The Yorkshire Series: Fountains Abbey
Since moving from London to York nine months ago, I have made the most of living up this end of the country, and explored my new home county whenever possible. Did you know they call Yorkshire God's Own Country? England's largest county, it is considered by many to be the most beautiful part of England's many beautiful parts. Then, I am told this by Yorkies themselves, so I suspect this may be a slightly biased view. Living here myself, I have, for some time, been aware that I am in fact falling under its spell and subscribing to this belief myself. The more I see of Yorkshire, the deeper in love with it I fall.
In ode to Yorkshire and her beauty, and to convince any of you that have not yet visited this part of the world that it is well worth your time, I have decided to highlight some of the true magic one can witness here in a new series of fortnightly posts about the region. To kick off the highlights, perhaps the best of them all... start with a bang, you know?
It's one of the most talked-about attractions in Yorkshire, so how it took me ten months to get to the monastic remains of Fountains Abbey is beyond me... don't let it take you so long! I had seen a thousand pictures, but nothing could prepare me for the marvel that awaited me here.
The abbey was founded in 1132 by thirteen monks of St Mary's Abbey in York (you can see a couple of photos of that in my post from my first ever visit to York back in 2016) who were exasperated by the extravagant and rowdy lifestyle their fellow monks in York had adopted. What started as a simple endeavour resulted in something a lot larger. After Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 (that guy was a tool), monks across all of England were either forced to abandon their abbeys or watch them crumble as they were destroyed.
Fountains Abbey comprises the largest monastic ruins in the whole country, and no photos or words can convey their magnitude or magic. Arches through arches beyond arches stand intact atop crumbling stone walls you have to crane your neck to take in... and sometimes that won't even do it. With ivy growing on walls and a river running under and through the ruins, this place feels like the closest thing you will find to Rivendell in the real world.
And that's just the beginning...
Believe it or not, the abbey ruins are only part of what you can see at this National Trust site. The attraction itself is called 'Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden,' so you definitely get your bang for your buck visiting (£15, if you were wondering), and take my word for it when I say you will want AT LEAST a full day here. Especially on winter time, we were far too rushed to walk around it at our leisure. As well as the visitor centre at the entrance, you can get great insight into the history of the abbey, its buildings (infirmary, dormitories, guesthouses, cellars, warming rooms etc.) in Porter's Lodge, plus admire a seriously impressive scale model, showing what the site would have looked like in its heyday. We only got a look in the cafe, which is in the old dairy shed right on the river banks, but it looks fab. There's also a couple of properties including some seriously adorable cottages you can hire to stay in within the grounds. The dream!
As well as the neighbouring deer park, which I didn't even get time to explore (this time), there are the water gardens which are beautiful to walk around. They include several Georgian buildings erected for holidaymakers in the eighteenth century, and idyllically built on the banks of moon-shaped ponds full of statues and manicured trees. You can head up the hill for the Octagon Tower or Temple of Fame, but my favourite is the Greek-inspired Temple of Piety right down by the water.
Upon walking up the hill above the ponds you will come face-to-face with the serpentine tunnel - a winding, rocky tunnel built for the fun of Georgian guests to the estate. Its twists mean those who enter are plunged into almost-complete darkness despite its short length... fun, but its uneven surface means a careful step is needed!
Once through the tunnel and up the hill, as you walk past the Tower and Temple you can visit up here, make sure you don't miss Anne Boleyn's seat which offers a 'surprise view' back down to the abbey ruins which will take your breath away. It's that one at the top of this article. Oh go on, here it is again (and this is just to save you scrolling, not because I can't get enough of it or anything...)
The Mill House here at Fountains is 850 years old and the only building which has been in continuous use since its construction more than 850 years ago. Here you can see the ancient mill in action, as well as the new (much quieter) electric mill. You can see three hundred-year-old graffiti and learn about how the building was used during the world wars, and you can even ring the old bell outside.
Lastly, make sure you make the short detour to Fountain's Hall, an Elizabethan manor which was partially made using stones form the abbey once it was no longer in use. The site was used for some outdoor scenes in one of my all-time favourite film adaptation of a beloved childhood read, The Secret Garden (1993).