Fountains Abbey is an extraordinarily beautiful apparition in North Yorkshire. The first sight of it to anyone is unquestionably one of the great experiences of visiting England. The dramatic remains of the Abbey are the largest monastic ruins in the country.The Abbey is a huge estate of beauty, contrasts and surprises with one of England’s most stunning Georgian water gardens. A dispute and riot at St Mary’s Abbey in York led to the founding of Fountains Abbey in 1132. After pleading unsuccessfully to return to the early 6th century Rule of St Benedict, 13 monks were exiled and taken into the protection of Thurstan, Archbishop of York.
Set in the naturally beautiful Skell valley, flanked by two vast expanses of grass lawns with awe inspiring cliff faces to either side and the river Skell running through the valley and under the Abbey – which in itself is a masterpiece of twelfth century building ingenuity-this truly is a beautiful place to visit.
Following the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539 by Henry VIII, the Abbey buildings and over 500 acres of land were sold by the Crown to Sir Richard Gresham, a merchant. The property was passed down through several generations of Sir Richard’s family, finally being sold to Stephen Proctor who built Fountains Hall, probably between 1598 and 1604.
Maps of the Abbey guide you to the dining room, cloisters and other rooms, so you can imagine the monks dining, chatting and laughing as they walked through the stunning rooms still visible even though the Abbey itself is a shell.
Amazingly the cellarium roof has remained intact and the lay brothers ate, slept and socialised here, beneath the incredible vaulted ceiling which escaped Henry VIII’s brutal sixteenth century dissolution of the abbeys. Once used for meditation and exercise by the monks the cloisters formed the centre of the abbey and many rooms lead off from this area, including the warming room where you can still see the huge fireplace where a fire was always kept roaring. Above the warming room up the external staircase to the left, is the muniments room where the monks kept all their important documents, it made sense to keep them above the warming room so the documents stayed dry in all seasons.
England is a nation of picnickers and they do it well. We saw many sprawled on the expanse of lawns at Fountains Abbey with wicker hampers, flasks of tea, and suitable accessories for a picnic at this fabulous location.
Soak up the spiritual atmosphere, lose yourself in the passages, staircases and towers, and marvel at this unique relic of ancient architectural craftsmanship.
At the doorstep of the Yorkshire Dales, its only 30 miles from the historic city of York and 9 miles from the A1. Fountains Abbey, Ripon, near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England.