Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal – with picture galleries

The extensive sandstone ruins of Fountains Abbey are located in the wooded valley of the River Skell. On the same 800 acre site is the Georgian water garden of Studley Royal complete with statues, follies and amazing views. Collectively Fountain’s Abbey and Studley Water Gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is as much for its aesthetic appeal as for its historic importance. Other UNESCO sites in the UK include Bath, Stonehenge, Avebury, Saltaire and the Forth Bridge.

The site is also home to the Elizabethan Fountains Hall and the Victorian St Mary’s Church. With such a lot to see you can easily spend a whole day exploring the Abbey ruins and other buildings, not forgetting Studley Lake and Studley Royal Deer Park as well.

The National Trust own the whole site, which means that members of the National Trust and English Heritage get free admission. The site is open pretty much all year round. My preference would be to visit in Autumn before the trees shed their leaves and the whole valley is a riot of colour.

Make sure you take the free map when you arrive as the site is quite extensive and you’ll definitely find it useful.

Visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal

Fountains Abbey is close to Ripon (HG4 3DY), off the B6265 road to Pateley Bridge, just follow the brown signs from the A1 (Junction 48/50). Alternatively, it is 12 miles north of Harrogate on the A61.

There is plenty of car parking at the site. Close to the visitor centre, there are two free car parks. There is also an additional pay and display car park at Studley Lake, although parking is free if you are a National Trust member.

It’s also possible to get to Fountains Abbey by bus. The Dales Bus 822 from York, Boroughbridge and Ripon goes to Fountains Abbey on Sundays and Bank Holidays. More information from the Dales Bus Services.

Dogs on a lead are welcome.

You’ll find a large children’s play area close to the main entrance.

There are plenty of places where you can sit and enjoy a picnic. However, if you don’t want to bring your own food there is a restaurant at the main entrance. There are also two cafes, one near the Abbey and one by Studley Water Gardens.

Fountains Abbey

Benedictine Monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York founded the Abbey in 1132. Three years later it was taken over by Cistercians. The Abbey’s buildings reflect the Cistercian’s desire for simplicity and austerity. The name comes from the springs of water that exist in the area.

By the mid 12th century Fountains was one of Britain’s wealthiest abbeys. Sadly, the Abbey was a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII stole its riches to fund his military campaigns. It subsequently fell into ruin. Sir Stephen Procter stole a lot of the stone from the Abbey to build nearby Fountain Hall.

In 1720 John Aislabie the MP for Ripon started the development of the land around the ruins. This resulted in the construction of the water garden and classical temples.

Look out for the Chapel of Nine Altars at the eastern end of the church. This is quite ornate in comparison to the rest of the building and has an 18m high window. Underneath the ruins are the equally impressive Cellarium and dormitory undercroft with its 90m long vaulted ceiling.

Other things to look out for include the Serpentine Tunnel which would give guests a gentle fright. This dark and winding tunnel leads from the river up to High Ride.

Close to the Abbey is Fountains Mill an old corn mill for the monks. With its origins back in the 1130s, the Mill is now completely restored.

Studley Royal Water Garden

You can walk along the banks of the River Skell down from the Abbey ruins to the garden. The water garden runs into several canals and moon ponds. The course of the river was originally changed by the monks. The Aislabies continued this work after they bought the estate. The whole garden seems very natural and not at all like a man-made space.

The construction of the garden is very clever. Different views reveal themselves as you walk around. The lawns are a perfect place for a picnic lunch if you are planning on staying a whole day. The gardens are home to a number of statues and there are a number of follies to visit.

Temple of Fame – this structure has columns that look like sandstone, but are actually hollow timber.
Temple of Piety – this was originally dedicated to Hercules, but William Aislaby renamed it as a symbol of filial piety after his father died in 1742.
Anne Boleyn’s Seat or Surprise View – this Gothic alcove has an amazing view of the Abbey ruins. You will often find artists here painting and drawing. The view is one of the best you’ll ever see and almost worth the price of admission alone. The steep path which leads to it is accessible from the north end of the water garden.

Fountains Hall

This Elizabethan house, influenced by the architect Robert Smythson, was built in 1611 by Sir Stephen Proctor using stones from the ruins of the abbey.

When Stephen Proctor died in 1619, the Messenger Family took ownership of the Hall. William Aislabie of the Studley Royal Estate then purchased the estate.

The hall was renovated between 1928 and 1931.

During the Second World War, it was used to house evacuees.

Today it is possible to explore the Hall and its exhibitions. You can also stay in one of the flats in the Hall and it is sometimes used as a wedding venue.

St Mary’s Church

This high Anglican church is located near the top of Studley Royal Deer Park. From the church, there is a stunning view down into Ripon. The church itself is very decorative and was commissioned in 1870 and designed by the architect William Burges.

The decoration of the church inside is supposed to represent Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. This has been done with ornate furnishings in glass, mosaics, polished marble, stonework, and gilding.

Studley Royal Deer Park

The deer park is home to over 500 wild deer, including Red, Fallow and Sika varieties, three of the six species native to the UK. The Deer Park also contains many ancient trees – some of which are over 300 years old.

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I’ve been lucky enough to visit Fountains Abbey several times (and always on a sunny day!). It can be very busy especially on sunny weekends. However, the grounds are large enough to absorb lots of visitors. There is plenty to see and do and the views are absolutely stunning. I’m sure you’ll thoroughly enjoy your day out here.

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