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Since moving to the northeast, Fountains Abbey had long been on our hit-list of must-visit places. So, when we eventually, got there was it worth the wait or a monumental disappointment? Only one way to find out: read on...
Getting to Fountains Abbey by car is a pretty easy affair. From the A1 follow the signs to Ripon and there are plenty of brown signs which direct you to the Abbey which stands on a major road just outside Ripon. There's a large on-site car park, so at peak times parking should be OK. The only downside is the car park's slightly confusing one-way system, which is not particularly well-signed.
Quick History Lesson
Founded in the 1200s as a Cistercian monastery, Fountains Abbey grew into one of the wealthiest and most influential monastic houses in the country. As with all monasteries, it was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s and passed into the hands or Henry's servant, Sir Richard Gresham, sold off the stone, allowing the site to fall into ruin. Today, it is managed by the National Trust and is one of Yorkshire's most popular tourist sites.
The Abbey Today
It's not hard to see why people flock to Fountains. The ruins are surrounded by some spectacular north Yorkshire scenery (including a river running through the centre of the site) which help to give some idea both of the scale and the isolation of the place. All I can say is that if it is this spectacular now, how spectacular would it have been at its zenith?
There are plenty of good paths leading you round some of areas, although the main part of the abbey still standing is mostly grass, so a decent pair of walking shoes should be taken. It's also almost entirely in the open air, so you need to choose the day of your visit carefully and go when reasonable weather is expected. On a gloriously sunny day, there is no finer sight. On a wet one, I would imagine it's rather miserable and desolate.
You might also want to time your visit carefully. We went in early July and the site was already pretty busy. I suspect that during the school holidays that it gets packed. Fountains is a place which is best appreciated when you have time to stop and stare and reflect on its beauty, so if you're the kind of person who enjoys a leisurely look around, you might want to try and avoid periods when hordes of screaming kids might be running around!
To give you a sense of the site's history, there's an excellent exhibition housed in the old Porter's lodge, and I'd recommend starting here. This has a number of informative and interesting boards containing the story of Fountains and its inhabitants from its earliest days through to its dissolution and beyond. A fantastic model of the abbey dominates the room and gives you some idea of its size and scale at the height of its powers.
Once you know a little bit about the history of Fountains, you will appreciate the impressive ruins themselves more. It's surprising how much remains intact. As you approach the ruin, it appears only the tower (completed just 40 years before the monastery was dissolved) still stands, with the rest just crumbling walls and broken stonework. As you explore further, it's clear that an awful lot has survived. In some cases, whole rooms remain standing with deeply impressive vaulted roofs, whilst elsewhere you can see some of the original colourings and decorations on the floor tiles. Just wandering around the ruins gives you some idea of how stunning the completed building must have looked.
The ruins are so extensive that they will easily take you an absolute minimum of an hour to look around properly. Wandering around, you will be impressed by the vision and engineering skill of medieval masons in building such an impressive structure, whilst you'll also be left with a slight melancholic feel at the acts of state-sponsored vandalism which allowed them to fall into ruin.
But that's not all!
The monastery itself is fantastic, but Fountains Abbey offers more than just the ruins. In addition to the monastery itself, the site contains a working water mill (although, sadly, it was broken when we visited) which contain some informative displays, together with some more interactive elements to keep kids entertained. Fountains Hall (used as a private residence after the Dissolution) is very impressive, particularly from the outside. It's a shame that you can only actually see three sparsely furnished rooms (the rest are used as staff or holiday flats), but again, these give you some idea of how grand it must have been.
Keep walking past the Abbey and you come to Studley Gardens and Deer Park - access to which is included in the admissions price. These feature plenty of places to walk around the impressive landscaped gardens which contain several follies. Even if you don't particularly enjoy gardens or parklands, these provide a very pleasant area in which to walk and are impressive in their scale and ambition. Sadly, the lake, a centrepiece of the gardens was being drained in 2010 when we went, so the area was a bit of a mess, full of diggers and large piles of silt.
Slightly further on still is the church of St Mary, a Victorian Gothic Revival church built to serve Studley estate in the 1800s. The interior of this church was designed by William Burges (who also redesigned Cardiff Castle) and who had a very distinctive style. Never one to be accused of understatement Burges designed St Mary's in a riot of colour - all gold ceilings with ornate paintings of birds, animals and angels. He also liked to play little games with his audience and hid features amongst the décor (try to find, for example, the carvings of a stone snail and a mouse). Burges' style is completely over the top and not to my taste, but the church is still worth a visit.
There is so much to Fountains Abbey that you really need to allow yourself a complete day to do justice to it. You also need to be prepared to do quite a bit of walking as the various parts are sprawled across the site. Despite good pathways, large parts may also be inaccessible for wheelchair users, or those not too good on their feet, so it's not an attraction for everyone.
Facilities are also a little limited. Although there is a large cafe at the entrance, there was only one other place we came across the get something to eat or drink, at the Studley end of the site. Similarly, although there are plenty of toilet facilities, these are sometimes quite far apart, so be warned!
The cost of an adult ticket for 2011 is £9, £4.85 for children (free for National Trust or English Heritage members). This might sound like quite a lot, but there' so much to see and do that you could easily spend the whole day there, so it represents pretty good value for money.
I can definitely recommend Fountains Abbey, as there is something for everyone. If you enjoy looking at old ruins, the abbey remains are second to none; if you like walking, there are plenty of landscaped gardens to walk around, or if you like more recent history, the working mill will be the place for you. Well worth a visit!
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens
Ripon Nr Harrogate
North Yorkshire, UK
Tel: 01765 608888
© Copyright SWSt 2011
For the last day of our recent trip to Yorkshire, we decided to stop off at Fountain's Abbey, which is just outside Ripon, not far from the popular spa town of Harrogate. Now I visited this place around 25 years ago, but being 4 or 5 at the time, don't remember a thing about it, but the place came highly recommended by friends, and we had seen it on a tourist information centre leaflet, so thought we'd give it a look see.
Now to give the place its full title would be Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, and the National Trust owns it. As I said it is situated just outside of Ripon in North Yorkshire, and if approaching by road, is signposted extensively from all approach routes, and a very large free car park is situated on site. There is also a shuttle service which runs from Ripon in the peak season, and timetables are available online. There is no train service to Ripon, but bus services to Ripon are available from stations at Harrogate and York.
As I said, the National Trust owns the site, and so an admission price is payable. The cost is £9 for adults and £4.85 for children under 16. This is pretty standard for a tourist location these days, so shouldn't put people off. Admission is free to members of either the National Trust or English Heritage, as well as the under 5's who I am sure will be delighted to hear!!! Dogs are welcome on the site as long as they are kept on a lead at all times, and the opening time is 10am, closing at 4pm off peak and 5pm in the summer months. It should be said that wheelchairs are available when booked from the visitor centre, but there are some steep gradients and stony paths throughout the site, meaning that I wouldn't really recommend a visit for those with mobility issues.
Fountains Abbey is set in 800 acres of beautiful Yorkshire countryside and is the largest site of monastic ruins in the United Kingdom, and was founded in the 12th century by a group of Benedictine Monks. The abbey quickly became one of the richest monasteries in the country and continued to prosper until the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. From then on the site switched between wealthy merchants and landowners, until the National Trust acquired it 1983, and in 1988 it was awarded its World Heritage Site status.
The ruins of the abbey are approximately 10 minutes walk from the main visitor centre, however there is a very steep gradient down to them. On the right hand side just before the hill is an activity centre for children, which seemed to be quite popular as we walked past and on towards the valley. However as you stroll through the trees, the first glimpse of them is absolutely amazing. Firstly just the top of the tower is visible, but gradually more and more becomes visible as you descend into the valley below. The abbey is located just off the bank of the River Skell, a small little river, which has been skilfully manipulated by various owners of the land to form the Studley Royal Water Garden that lies beyond the abbey. At the bottom of the hill there is a huge grassy area, with the ruins set in the centre of it. The day we visited, this area was packed with people lying out in the warm April sunshine, and also with picnickers snacking away - A good idea, one that we were sorry we hadn't thought of earlier! You are able to walk through the ruins, but one thing that slightly disappointed me was the lack of information boards explaining what each chamber or room was used for. To be fair, there was a guided tour around the ruins, which would probably have explained all of that, but sometimes you just want to wander around and enjoy an attraction without the formality of guided tours. In addition a guide book was available on entry for £5, but for once I refused to give into temptation and didn't purchase one!!!
Once down into the river valley, the path is reasonable flat, although it is stony so care is still required whilst walking around. You receive a free map on arrival, and a circular path is marked on it, so we chose to follow this in an anticlockwise direction, which initially took us over the river and around the back of the ruins, which gave a different perspective on the abbey. It is clear to see why the monks chose this as a site for their monastery, for as well as the sheer beauty of the area, the valley makes it a very secluded and defendable position should the need have arisen.
As you walk away from the abbey, it is worth turning around occasionally as there are some perfect picture opportunities with the river in the foreground and the ruins in the background. Around 15 minutes of walking time, you reach the water gardens. Basically this is where the river has been channelled into several small lakes, with a large one at the far end. In these rivers are statues and water lilies, as well as many species of wild fowl. The path meanders around with small paths off to other small attractions such as the banqueting house and Anne Boleyn's Seat, which are generally up very steep hills however.
At the lake at the far end, the path arcs around and you start the walk back to abbey. It should be noted that there is a rather narrow walkway over the entrance to the lake, with no barriers, which is a bit of a squeeze when people are coming in both directions, and it may be worth keeping small children close to hand whilst crossing! The path continues to wind through the woodland on the far side of the river, and after another 15 minutes the ruins of the abbey will again come into view. The complete circuit is just over 1 mile long, and will take roughly 1 hour to complete, depending on how often you stop. All that remains is to trudge wearily back up the steep slope towards the visitor centre.
You exit as usual for this type of attraction through the gift shop, selling the usual array of gifts, as well as a few plants, and confectionary. As it was around 2pm as we left the abbey, we decided to have a bite to eat, as there is a restaurant next to the visitor centre. As it was a Sunday, they were serving a choice of beef or pork with all the trimmings, as well as a salmon dish, salads, cakes, drinks and sandwiches. The restaurant was very spacious and clean, with an outdoor area with a playground attached to keep the kids entertained. The food was brought out to the table, and after a wait of no more than 5 minutes, it arrived. I had the roast pork, and my wife had the salmon dish. Both were cooked very well and for a cost of around £8 proved pretty good value for money. We left the restaurant happily full up, and noticed that there was also an ice cream bar which was very popular due to the weather that day. There were also toilets, which were very clean and tidy.
To sum this place up is very easy really. It is definitely somewhere which should be on your "to do" list if you are visiting the area. The ruins themselves are breathtaking, and the walk along the beautiful river with the lakes made this a truly special day, and one, which we will definitely repeat the next time, we are in Yorkshire.
Thanks for taking the time to read this, and this review also appears on Ciao under my same username.
On a recent break in Ripon, North Yorkshire, I took time out to visit one of my favourite places, Fountains Abbey.
Situated 4 miles west of Ripon, just off the B6265, Fountains Abbey is very easy to find by following the brown tourist signs. It is also only 8 miles from the A1 and easily reached from Harrogate and York.
If using public transport then bus services are in operation direct from Leeds, or alternatively the 'Ripon Roweller' runs from Ripon to Fountains Abbey daily.
The postcode for sat nav is HG4 3DY.
A LITTLE HISTORY
The beautiful Abbey ruins are the largest monastic ruins in the country. Founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks who were seeking a simple way of life. They later became Cistercian monks and the Abbey was the richest Cistercian Abbey in the country.
The Abbey was then ruined by Henry VIII in 1539, following his dissolution of the monasteries. This led to the Abbey and the land being sold to a merchant, Sir Richard Gresham, and the Abbey was passed down through generations of his family, before finally being sold to Stephen Proctor, who built Fountains Hall partly with stone from the Abbey ruins.
The Studley Royal Estate, which was a separate estate from Fountains Abbey until 1767, was inherited by John Aislabie in 1693. After his expulsion from Parliament in 1721 (following the South Sea Bubble scandal) he devoted himself until his death in 1742 to creating the Water Garden.
His son William completed the transformation of the wild and wooded valley after he purchased the Abbey ruins in 1767, and also landscaped the Seven Bridges Valley and the Abbey grounds.
VISITING THE ABBEY AND STUDLEY ROYAL
Visiting Fountains Abbey on a warm day in summer is an ideal day out. Take a picnic as there are large grassy areas which are ideal to spread out your picnic blanket. However, visiting Fountains Abbey can be just as nice at any other time of year. It is just as picturesque in the winter, particularly when there is a frost on the ground.
On the day of my visit it was sunny and quite a mild November day. The Abbey, which is flanked by two large lawns, looked as stunning as ever with its cliff faces to either side and the river Skell running through the valley and under The Abbey.
We visited the Cellarium, where the roof has remained intact. This is where the lay brothers ate and slept beneath this amazing vaulted ceiling, which somehow managed to escape Henry VIII's brutal 16th century dissolution of the abbeys.
There are now over eight species of bats living in the ceiling, which are of course a protected species.
Moving on to the Cloisters, this was used for meditation and exercise by the monks and many rooms lead off from this area, including the warming room where the huge fireplace is still predominant.
Up a staircase above the warming room, is the muniments room where the monks kept all their important documents. Keeping these documents above the warming room ensured that they were kept dry. The floor tiles in this room have recently been refurbished and the room is now open to visitors, so it was good to see a part of the Abbey I had not seen on previous visits.
The Studley Royal Water Garden has not changed much in over 200 years. The temples and statues reflecting in the ponds and canals. There is a beautiful cascade of water with mini waterfalls leading down from the Abbey to the Water Garden. Looking up to the Abbey from is an amazing view that I never tire of.
I will mention here that this is also a great place to take the kids as they can run off steam, and enjoy the children's play area, activity barn and follow the nature trails.
We visited the Deer Park, which is the oldest part of the Studley Royal estate and dates from the medieval period. There are 500 Wild Red, Fallow and Sika deer grazing there.
Fountains Hall and St Mary's Church are also worth a visit. The gothic church is richly decorated and services are held there regularly.
We thoroughly enjoyed a long stroll around the Abbey and gardens in the November sunshine, and finished off with a coffee at the visitor centre restaurant.
One of the things I enjoy the most about visiting Fountains Abbey is the feeling of peace and tranquility there, no matter how many people are visiting. It is a beautiful and very atmospheric place.
Throughout the year there is a programme of activities and events at Fountains Abbey, with everything from Abbey tours to Medieval re-enactments.
In the run-up to Christmas, there are carols by candlelight, Christmas story-telling and sessions for children to make Christmas decorations for the trees or to take home. There is also a special Christmas Abbey tour.
Overall this is great place to visit no matter what the time of year. The Abbey and grounds are stunning and it is a place I return to again and again.
Opening times are 10am - 5pm (4pm in winter months)
Admission is £8.25 for adults and £4.40 for children, with family tickets (2 adults & 3 children) available for £22. Under 5's are admitted free.
Of course if you are a member of English Heritage or National Trust then admission is free.
For more information tel. 01765 608888 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
We went to Fountains Abbey today (18th April). A beautiful day which always helps. The main thing for me is how National Trust have a relentless approach to gaining cash from the unsuspecting tourist. Join them for £47 a year to gain free entrance to many of the countries most impressive houses and countryside but for those who go occasionally its not cost effective. The most annoying thing initially today was a quick lunch on arrival £3.10 to over £4 for a sandwhich! The entrance fee of £7.90 is expensive but the NT do a great job keeping the ground well maintained and the free guided tours are informative and well done by the volunteer guides. In summary its worth a trip out but bring a picnic!
The sun is gradually starting to linger that bit longer, we're edging that bit closer to the Easter holidays, and so I confess that I am now increasingly hankering after a family day out in our glorious British countryside with my personalized picnic-o-meter already at amber alert levels.
Today I'm going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of what has to be one of my all-time ultimate favourite day out destinations, a sublimely peaceful and inspiring place in the heart of North Yorkshire, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the true national treasure that is Fountains Abbey.
Fast Flowing History
Set in over 800 acres of rolling green landscapes in the Valley of the River Skell, on the outskirts of Ripon, the largest Monastic Ruins you'll find in this country still dominate the skyline and are beautifully interwoven with the surrounding water features
Founded by a small group of Benedictine Monks in the 12th century, through extensive trading and exporting of wool it rapidly achieved the status of being the richest Cistercian Abbey in the country by the middle of the 13th century. In 1539, all of its wealth and treasures were stripped away by as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the orders of King Henry VIII, the land was sold on to a merchant named Sir Richard Gresham.
In 1598, Stephen Proctor purchased the estate from Gresham's family and built an Elizabethan mansion in the grounds which he called Fountain's Hall, using original Abbey stones in its construction. Finally in 1767, William Aislabie who already owned the nearby Studley Royal estate, bought the Abbey and extended the stunning Water Gardens built by his father John to incorporate the Ruins into the landscape.
In 1983, the estate was bought by the National Trust and in 1988 it was awarded the highly prestigious World Heritage status.
Quick Visitor's Guide
The Abbey is very well signposted from the A1 in both directions, take the exit to the A61 via Ripon and follow the brown signs. There really is ample parking for cars and coaches, at the main entrance you will find row after row of gravel covered, tree lined parking bays. The visitors centre is a wonderful structure of light wood and slates, blended perfectly into its environment.
The most recently published entry prices for 2009 are (including Gift Aid) £8.25 for adult, £4.40 for a child, family £22
If like me you are fortunate enough to be members of either the National Trust itself or English Heritage you can enjoy all of this for free. Believe me, if you are wavering about become a member of either of these fantastic organisations, Fountain's Abbey is the kind of place that makes your mind up for you!
Time to explore!
OK, for me that's more than enough of the basics covered. It's time to take you on a journey through my eyes, so naturally the first thing that's caught my attention is the magnificent restaurant complex right by the entrance.
Oh yes, it's already high time for a cuppa and cake, and I'm sure you won't fail to be impressed by the restaurant facilities. Built in the same naturally blended woods and spacious style as the visitor centre, it is modern, family friendly and offers a fine selection of delicacies fit for even the most discerning of palates.
Luckily I'm just a greedy gannet who knows what he wants so I'll sit down and guzzle my coffee and walnut cake while you decide. The baby change facilities are really well thought out and clean, and depending on the weather, there's both an indoor and outdoor kids play area, boasting those giant versions of Connect 4 and the like. It's a great place for lunch or afternoon tea, tends to be a little on the expensive side, but definitely high quality of food and service. Remember we've brought a picnic basket - credit crunch and all that, plus I forgot to mention my mate Dave and his 3 girls have joined us, as well as my missus and our little man (amazing but on my lifetime English Heritage membership I can get all those adults and kids in for free!) so we can't hang around here all day....
The path to ruins
So, back through the visitor centre, off along the path we go. Hang on we've not gone 10 yards and little man's found some kind of mini maze thing carved in the grassy banks , like a mini outdoor amphitheatre - ahhh look the kids are running up and down, maybe those biscuits were a bad idea. OK we're back on track, round the corner, through the gate (don't look right don't look right -that's the adventure playground - save it for later, must save it for later...). Two path options down the hillside, a longer version for the discerning walkers with more time or the straight down and charge plan for the weary parents to play catch up with the little bundles of energy. Into the trees, there's a steep path down to the left - keep hold of them. As you get to the bottom, you'll get a first view of the main Abbey buildings - impressive....
Now on this particular occasion there happens to be some kind of medieval living re-enactment going on, so in amongst the ruins there's a whole series of tents, and good folk passing on their wisdom on any subject from cooking to combat. But as ever, the kids have instantly concocted their own plan of attack and head straight to the craggy collection of stones and courtyards. It's hide and seek on an epic scale, interspersed with rock jumping contests onto the squishy grass fortunately, but still requiring that bit of supervision.
There is a huge grassy area, and naturally it's premium picnicking turf - what do you mean we've only just had cake - I've got a coolbox and a chicken leg with my name on it so there!
Let's walk it off
Hmm maybe I did have one too many scotch eggs there. Never mind, pack up the rugs, and away we go. Over the bridge, and up the right hand side into the trees we go, as we pass the Abbey on the left, you get the first glimpses of the cascade of water that leads down from the Abbey to the Water Gardens. There's mini waterfalls on route, and every time you look back behind you the view of the Abbey seems to get more stunning. Back on level ground you come to the lush green epicentre of the watery piece, with little white benches gently adorning the scene. Chance would be a fine thing for a sit down, instead a more challenging route awaits.
A steep path up to the right, winds its way up to Surprise view, also affectionately known as Ann Boleyn's seat - apparently because a beheaded statue used to be located here, with all those associations with the Dissolution. No matter the detail, we are truly rewarded with a panoramic perfectly aligned view of the Abbey and its waterways - get the cameras out.
The nature trail continues a pace, this section is known as High Ride ; as we weave our way through the trees look to the right and you might just catch a glimpse of the deer in the field.
We pass a couple more temple features, and then another discovery - A tunnel. The Serpentine Tunnel. Now for those of a nervous disposition or who's kids have particularly overactive imaginations, I have to point out that yes it is fairly dark in there, but it's only 50 feet or so long so the kids should be alright.
It leads us back down to the heart of the water gardens and our journey continues.
Stepping stones no more
One of the things I particularly remember as a kid when visiting Fountain's was when you come to the end of the Water Garden trail which leads into the main Lake surrounding Studley, you had the option to cross the stream via the bridge or via a set of carefully spaced out stepping stones. Sadly the Health and Safety brigade have removed this particular adventure from the menu by blocking access, so as we stroll slowly over the plain wooden boardings, little man can only look on and dream of one day getting to take part in a remake of Takeshi's castle...
Still after a good half a mile hike to this point, our spirits are undoubtedly lifted by the sight of , yes you've guessed it a tea room. It's a hot day, we all deserve an ice cream and they have Ryeburns real dairy icecream on sale out the back - a true Yorkshire classic.
Skipping through the meadows
Whether it be the sugar rush from those giant ices, or just the general euphoria of having so much space to run around in, the next leg of our journey is where the kid's really come into their element. As we head back down the opposite side of the water way, (pausing briefly to look up the hill where it's advertising wedding receptions are hosted here - not a bad venue I'd venture), it seems that unlike the intricately mown lush green carpets of grass around the other side, this bit has been allowed to grow properly wild.
Next thing you know the three sisters are heading out into the long stuff, jumping up and down like frogs. Our little fella is desperate to tag along so dutifully I follow, chasing him away from any impending water. As I collar him, I look back and it strikes me; I'm somehow transported to the opening title sequence of Little House on the Prairie as the carefree children amble wistfully through the fields. It's magic, there's not a Nintendo DS within twenty miles, this is kids being kids and loving every minute.
The fun continues back at the picnic area, those steep grassy banks the perfect opportunity for some top quality hill rolling. Caught up in the excitement, I have a go myself -hmm, maybe I should have taken the keys out of my trouser pocket first - oh well....
The final adventure
Somehow time has caught up with us, and we eventually start to make our way back up the hill. However, in our initial hurry on entering, we completely missed the activity barn located on the left hand side. No time like the present, inside we find all sorts of colouring and puzzle stuff, plus some really cute little wooden sheep faced rocking horses, perfect for the little kids to ride on -throughout the holidays there's all sorts of extra stuff going on here. But we have to save what little energy reserves we have left for the grand finale.
More than just an adventure playground, this thing is almost a work of art, completely original and full of challenging obstacles to cater for a whole range of kids ages. There's a giant wide slide, huge wooden ship like structures to climb up and down, rope climbs and a mega sized tyre swing, enough to tempt even the most inactive of adults out of playground retirement.
It's a great way to round off the day, and hopefully I've been able to give you a flavour of things at the Abbey, but of course there's really only one way to find out - go see it for yourself!
If you like history and beautiful surroundings, then you must visit Fountains Abbey. The abbey itself is so impressive with the chapel being its most spectacular feature.
Fountains abbey is a great place for a picnic and a kick around with the kids. You could spend all day exploring the surrounding grounds and there are many different walks (of varying length) to keep everyone happy.
The guides provide walks and talks about the history of the abbey and you can even dress up as a monk!
Fountains Abbey is one of a kind, with so much still standing. Looking down from the path above you can really imagine how grand the abbey once was.
This place is totally unspoiled, beautiful and exceptionally good value for money a around £7 per adult (or free with national trust/english heritage membership).
This is a place for the whole family, young or old. Visit at night when they have a concert on for an extra special treat.
Ive always been aware of fountains abbey. When I was younger, my grandparents on my mothers side lived in Ripon, and each time we went to visit they would take us to Fountains Abbey/ Studley Royal, and we would take a long wondering walk through the ruins and the countryside.
To be honest though, when I was a kid, I found it kind of boring. Trees, hills etc held no fascination whatsoever at that age.
But, now that I'm older, working, a mother, and generally have a lot more stress in my life, I have more appreciation for calm, serene beautiful places, and it was for this reason that I found myself visiting the area again last year with my daughter.
Located for miles west of Ripon in north Yorkshire, Fountains Abbey/Studley royal nestles in a peaceful valley alongside the river Skell. At over 822 acres, with many attractions within this space I sincerely hope I can do it some kind of justice. Settle down, grab a drink, you're in for the long haul.
The Abbey, which is Britains largest monastic ruin, was originally founded in 1132 by a group of 13 Benedictine monks seeking a simpler life. They chose the location because of its glorious solitude, and purchasing 500 acres of land, they built themselves a simple abbey home. These monks later became Cistercian monks practicing a simple lifestyle involving a meager diet and a life spent mostly in silence. The monks were hard working and skilled, and by the middle of the thirteenth century had made fountains one of the richest monastic orders in England. This income came mainly from wool, but as well as shepherding and wool producing; the abbey was also mining lead, working iron, quarrying stones and breeding horses.
When Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in 1539, he seized the monastery; it's land, and its entire treasury. He then sold the abbey buildings and land to rich merchant, Sir Richard Gresham. From him it passed through several generations of his family until around 1598 when it was sold to Stephen Proctor, who built Fountains Hall. Fountains hall was built with stone gleaned from the by this time ruined abbey.
The Abbey, although impressive in size, is simple in design, in keeping with the simple values of those who created it. Severe and plain in design, with little additional embellishment. Instead of bright glass windows and statues or the martyrs, Cistercians kept decoration simple.... A cross and some candles to light the altar would suffice.
Built of a light stone, the abbey's simplicity, and the ruined state, combined with the beauty of nature all around all transpire to make me feel relaxed upon entering. An aisle of archways, now open to the sky provides the perfect place to walk and think, and the nave, now carpeted with grass, with its simple wooden cross is enough to make even an agnostic and me stop and think about the monks who dedicated this building solely to the glory of god.
The interconnecting rooms and passageways of the ruin provide the perfect place for children to play hide and seek while the adults stand, stare, and take in the beauty all around you. Even missing it's roof and windows; it's a grand and imposing place, 150 foot long.
The south end holds the remains of a smaller chapel, a sacristy, and a pathway leading to the chapter house where the monks would have lived and gone about their daily business. This area is unusual in that is has much more ornamentation than the 'worship' areas within the Abbey Church. Plants are carved on the arches and columns that would have once supported a roof but now stand pointing up into the sky, perhaps to heaven itself.
As the chapter house was the last pert of the abbey to be completed, perhaps the monks had relaxed their requirements for austerity and simplicity.
One of the most stunning parts of the abbey is the way the monks have incorporated nature into the design. From the fountain in the cloisters to the river flowing right outside the door, it's stunning. Crumbled sections of wall lie partially overgrown with wildflowers of all kinds, and half-fallen bridges border streams and babbling brooks
Studley Royal Water Garden
Studley Royal water garden is actually a separate attraction, although as the same visitor centre serves the two they are often classed together. Studley, although not as visually stunning or religiously significant as the abbey itself, is still definitely a must see part of the fountains estate. Children will love feeding the geese and ducks, and trapping over the small bridges and streams, while adults will enjoy the architecture and design of the gardens and buildings. Several temples and follies (without which no wealthy country estate would have been complete) can be found here.
The best way to view them is to walk along the path known as the high ride past the temple of piety, the octagon tower, and the temple of fame. There is an area on the high ride called the 'Surprise View' where you can catch a magnificent view of the abbey ruins through the trees.
Studley also has a large Deer Park, which I did not have time to visit as most of my day was dedicated to the abbey.
To reach the Visitor Centre from Leeds, take the A61 to Ripon and head west on the B6108.
From York take the A59 to Harrogate, then follow the A61 to Ripon.
The centre serves both Fountains Abbey and nearby Studley Grange. Facilities include a large carpark, a gift and bookshop, a tearoom, and immaculate toilets. For further information, visit the Fountains Abbey/Studley Grange website at http://www.fountainsabbey.org.uk/
Adult - £5.50
Child - £3.00
Family - £15.00
I wish I'd had more time to spend in the area. The Abbey itself deserves a full day if like me you're a person who enjoys scenery and the power of nature. I had only one day down there, and while I enjoyed the visit, I felt it was not long enough as my boyfriend wanted to visit the water park, meaning we only had a few hours for each attraction. We didn't get to see the deer, or to visit the rooms in fountains hall, both of which I would have loved to do.
My advice would be to book a B&B in nearby Ripon and give yourself a real chance to explore the area. Or, if you're fatter of wallet than I., they are actually 3 cottages to rent for short breaks on Fountains estate itself, information about which can be found on this link http://www.fountainsabbey.org.uk/estate/holidaycottages1j.html
Overall, one of my favourite places to visit, suitable for all the family, although it's advisable to supervise younger children due to the numerous small streams they could fall into.
Five stars! Thanks for reading.
The remains of Fountains Abbey and its surrounding land and property have been combined with the Studley Royal Estate to make a wonderful property just west of Ripon in North Yorkshire. Now owned by the National Trust, this 822 acre site attracts over a quarter of a million visitors each year. However, because of the huge size of the site it never seems crowded and the tranquil setting makes it a great place to relax and unwind. The abbey was founded in 1132, following a dispute between the monks at St Mary’s Abbey in York, after which 13 monks were exiled and given the land on the banks of the River Skell. As you now walk around the magnificent ruins you can appreciate how the order grew and the wealth generated by the monks was put back into the wonderful buildings. There are free guided tours around the abbey and I would really recommend that you try to join one of these tours as the graphic descriptions of life for the monks by the tour guides make you appreciate the ruins so much more. Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII in 1539 the buildings very quickly fell into disrepair as the lead and glass were stolen from the roof and windows for other local buildings. (Henry VIII encouraged the removal of lead from the roofs of monasteries.) After leaving the ruins of the abbey there is still so much more to see on the estate. There are some very impressive water gardens that were built in the 18th century by the Aislabie family, including the moon pond with its flanking crescent basins. The walk from the abbey ruins to these ponds follow a picturesque canal with small cascades along its route. On a clear bright morning this is a lovely walk and a few slices of bread for the ducks and swans makes you very popular. All around the water gardens are small buildings and follies that have been built over the past 800 years of the estates history and every building has its own characteristics, from t
he Splendid Temple of Piety to the hidden Serpentine Tunnel. Beyond the water gardens is the massive expanse of the deer park. So much of this is often not seen by visitors as the area is so big. Over 500 deer graze in this area, made up of Red, Sika and Fallow deer. Some of the huge deer with massive antlers are a very impressive sight. The deer do not run and hide and it is possible to wander quite close to the animals, although you must remember that these are wild animals and should not be approached too closely. Away from all this fresh air there is a visitor centre, two shops, two restaurants, and refreshment kiosks, so there is no need to go hungry or thirsty. There is also plenty of car parking space and excellent facilities for any disabled visitors. Throughout the year the estate also runs a full programme of events and activities aimed at all age groups, with many different interests. Entrance to the abbey and deer park is £4.50 (children £2.30) with free parking, or you can visit just the deer park where there is just a £2 car parking charge. I can highly recommend a visit to Fountains Abbey and it is certainly worth putting aside a full day for your day out. My own preference would be to take a picnic and enjoy the open space of the deer park for lunch.