In a small valley, in Yorkshire (midway between London and Edinburgh), a river runs quietly and peaceful. People have been here for a long time. This couple from Missouri visited in October 2016. There are several abbey ruins on our bucket list and we chose to visit the National Trust site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, near Harrogate. Because there’s a friendly antique centre full of our kind of treasure at Harrogate! It’s the Harrogate Antique Centre at Crimple Hall. Anyway back to the story….
Thirteen monks were given land in the valley, where the River Skell runs, in 1132. Here, they founded an abbey. Originally part of the Benedictine order, the monks switched their alliance to the Cistercian Order. The massive abbey grew, built from the white sandstone that lined the valley. Many workers laboured for years. Wood buildings went up and then, down, replaced by marble and stone. The storeroom, cellars and latrines were thoughtfully situated over the river, to make use of the cool river temperature. The abbey became one of the most wealthy abbeys in England.
A mill was built next to the river and provided a source of income for the Order. As the conflict between Henry VIII and the Roman Catholic Church ramped up, most abbeys fell to the crown. The Fountains Abbey was abolished in 1539 by edict from the crown. The little mill on the river was saved due to the income it produced. It is the oldest 12th Century cornmill in all of England. It was still operating in the mid-20th century and it is the only original complete building on the grounds.
As the abbey’s land was divided between important families, two massive country manor houses were built on adjoining land. The Fountains Hall was a Jacobean House. Construction began on it in 1598 and builders used stone from the abbey ruins. The other mansion, Studley Royal began in 1452. A medieval mansion, it burned down twice and was rebuilt. Now, it is a private home. The Studley Royal owners used the river and began to make plans for a Water Garden. The work on digging the canals, lakes and ponds began in 1716 and they still exist today. A folly temple tempts the visitors a little further down the path. It’s easy to imagine characters from a Jane Austin novel strolling around the ponds. In 1767, the owner of Studley Hall bought the Fountains Abbey estate, once again combining the estate, and the abbey ruins became a focal point for the water garden. The work on the Water Gardens foreshadowed the landscape work by Capability Brown and set the stage for known English landscape gardens.
Nowadays, tourists visit the river and the valley. If they are like us, they miscalculate the acres as they walk down from the visitors centre, past flocks of sheep, to the ruins and onto the water gardens, descending down into the valley. Distracted by the quiet beauty and the sounds of the pheasants rooting in the underbrush. Then, they are suddenly aware how long the path is once they start back to the car. A 10 minute walk down to the river and a 45 minute walk back up hill. We highly recommend you visit the designated Studley Royal Park including the Ruins of Fountains Abbey, an UNESCO World Heritage Site. We had great fun exploring the ruins and imagining the quiet life of the devout monks. Lots of rooms and ruins to discover!
On a side note: Near our hometown of Springfield Missouri is Assumption Abbey. The Trappist monks, who reside there, are part of the Cistercian Order. The same order that lived in Fountains Abbey. According to Damian, our substitute while we shop, they make the best fruitcake ever! Something for your Christmas 2017 list.