F is for … Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

At the end of May (how are we already 2 weeks into July?), we headed north towards Ripon. For a bank holiday weekend in the UK, the weather was glorious.

We arrived early afternoon, which gave us chance to explore some of the abbey ruins as well as the Studley Royal Water Gardens, and still have time for a drink and a snack.

The Temple of Fame (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Fountains Abbey is a ruined Cistercian monastery that was originally founded in 1132 by 13 Benedictine monks who were expelled after an argument from St Mary’s Abbey in York.

Some sources say they were expelled while others say they left of their own accord. Either way, they left York and landed just 3 miles from Ripon.

The Archbishop of York gave the monks the land and, in 1133, the monks applied to join the Cistercian order.

The Octagon Tower (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The enclosed valley that the archbishop gifted to them was an ideal source of stone, timber and running water, but it was the harsh winter of 1133 that helped their decision to make the application.

The abbey was rebuilt over the ensuing years, but an angry mob attacked the site in 1146 and burnt down all of the surrounding buildings.

For the next 200 years the monks had many problems: bad harvests; management disputes; raids from the north; and eventually, in 1348, the plague arrived.

But it was a wealthy monastery, thanks to the support of what were known as lay brothers, or labourers, who did much of the manual work so that the brothers may have more time for praying and other spiritual pastimes.

This wealth came from the production of wool, lead and stone, and the rearing of cattle and the breeding of horses. In 1539, the abbey was another casualty of the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry VIII.

The Serpentine Tunnel (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

In 1550, the 500-acre-plus estate was sold by the crown and remained in private ownership until the 1960s, from whence it promptly changed hands several times.

In 1983, the National Trust bought the property from the local council. And in 1986, the site was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The Temple of Piety (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The band Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (OMD) filmed the video for Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans) (later re-titled Maid of Orleans (The Waltz of Joan of Arc) for the single release) in 1981 at Fountains Abbey, and it has also featured in the Omen series of film, as well as several television programmes and game shows.

We started our visit at Fountains Hall, which was built in the 17th century using stone from the ruined abbey. A private family home for many years, visitors today may stay in one of the holiday flats.

Footbridge over the River Skell (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Through the orchard, across a bridge and via a potentially awkward gate, access can then be gained to Fountains Mill. The mill was built by the monks in the 12th century to grind grain. It was still being used in the 1920s.

There are interactive displays inside the building, which is usually open during normal abbey opening times.

The Temple of Piety (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

From the mill we walked around the back of the abbey ruins and along the River Skell towards the spectacular Studley Royal Water Gardens.

This Georgian water garden is the main reason the property is a world heritage site.

The original valley was converted in the early 18th century by the Aislabies.

There are lots of follies at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens. These include:

  • the Temple of Fame
  • the Octagon Tower
  • the Banqueting House
  • the Temple of Piety

All have their own histories, and some have been re-named, re-built and refurbished over the years.

The River Skell (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

There is also the Serpentine Tunnel, which Rufus didn’t like very much. And there are also several other features such as the High Ride, Surprise View and Anne Boleyn’s Seat. Plus there are statues and sculptures dotted along the riverside.

New for 2018 are four new outdoor works for the exhibition folly! These are:

  • Polly
  • the Gazing Ball
  • the Listening Tower
  • the Cloud
The Wrestlers (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

At the tearooms at the Studley Water Gardens end of the estate, we paused for a snack and a drink before heading back to the main car park. It was late in the day and the shadows were starting to lengthen.

Because we arrived so late (around lunch time), we were initially turned away, with many other potential visitors, and asked to come back in half an hour. The car park, apparently, was completely full and they wanted to allow some time for it to empty a little.

Fortunately, we’d brought a picnic with us and were able to drive along the road a little and park up in what turned out to be a free overflow car park for Brimham Rocks, another National Trust property. By the time we got back, an hour had passed, and they were still turning folk away. We pointed out we’d already been sent away once and we were allowed to pull over until the supervisor turned up and said they could let people in again.

We thought that admission to Fountains Abbey and Studley Water Gardens was a little steep for non-members of the National Trust. Standard admission for 2018 is £15, and with gift-aid it’s £16.50. We’re not currently members, but we did have a gift card, courtesy of Son #2 and his girlfriend, and we were able to use that to get us in.

Fountains Abbey at dusk (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We walked from the visitor centre to the tea rooms in the water garden via the old mill and the river and back. This was a total of 4.3 miles. We walked almost 17,000 steps, and we burnt more than 750 calories.

Before you go …
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Ian’s Gear: Ian used a Canon 70d with a Tamron SP 10-24mm lens, on F11-F22, ISO 100. The follies were shot with a Tamron SP 70-300mm lens, on F8. For the video, he used a GoPro sports camera with a Feiyu gimbal.
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