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Rufford Abbey Country Park - Not much of an Abbey but a great day out in North Nottinghamshire
Rufford Country Park (Ollerton)
Member Name: micksheff
Rufford Country Park (Ollerton)
Advantages: Tranquil if you get away from the crowds
Disadvantages: Not much of an Abbey, very crowded at popular times
Rufford Abbey Country Park takes its name from the 12th century Cisterian Abbey within its grounds, which is now in the care of English Heritage. The Park covers an area of 150 acres, which includes a large lake, mature woodland, heath and farmland. It lies close to the village of Ollerton and is well sign posted from all major routes. Unlike Clumber Park there is no admission charge here but a £3 car parking fee applies during the summer months.
There are two main car parks. One of these is adjacent to Rufford Mill, which has now been converted into shops, a café and a garden centre and the other is close to the Abbey. I always park at the one near the Mill, I'm not sure why it's just out of habit and probably because it's the first one I come to from the direction I approach it. This car park is however much smaller than the other one so unless you arrive early it is often full. From this cark it is only a few metres walk to the garden centre and once you've passed this you reach the building that once held the mill. This is now a gift shop with toilets and there is also a café. Outside here there is a large terrace with outdoor seating for when the weather is fine.
From Rufford Mill you can see the lake and you'll notice that the footpath towards it is wide and of good quality. Wheelchairs and electric scooters can be hired from the shop and this place is popular with users of both as there is a nice flat circular path that goes all the way around the lake. For the more adventurous there are numerous other footpaths and trails that head off into the woods if you want to get away from the crowds (as I often do) but it's fair to say that the majority of visitors stick to the main path around the lake.
If you are walking around the lake it really doesn't make any difference whether to turn left or right, but there is a sign post pointing in both directions. These signs give the distance in minutes rather than miles and both list the same attractions, which includes the Abbey (12 minutes to the right or 15 minutes to the left). I'm not sure who came up this system but these times are quite generous and I would normally reach the Abbey in well under 10 minutes, whichever direction I take. The full circular walk without stopping I'd normally do in 20-25 minutes.
The lake was created around 1750 and although its present function is purely ornamental it originally powered a corn mill and later also a saw mill. Today it provides an important habitat for ducks, geese and swans.
I remember the very first time that I saw Rufford Abbey and I was very disappointed that it's actually much more like a large house than an Abbey and in fact there is no church here now at all. This is because the original monastery, which was founded in 1147 by monks from Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire was converted into a domestic dwelling following the Dissolution of the Monasteries under King Henry VIII. In 1626 it became the family home of the Saville's who were one of Yorkshire's richest families at the time and it remained in their hands until 1931 and the death of the last Lord Saville. Following almost four decades of neglect the country house and its vast estate was purchased by Nottinghamshire County Council in 1969 who opened the grounds as a country park. The ruins of the original Abbey adjacent to the house were later handed over to English Heritage but the house, which was in need of repair remained untouched until the 1980's.
It was during the 1980's that the Formal Gardens were recreated back to their former glory and other areas of the park were landscaped. Part of the house known as the Jacobean Wing was transformed into a restaurant (now called the Saville Restaurant) and in 2007 a large children's playground including a maze was created. The transformation of Rufford Abbey Country Park is still ongoing and in the last couple of years the sawmill has been renovated, a second maze has been created and there is now also a Rose Garden and numerous sculptures have appeared.
With the exception of the Saville Restaurant the house is not open to the public but it possible to wander around the ruins of the old Abbey, which are much more impressive up close than from a distance, where they appear to blend in with the house. Inside the ruins there are several information placards advising the visitor of the key points of interest along with a plan of how the Abbey would have originally looked.
The sheer size of this country park means that there is so much to see and many things can be easily missed. On my most recent visit (2nd January 2011) I only spotted the information sign at the side of the huge Cedar tree on the lawn near the house for the first time and learned that it was planted by King Charles 11 on one of his many visits here. Also near the house are the Animal Graves, a miniature cemetery for the family's favourite pets over the centuries. Again I'd never seen these before but now they are sign posted.
I love Rufford Abbey Country Park for its tranquillity and wildlife but I despite the crowds so I try to avoid visiting here at popular times. If you wander off the main footpaths you are likely to see lots of deer (both Roe Deer and Fallow Deer) and woodpeckers. During late summer evenings I've often sat down on one of the many benches in the woods and listened to the song of the Nightingale or the bizarre chirring of the Nightjar, both of these birds are the at the very northern extremity of their European breeding ranges here and are reminders that this habitat of woodland interspersed with heath is unique so far north in England and is akin to areas of the New Forest in southern England.
I'd certainly recommend a visit here and it's the sort of place that you could easily spend a full day at, especially in the summer if you take a picnic.
Rufford Abbey Country Park
Summary: A country park in North Nottinghamshire
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