When I studied abroad in Nottingham, we took a lot of group trips around the country. One of the most memorable was our trip to York, and the day we spent exploring Fountain’s Abbey.
These abbey ruins are some of the finest, most beautiful, and stunningly atmospheric in the country. Fountain’s Abbey is definitely my top pick out of Yorkshire’s many ruined abbeys. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site!
The history of the abbey dates back to 1132, when it was established by Cistercian monks disaffected with life at St. Mary’s Abbey in York. Together with Rievaulx Abbey and Jervaulx Abbey, it was one of the three major Cistercian abbeys in Yorkshire and in the North of England.
The abbey prospered and became quite wealthy through trade with sheep and wool. Like most places in the country, it suffered during the Plague in the mid-1300s, as the populace was decimated by disease.
The abbey was dissolved in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the English Reformation, on the orders of Henry VIII. The monks were sent away, the abbey’s assets seized by the crown, and the buildings destroyed. The roof was taken right off the top of the church to ensure no one would return to live there.
Today, the ruins are simply magnificent. There is a large visitor center with a café and gift shop, and the site is run by the National Trust (although English Heritage members also get free entry).
Fountain’s Hall is the Elizabethan-style manor house, which apparently was built with masonry and stone scavenged from the dissolved abbey!
There is also a small museum in the Porter’s Lodge, which explains the history of the abbey in depth. There is also a fantastic model of the abbey complex, with details on all the different buildings.
Another highlight is Fountain’s Mill, which was in use up until the early 1900s. It is the only remaining 12th-century Cistercian corn mill in the country.
But of course, the main attraction is Fountain’s Abbey itself. The nave and the tower are massive and overshadow the whole site.
The cellarium, where food was stored, used to be underground and has a green tinge to the walls.
Other structures include the refectory, cloisters, chapter house, and laybrothers’ toilets.
The abbey church was completed in 1170, with many additions and renovations following. The tower, also called Huby’s Tower after Abbot Huby (abbot from 1494-1526), is in an unusual position and is 160 feet (49 meters) tall!
Don’t miss the carvings around the windows on the northern side just past the tower.
One of the best parts of Fountain’s Abbey is the large gardens and grounds. The view from Anne Boleyn’s Seat is not to be missed. Ironically, Anne Boleyn never visited Fountain’s Abbey! The viewpoint got its name in the 17th-century from a headless statue nearby.
Besides the abbey ruins itself, the site is also home to Studley Royal Gardens. The beautifully landscaped gardens include not just massive lakes (with swans!) and fountains, but temples and sculptures too. The Temple of Fame and Octagon Tower were two of my favorites.
The gardens were created in the early-mid 1700s by John Aislabie, a politician who was banned from office and retreated in disgrace to his estate.
You can also visit the Deer Park, but I only saw one single deer during my visit. Another site of interest is St Mary’s Church. It’s located on the edge of the Deer Park and Fountain’s Abbey estate, and is run by English Heritage. Unfortunately, St. Mary’s Church is closed during the winter from October-April. There are also lots of great hiking and walking opportunities in the area though!
Fountain’s Abbey is just a few miles away from the town of Ripon. I think combining a trip to Fountain’s Abbey with Ripon would be an excellent day in Yorkshire if you’ve got a car to do both!
Ripon is connected to York by bus #22, which runs roughly every 2 hours—but with no Sunday service. The journey costs £7.50 for a return ticket, and takes about 80 minutes. You can take the #139 bus from Ripon to Fountain’s Abbey as well (15 minutes, Mon/Thurs/Sat only). However, it would be tricky (if not impossible) to see Ripon and Fountain’s Abbey in a single day without your own transportation. During the summer, there is a special Dales Bus service (Fountains Flyer, #822) from York that goes to Fountain’s Abbey on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays as a daytrip.
Fountain’s Abbey is one of my favorite places in Yorkshire: atmospheric and haunting, rich with history, and nestled among beautiful scenery. Because of the size and scale of the remaining abbey ruins, and the idyllic nature of the gardens, lakes, and grounds, I think Fountain’s Abbey is the best of Yorkshire’s ruined abbeys. And possibly the best in the country!
This is definitely one place you must visit in Yorkshire!
Have you ever been to Fountain’s Abbey, or another set of ruins?