England has always been famous for Castles, Cathedrals, Kings and Queens, and the battles and wars fought in thirst for power! Being relatively new to England and wanting to learn more about it’s history, Sneha asked Paul where were the best but lesser known places in Yorkshire for a day out to explore it’s history. And despite having lived in the region for over 15 years he wasn’t sure… so we set out together to find out!
Having become English Heritage members during the coronavirus pandemic, we thought where better to start our hunt for history than at the best English Heritage sites in South Yorkshire.
English Heritage is a charity which manages some of the best-known historical sites in England… Stonehenge, Tintagel Castle, and large parts of Hadrian’s Wall. But in total there are over 400 sites under their management across the country, so there are also some hidden gems amongst them! If you’re wondering which sites are close to you then check on the website… just enter your postcode and there is a cool interactive map that will give you the answer right away… https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/
Our day starts off in Barnsley at Monk Bretton Priory, with us arriving just as the gates are opening at 10am.
The Priory was founded in 1154 as a daughter house to nearby Pontefract Priory, but soon after the two houses became embroiled in a war which would last almost a century, until Monk Bretton switched from being a Cluniac Order and became a Benedictine house in 1281.
Read more about the Priory’s history: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/monk-bretton-priory/history/
Today you can explore the huge area of 12th century ruins and almost complete 15th century gatehouse… and in the peaceful morning sunshine we can almost hear the chants of the monks as they say their morning prayers!
The Priory must have been a huge imposing building in its time, and as we wander around the foundations there are many information signs telling the story of each room and how they would have looked.
It’s a fascinating step back to almost 1,000 years ago! Sneha wanted to take a 360 video of the place, but the place was so vast that it was difficult the capture the true tranquillity in a video. Check out a shot we captured after so many retakes by finding out a possibly good spot. You should definitely pay a visit to the place and it would be amazing to do so on a nice calm morning!
The priory can be found at Abbey Lane, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S71 5QD and is open daily 10am to 3pm.
It’s one of the free sites which English Heritage manage, so there really is no reason for anyone not to visit!
Being a free site there aren’t any toilets or refreshments available at the site.
Moving through the centuries our next stop is at the unusual Brodsworth Hall and Gardens.
On first sight you might wonder what’s so unusual about it… grand Victorian manor house tick, beautiful gardens tick.
But as you enter the house you realise… time has stood still, and the interior is just as it was in the mid-19th century when first built and lived in by the Thellusson family.
Read more about the Hall’s history: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/brodsworth-hall-and-gardens/history
‘Conserved as found’ is how English Heritage describe it, and as we walk through the grand hallway and explore the study and library, living and dining rooms on the ground floor, before descending to the kitchens and quarters in the basement, we could easily be in an episode of Downtown Abbey!
It’s really cool and the volunteers staffing the rooms offer interesting stories as we admire the fancy furniture and antiques… a huge gold clock catches my eye and I think how good that would look above my fireplace at home! (from the look of it it’s probably worth more than my house is!)
Unfortunately, the upstairs is closed as due to Covid isolations there aren’t enough volunteers available today to open the whole place up. But the living and kitchen areas are still well worth visiting, and we haven’t explored the gardens yet!
As we leave the house, we grab some lunch from the café before we head off in search of the gardens… and we get a little lost!
We go down a couple of dead-end paths and stumble across the pretty Church of St. Michael and All Angels and a kid’s adventure playground, before we give up and head back to the visitor centre at the entrance to ask for a map.
English Heritage are missing a trick here for me though… the only maps available are in the glossy brochure which you have to buy, having a free map of the grounds would have been a nice addition with the entrance fee. The staff are very helpful though and show us how to find them… turns out you have to continue walking past the house and they’re behind the croquet and bowling greens.
We watch the croquet players practice for a while and then enter the stunning gardens! They’re perfectly manicured and are a good mix of pretty flower beds, Italian-inspired statues and architecture, and feature alleyways and bridges to explore in all directions. Every turn of the garden surely gives you a view that will make you say “Wow”!
We could spend the whole afternoon exploring and relaxing the gardens, but we have more sights to see, so we have to drag ourselves away and hit the road again for our next stop of the day!
Brodsworth, Doncaster, DN5 7XJ and free parking is available within the grounds.
£12.60 for adults or free for English Heritage members.
There is an on-site café and toilets.
15-minutes away from Brodsworth Hall is the very impressive Conisbrough Castle.
The castle was the inspiration behind Sir Walter Scott’s 19th century novel Ivanhoe, and the Keep is unique in Britain, being described as “one of the finest examples of late Norman defensive architecture” by historians.
Read more about the Castle’s history: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/conisbrough-castle/history/
By luck we reach the castle 30-minutes before the next guided tour is due to begin, which gives us ample time to read about the castle’s history in the small exhibition in the visitor centre and gift shop.
There is also a very nice surprise in the gift shop… if you read our recent Robin Hood Hunt blog (https://www.troventrip.com/blog/the-robin-hood-hunt/) you’ll know of our disappointment not to find any mead to try… but here they have enough supply to keep Friar Tuck happy! We try a sample of the chilli flavoured mead which is delicious… a nice, sweet taste as it first hits your lips, followed by a warm burn as it goes down… it took us no time to buy couple of bottles and we highly recommend it!
The tour starts on the grass in front of the visitor centre and details the history of the Norman conquest of England in 1066 which led to the introduction of castles to England.
And then as we cross the defensive dry ditch and walk up the barbican to the gatehouse, the guide explains the S-shaped pathway which was built to hide what was around the corner from attacking armies… the guide does a great job at making it entertaining and being at the front of the group we almost succumb to the trap of being pushed to our death on the spikes below the drawbridge as the rest of the group rush around the corner with their swords held high! (a preferable death than what faced those at the back, with boiling water and sand being poured onto them from above which would burn them alive from inside the armour!!)
Once inside the castle the tour goes around the curtain wall explaining what rooms the foundations are from – the kitchens, the pit bathrooms, the grand halls, out of the place chimneys etc., the tales were pretty fascinating to listen to…
We then head to the Keep that is the highlight of the place and regarded as the architectural gem! Each floor of the Keep has a projection of one of the former occupants telling a short story of what life was like there, but it’s the view from the top which is the real highlight.
The castle towers over the town of Conisbrough and with the help of the information signs we can spot most of the sights in the town from up here, and after checking Google maps to orientate ourselves, we look out far into the distance and try and figure out just how far we can see… certainly far enough to spot any attacking armies long before they reach the town and castle!
Castle Hill, Conisbrough, Doncaster, South Yorkshire, DN12 3BU. Parking is available on the streets surrounding the castle, either on Castle Hill itself or we parked on Dale Road.
Entrance costs £6.90 for adults, or free for members.
There is an on-site shop selling refreshments and souvenirs as well as a toilet.
Our last stop for the day takes us another 15-minutes towards Rotherham, and the fourth and final English Heritage site in South Yorkshire, Roche Abbey.
This one is a little tricky to find… after taking a couple of wrong turns (maybe a little my fault), we take the right one and start heading down a narrow country road. After a few metres it turns into more of a track, before changing again into very bumpy cobbled road! As we edge our way along we’re wondering if this is the right way… it doesn’t exactly seem like the entrance to a tourist site! But I guess when the Abbey was built in the 12th century the monks probably didn’t plan to have visitors trying to drive their cars there 900 years later!
The Abbey is today’s oldest site dating back to 1147 and was founded by monks who walked from Northumberland to establish a new monastery. It’s located in a valley which was once at the northern end of Sherwood Forest, and it’s said Robin Hood attended mass here!
Read more about the Abbey’s history: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/roche-abbey/history
Today it’s set in a beautiful location with the valley having been landscaped by England’s greatest gardener, Capability Brown, and it’s the perfect location to slowly wander around and relax in after the busy day we’ve had.
As we enter the grounds, we can hear the rushing water of the waterfall and stream which runs through the middle of the site and it’s really peaceful, and this atmosphere continues as we explore the abbey ruins and foundations. The rhythmic sound of the little waterfalls surely makes the mood melodious. It just seemed like the perfect place for a poet to do a poetry, for an author to write a book, or for TrovenTrippers to write our Blogs! ?
It’s a great place to finish our day and we’re the last to leave as the volunteers are waiting to close the entrance as we head home.
Maltby, Rotherham, South Yorkshire, S66 8NW, with free parking at the end of the winding country lane off the A634.
Entrance costs £5 for adults, or free for members.
There is an on-site shop selling refreshments and souvenirs as well as a toilet.
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