Explore Turner’s World

Explore Turner's World - published in BBC Countryfile magazine
Explore Turner’s World – published in BBC Countryfile magazine

Step back in time to roam beautiful ruins immortalised two centuries ago by the great Romantic painter JMW Turner.

Ludlow Castle, Shropshire

Perhaps this romantic setting, on the banks of the River Teme, led Prince Arthur, brother of Henry VIII, to honeymoon at Ludlow Castle with his new wife, Catherine of Aragon. Sadly, he died not long after, but his heart remains buried nearby. Built as a Norman castle, it expanded into a fortified royal palace, and became the administrative centre for Wales. Abandoned in 1689, it quickly fell into ruin, enabling Daniel Defoe to declare it as the, “very perfection of decay.” Inspired, Turner sketched and painted the castle from several viewpoints along the River Teme, sections of which can still be walked today.
Open: Weekends, then daily from 15th February. Admission charges apply.

St Agatha’s Abbey, Yorkshire

Situated about 1½ miles from Richmond, this Premonstratensian abbey was inhabited by canons, not monks, who wore angelic white robes. These White Canons lived in what is now the best-preserved Premonstratensian abbey in Britain, inspiring Turner in to sketch the scene several times in 1816, and produce a watercolour in 1820. The romance of the venue is enhanced by its anomalies, for its layout doesn’t follow conventional abbey plans. Explore the grounds and fall in love with its location, sandwiched between the River Swale and the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales.
Open: Daily, 10am to 4pm. Admission Free

Conwy Castle, North Wales

Turner painted Conwy Castle several times, from different angles, and today these ruins are impressive from whichever direction you approach them. From the outside you’d be forgiven for thinking the castle was intact: its solidity owing much to the £15,000 Edward I spent creating this masterpiece. Inside, the ruins provide a marvellous indication as to the grandeur that once existed here. Believed to be one of the most impressive medieval fortifications surviving in Britain today, Conwy satisfies all the requirements of what a castle should have: fairy-tale turrets, fortified gateways, and spectacular views from the ramparts over sea and mountain.
Open: Mon to Sat: 10.00am to 4.00pm, Sun: 11.00am to 4.00pm. Admission charges apply.

Rochester Castle, Kent

This imposing ruin dominates the River Medway, which is the viewpoint Turner chose when sketching his watercolour around 1793. Today, the ruined keep is the tallest surviving medieval structure anywhere in Europe, at 113 feet. In 1215, rebel barons captured the castle, leading to a two-month siege, during which time King John destroyed one corner of the keep by undermining it, using the fat from 40 pigs, which were too big to eat, to fuel a fire to weaken the wooden supports. The ruins even inspired local author Charles Dickens to include them in The Pickwick Papers and The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
Open: Daily, 10am to 4pm. Admission charges apply.

Kirkstall Abbey, Leeds

Founded in 1152, Kirkstall Abbey has one of the best-preserved ground plans of an English Cistercian abbey in England. Take a wander through the romantic ruins that attracted JMW Turner in 1798, where he captured the abbey’s refectory on canvas. Situated on the banks of the River Aire, it’s the perfect setting for an afternoon stroll, and only three miles from Leeds City Centre. Follow in the footsteps of Lacey Turner, Andrew Gower and David Harewood, who played the lead roles in the BBC Three production of Frankenstein’s Wedding, broadcast live from this romantic setting in March 2011.
Open: Daily, 10am to 4pm. Admission Free.

© Simon Whaley