Fountains Abbey &
Studley Royal Water Gardens
Fountains Abbey rose majestically from the austere, simple desires of a 12th century splinter group of Benedictine monks – a Cistercian abbey destined to become one of the richest in Europe. Down through the centuries, since the brutal dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 by King Henry VIII, the magnificent structures that were Fountains Abbey have gracefully decayed into the romantic, awe-inspiring ruin we all can see and enjoy today.
Nestling in the folds of a narrow valley formed by the River Skell to the west of Ripon, not far from the wilds of the North York Moors, Fountains Abbey beautifully compliments the water garden and deer park of Studley Royal. The Studley Royal estate, then separate from Fountains was inherited by John Aislabie in the last decade of the 17th century. Although a very active politician, Studley Royal’s new owner involved himself with the South Sea Company. Deeply implicated in the financial scandal brought about by the bursting of the so called South Sea Bubble, he was expelled from Parliament. John, from that time until his death, channelled all his energies into the creation of the magnificent water garden. It was modelled on the then fashionable Dutch style of straight canals and round lakes. Following his death, his son William completed the transformation and taming of the valley. Eventually the two estates of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal were finally brought together when William bought the abbey ruins in 1767.
In more recent times the Abbey, Water Gardens and Deer Park were purchased for the nation by the National Trust in 1983. Nowadays more than 300,000 visitors each year come to see and marvel at this wonderful architectural extraveganza and piece of history. The many attractions throughout the estate include a Victorian church, Elizabethan mansion, deer park, lakes, family activities, and special events. There are lots for people of all ages to see and do both inside and around the ruins of Fountains Abbey.
Step inside the Abbey and find the doorway to history and heritage. The buildings and landscapes offer a view of architectural design that leave you wondering how on earth such a massive structure could have been built using only the very limited tools of the time – well, it did me!.
Guided tours take place daily and they are well worth following along. The guides are National Trust volunteers and as such care passionately about all things Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. Our guide is a sprightly, extrovert character. He seemed to paint pictures with his animated anecdotes of what life would have been like for the owners’ family and guests throughout the Georgian eighteenth century.
Many wonderful activities are scheduled for the evenings including concerts, plays, fireworks, and art displays – the mellow, floodlit ruins of the abbey forming a perfect backdrop. There is a complete education centre with a full program of projects and workshops.
The church of St Mary in the Studley Royal Deer Park was built in Victorian times by the architect William Burgess. He seemed to have a liking for the gothic style. Built on the line linking an Obelisk at the Studley end of the clear, straight vista, that carries the eye as far as Ripon Cathedral, it seems to make the obelisk redundant. Inside, the church is heavily decorated and contains a quite remarkable collection of stained glass windows!n centre with a full program of projects and workshops.
Fountains Hall, a four storey Elizabethan mansion was built partly from the stone ruins of the Abbey as a symbol of peace and prosperity. The history of the hall is one of mystery and the unknown – many stories about it are heard throughout the land. Some say it was a hiding place for Catholics during the Civil War. Other stories and legends suggest that Fountains Hall is haunted by the Lady in Blue.
Outdoors, the Studley Royal Water Garden will mesmerise you. The garden and deer park are full of wonderful landscaping including flowers, plants, and small lakes. Beautiful bridges lead you over the water. John Aislabie built paths and drives at various levels along the steep valley sides affording stunning and unexpected views through the foliage of the carefully placed garden follies. Enjoying a leisurely stroll through the garden you’re sure to find small temples and various statues throughout.
With a design very typical of the 18th century, the Temple of Piety is dedicated to Hercules. The High Ride Octagonal Tower, built in 1738, gives you wonderful views of the waters below. As does the round Temple of Fame, erected in 1770. Further along the Ride, from another folly you have a spectacular, surprise view of the ruins of Fountains Abbey.
The Deer Park of Fountains Abbey is home to more than 500 deer as part of a wildlife conservation program. The estate’s deerkeeper occasionally ventures through the park leading guided tours with the aim of viewing the three different species of resident deer. You would need to ask about details of when these are to take place. The natural conservation of the area makes it an ideal home for many other species too.
Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal lie 4 miles west of Ripon off the B6265 to Pateley Bridge road. It is signposted from the A1 major trunk road and 12 miles north of the spa town of Harrogate.