protestant my gran catholic) and he didn't take any nonsense from anyone. He told me he went to the Abbey one evening and say a monk clear as day walking around the Abbey. He knew it wasn't a person but was sure it was there. Now okay there are ghost stories about all old buildings and I remain open minded but coming from my Grandad who was a complete non believer and skeptic felt spooky. There are also report of a headless monk seen wondering around and a woman on white horse.

      A story that was often told when I was younger was the story of the ringing of the bells. Apparently soldiers coming to attack the Abbey missed it completely as it was hidden in the valley. To celebrate the monks then rang the bells. Obviously this gave them away and led to one of the fiercest attacks the Abbey encountered. This to me was a bit like the typical Irish joke and I'm not sure it holds any truth but it made everyone laugh.



      **** Extra information ****

      There is nowhere to buy snacks or drinks inside the Abbey so I would reccomend you take something with you. Technically picnics are not allowed to be brought into Abbey grounds but there is the wooded area near by or the car park. Also take a camera because trust me you will want some pictures to enhance the memories you take away with you.

      We would often go for lunch and drinks at the Abbey Tavern. You pretty much have to drive past it to get to the Abbey. We always experienced great service and reasonable prices. There is also the Abbey House Hotel which is a renovated old private house. There are reviews on this site about this hotel.

      For a virtual look around the Abbey
      www.dalton-in-furness.org.uk/dalton-online/abbey-tour/index-abbeytour.html

      The pictures are great but cannot replace visiting for yourself.

      ***** My opinion *****

      You have to visit if you are in this area of the country. The size of the Abbeys structures and knowing they are still standing (well some bit of them) after 700 years is awe inspiring. The scenery is breath taking and has to be explored. The atmosphere however is the biggest attraction for me. It is so hard to explain the tranquility and mysteriousness of the Abbey but go take a look for yourself.

      It isn't just me who fell in love with the Abbey. William Wordsworth visited several times and refers to it in his poetry and Turner has made painting of it.

      For further information the telephone number is 01229 823420

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    • Product Details

      Is a former Cistercian monastery situated on the outskirts of the Cumbrian town, Barrow-in-Furness