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I recently visited Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire during a day trip to Skipton. I've always known of its existence but I was never actually too sure exactly whereabouts it was. However whilst en route to Skipton I spotted a sign and decided that if I had enough time that I would pay it a visit.
The nearest village to Bolton Abbey is Bolton Bridge, which is about 6 miles (9 kilometres to the east of Skipton). Once you get to Bolton Bridge there are two different ways of accessing the abbey but both of them have to be on foot. The shortest walk is from the village centre where there is a large car park and visitor centre but be warned the pay and display car park here costs £6 no matter how long you stay. From the car park it is only a short walk to the top of the steps that lead down to the Abbey but the descent is quite steep. It can of course simply be viewed from the top but it isn't actually visible from the car parking area. The other option is via a footpath near to the Devonshire Arms Hotel just outside the village.
The latter option is certainly the one that I would recommend and not simply because it is possible to park close to the hotel free of charge. This walk follows the River Wharf and is very picturesque although I found it quite tricky to find the start of the footpath and I had to ask a local. Once you are on the path it is very flat and there is a large expanse of short green grass where sheep graze, which the footpath cuts through. It isn't possible to see the Abbey at the start of the route and it's a good few minutes before it comes into the view but keep following the river and you can't go wrong. It will take you about 20 minutes to walk to the Abbey along this route but it really is well worth the effort. The River Wharf is one is one the largest rivers in the Yorkshire Dales and Wharfedale is amongst the prettiest of the valleys in the area.
As the abbey comes into view the first thing that you will see is its huge ruined arch.. Adjacent to the ruins of the abbey there is a church and beyond this what looks like a castle. Intrigued about the castle I carried on. When I finally arrived I realised that the castle is actually a private house that like the abbey was once a part of the Duke of Devonshire's vast estate. I've no idea who lives here but it's a huge house and I guess its some very notable member of the original family. The church that is attached to the abbey is in very good condition and has been fully restored.
Augustinian monks founded the abbey in 1151 from an order from Lady Alice de Romille of Skipton Castle. At that time there was another smaller abbey at nearby Embsay that had been founded in 1120 and the monks moved to the newly built Bolton Abbey from there. The church was constructed in 1170 and is still used as a Parish Church today. It was one of the few churches in England to survive the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the reign of King Henry VIII but the Dissolution did mark the end of the end of the Abbey which was abandoned in 1539 and fell into a state of disrepair thereafter.
There is no admission charge to walk around the abbey (other than the pay and display car park) and it is also free to visit the church. Inside the church there is a large model showing how the original abbey would have looked as well as an aerial photograph of the estate.
If you are planning are walking in the area there are miles and miles of good quality footpaths (over 80 miles in fact!). The river can be crossed close to the abbey where there is a bridge or for those that are braver the river can also be crossed via a set of large stepping stones. The River Wharf is a fast flowing river with broad-leafed woodland on the far banking. There's plenty of wildlife to be seen along this walk or you can simply just enjoy the view and the clean fresh air. Because you are away from any roads or houses it is very peaceful and quiet and really does feel like you are in the middle of nowhere. The river is popular with anglers and is full of Brown Trout but fishing is strictly by permit only. Visitors should also note that there is no public access to most of the land and footpaths must be kept to at all times.
Facilities at the car park include a gift shop and a café, which is licensed to sell alcohol.
I've been to quite a few old abbeys and priories and this is amongst the best one I have visited. It setting certainly makes it unique and I'd definitely recommend a visit.