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. The site is also home to the Elizabethan Fountains Hall and the Victorian St Mary’s Church. You can easily spend a whole day exploring the Abbey ruins and other buildings, not forgetting the Deer Park as well.
Since 1986 the Abbey and other buildings have been a world heritage site. The National Trust now owns these, 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.
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.
Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.
The Abbey was founded in 1132 by Benedictine Monks and taken over by Cistercians three years later. The Abbey’s buildings were designed to reflect the Cistercian’s desire for simplicity and austerity. By the mid 12th century it was one of Britain’s wealthiest abbeys. Sadly, the Abbey was a victim of the dissolution of the monasteries. During this time its riches were stolen by Henry VIII and it subsequently fell into ruin.
In 1720 the land around the ruins was developed by John Aislabie, the MP for Ripon. This resulted in the development of the water garden and classical temples.
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 has been channelled into several canals and moon ponds. The monks originally changed the course of the river by the Abbey and this work was continued by Aislabies after they purchased the estate. The whole garden seems like a natural space, but it has all been carefully constructed to reveal amazing views from different angles. The lawns are perfect for a picnic lunch or if you prefer a view climb up to one of the follies.
Anne Boleyn’s Seat
Also known as the Surprise View, this Gothic alcove has a fine view of the Abbey. It was built in the late 18th century to replace a headless statue. The steep path which leads to it is accessible from the north end of the water garden. This is well worth the effort needed to climb it.
This Elizabethan house was built in 1611 by Sir Stephen Proctor using stones from the ruins of the abbey.
The design of the house was influenced by the Elizabethan architect Robert Smythson. 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, evacuees were housed here.
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 at the top of the 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.
Studley Royal Deer Park
The deer park is home to over 500 wild deer, including Red, Fallow and Sika varieties. The Deer Park also contains many ancient trees – some of which are over 300 years old.
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