Fountains Abbey, Yorkshire, England

Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Park, Yorkshire, England

We've been members of the National Trust for almost a year now and have enjoyed all the properties we've seen so far. We'd read about Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Park in our Trust Handbook, and with it only being an hour from our house; we thought it would be a nice place to spend an afternoon. The Abbey and grounds were a lovely and unexpected surprise for us. The National Trust sponsors all kinds of activities for members and guests such as wildlife walks, outdoor productions of Shakespeare's plays, opportunities to experience what it was like to be a monk in medieval times, opera performances on the Abbey Green, or just relaxing evenings by the floodlit Abbey.

The entire estate is made up of Britain's largest monastic ruin, an 18th century Georgian water garden, statuary and Classical temples as well as the oldest surviving Cistercian water-mill. There's also a 360 acre park grazed by 500 Red, Sika and Fallow deer, an Elizabethan mansion - Fountains Hall, and the beautiful Gothic style St. Mary's Church.

Thirteen Benedictine monks in search of a simpler life founded the Abbey in 1132. After three years, the monks found their simple life with the Cistercian Order or "White Monks". The Cistercian order originated in France but found support in England - mostly in Yorkshire. And between 1131 and 1150, there were eight houses established in the area with Fountains Abbey being the second. The monks lead a very rigorous - to say the least - daily life. Perhaps, one of the most important concepts the Cistercian system brought was the introduction of lay brothers. They were usually illiterate and did most of the routine jobs for the monks. Many were masons, tanners, shoemakers and smiths, but their chief role was to look after the Abbey's vast flocks of sheep. Without these lay brothers, Fountains Abbey could never have become one of the wealthiest abbeys in medieval Europe. In 1539, Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries brought an end to monastic life at the Abbey. For a few months after the Dissolution, the Abbey buildings stood empty in the hope of being the site for the cathedral for a new Dales bishopric. This never happened and the Abbey fell into ruin. In 1598, Stephen Proctor who had recently acquired the estate used some of the stones from the Abbey to build Fountains Hall. Okay, History lesson over.

It is so easy to get sidetracked when venturing in to a new area and this day was not an exception. From the main road, we spotted the town of Ripon and what looked to be an attractive church tower in the distance. We, of course, made a quick detour and were able to park in the town square, which was a feat considering it was market day. We explored a few of the charming shops as well as took some photos of the Ripon Cathedral. After our brief stop, we headed for Fountains, where we spent the rest of the day walking around the estate.

The estate is basically circular, so from the visitor's center we first came upon Fountains Hall, but were not able to go inside because there was a wedding ceremony in progress. So we snapped some pictures and headed toward the Abbey. After fully exploring the Abbey ruins, we rambled along the path beside the River Skell toward the water garden. We took the high road that led us past Anne Boleyn's Seat, the Temple of Fame, the Octagon Tower and finally through the extremely dark, damp, sloping and curving and I must admit - a little frightening Serpentine Tunnel. Once through the tunnel and the forest, we found ourselves at the water garden and the Temple of Piety. Upon leaving we strolled along the canal toward the deer park and St. Mary's church. The deer barely noticed us as we walked through their field - I guess they're used to seeing lots of people since the Abbey hosts almost 300,000 visitors a year. There is also a interesting little museum in the water-mill that's worth seeing especially if you're looking for shelter from the intermittent rain!

We had a lovely day out, and since our anniversary was the next day, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at our favorite seafood restaurant, The Magpie, in the coastal town of Whitby. We'll talk about Whitby on other links, if we ever get caught up on our updates!

Ripon Town Square:

Ripon - Mike's already spent some money!:

Gabi in front of the Ripon Cathedral:

Approaching the abbey ruin:

Side view of the abbey from the River Skell:

Gabi waving from the bridge:

The Cloister in the center of the monastery:

Mike looking in to the Refectory:

The Nave:

Gabi standing under a massive archway:

View of the Tower and The Chapel of the Nine Altars (on the right):

Gorgeous view of the abbey from Anne Boleyn's Seat:

Gabi at the Octagon Tower:

Gabi at the entrance of the Serpentine Tunnel:

Studley Royal Water Garden - the Moon Pond:

St. Mary's church:

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