In late March 2013, me and Alex visited Fountains Abbey near Ripon in North Yorkshire. It was a lovely, even if slightly cold, day out. Snow had fallen a few days before and added to the impressive atmosphere at these beautiful abbey ruins. The abbey is owned by the National Trust and is a UNESCO World Heritage site along with the adjacent Studley Royal Park.
A brief history
It was founded in 1132 by 13 monks who had been expelled from the Benedictine house of St Mary’s Abbey. They wanted to return to the early 6th century rule of St Benedict (no idea who he was or what he did, I’m just rephrasing what it says on Wikipedia). They were taken into the protection of Thurstan (never heard of that name before) Archbishop of York. He was very kind and gave them a bit of land in the valley of the River Skell. This was great because it was an enclosed valley (it was still pretty cold when we went though!) and had stone and wood and running water – perfect. They applied to join the Cistercian order and built the picturesque monastery, Fountains abbey.
Sadly in 1539 Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries so that was the end of Fountains Abbey as a working abbey. The dissolution of the monasteries was the process of stripping convents, monasteries and priories of their assets, appropriating their income and in fountains abbey’s case forcing the religious inhabitants to abandon their home.
It was a really good day. We weren’t sure if we were going to go as it was quite pricey, well for two poor students at least. I’ve listed the prices beneath:
Adult: £9.50 Child: £5.00 Family: £24.00
I would say it was definitely worth it. Alone the sheer size of the abbey is impressive. I love beautiful old architecture. I also think it’s amazing that it is still standing! Also there isn’t just the abbey to look at. There are these beautiful water gardens as well as lots of little follies to find above the valley. There is also a serpentine tunnel which was full of icicles when we went. We finished off by walking round the deer park, not quite being lucky enough to catch the deer that day, and unfortunately ran out of time to explore the 7 bridges walk. Here is a summary of each feature to see around the estate.
When we first arrived we visited a building called Fountain’s Hall. There weren’t many visitors inside but there were people working, carrying furniture in and out. I felt a bit like we were in the way. There wasn’t actually much to see in there but there were these cut out Victorian figures. We may both have been 19 but we couldn’t resist.
So not much there or so we thought. I am a bit of a nerd so picked up a leaflet about the building. We went outside and I started reading it out loud to Alex (I’m just too cool). It was talking about the exterior of the building. I hadn’t really looked at it, but the leaflet explained how the front of the hall was built to look symmetrical even though really it isn’t. When you look closely, the right side has a boxed window and the other is slightly angled. There were also different numbers of windows on each side and the window pane frames were different. It was quite cleverly done, so subtle you don’t see it at first glance.
We then proceeded to go and explore the abbey. The first thing that hit me was the sheer size of it. I admit I was expecting ruins, but this was so much more than just a pile of rocks. It was majestic and beautiful. We walked around it, appreciating the architecture and taking a lot of photos. We also met a pheasant. There were some plaques explaining what the rooms were but many of the rooms didn’t have one. It wasn’t too busy which was nice, as much as I am a tourist I do not like it when places of interest are swarming with loud tourists and screaming kids – not being stereotyping at all. This meant we could enjoy this wonderful place quietly.
There is also a little mill to visit which doubles as a museum. It was interesting as it showed you about how the mill worked as well as the life of the monks that lived there. There was an interesting cartoon describing everyday life in the abbey – fair to say I’m pleased I wasn’t a monk back then. There was also a little café where we ate our picnic.
A little walk and some interesting follies
We climbed up a path and could see across the abbey. Alex and I just chatted and enjoyed the view. The path eventually went back down and you walk further along the river. There is then another quite steep path to see the follies. There was a great view of the abbey with the bend of the river from the top of here.
The follies were really strange, just placed on the top of the hill. I felt it was as if the designer was thinking “in 200 years people will want to visit and they’ll need something to come and look at as well as the ruins” – that’s forward planning. If I am ever rich enough to own a grand estate, I’m going to build little follies but ones you can go inside in case it rains. There was also this cool tunnel called the serpentine tunnel. It was originally built to give visitors a scare on the way to visiting the octagon tower. I was more scared about the icicles falling onto me!
The deer park
I can’t really comment on the deer park as we didn’t see any deer, not one. Although, the land where the deer roam is vast and we only explored a little bit of it.
The park as a film location
Not surprisingly Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal’s spectacular beauty has featured in many films including: Omen III: The Final Conflict. The Secret Garden, The History Boys, TV series Flambards, A History of Britain, Terry Jones’ Medieval Lives, Cathedral and the game show Treasure Hunt. It also features in a recent dark comedy film called Sightseers. Alex and I watched this in the evening after visiting Fountains abbey. We couldn’t believe it when they went there in the film! I would definitely recommend this film. It is a bit silly at times but mostly just good dark British comedy. Warning the song Tainted love will be in your head for days after watching the film!