One of my favorite things about living in York is how much there is to do in the surrounding area. Yorkshire is fabulous and full of places to visit and things to see. Ever since I moved to York, I’ve been wanting to see the ruined abbeys dotted around the county. Rievaulx Abbey, in North Yorkshire, was at the top of my list!
Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132, by the Cistercian order of monks. It grew to be a significant abbey with great wealth, as the monks sold wool from sheep to merchants across Europe. There were 140 monks and possibly 500 lay brothers during its height of prosperity.
During the 14th century, both a raid from Scotland and the Black Death had drastically decreased the size and wealth of the abbey.
Rievaulx Abbey was dissolved in 1538 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, part of King Henry VIII’s Reformation in England. Like many of the other formerly wealthy abbeys, Rievaulx was confiscated by the crown, and rendered uninhabitable.
Today, Rievaulx Abbey is run by English Heritage. There is a small museum, with lots of great stonework from the abbey prior to its dissolution. But by far, the best part of visiting the abbey is getting to explore the ruins. You can still visit the central church and walk down the nave, see the dining hall, and climb over the walls of various other buildings and rooms. I felt like a kid in a candy store getting to run around the ruins!
Along with Fountains Abbey and Jervaulx Abbey, Rievaulx Abbey is one of the finest abbey ruins in Yorkshire, if not the country.
From Rievaulx Abbey, it’s about 3 miles to the charming village of Helmsley (you can walk or drive). Yorkshire is full of quaint market towns to amble around, and Helmsley is no exception.
One of the biggest attractions for visitors is Helmsley Castle, which sits right in the village. Construction on the castle began around 1120, although most of the structures left today are more medieval.
You walk along what used to be the old moat, before reaching the barbican and gate. The castle was besieged by the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War in 1644. It held out for 3 months for the Royalists before the Parliamentarians won. They blew up parts of the castle to ensure no one could defend it, leaving rubble all around. Look through the grass as you walk around, as you can still walk through the old chapel and kitchen.
The West Range was remodeled in the 16th century, and today houses exhibits on the history of the castle, its part in the Civil War, and its former owners.
Helmsley is just about as picturesque and quaint as they come. The small market town is generally busy with shoppers, and motorcyclists who meet on weekends after driving through the North Yorkshire Moors. The Market Square has a large statue of the second Baron Feversham, who was an MP and then served in the House of Lords.
All Saints Church mainly dates from the 1860s. It’s nice enough to merit a quick walk around inside, and has some very colorful wall paintings from the 1900s.
One of my favorite parts of Helmsley was the colorful flowers outside of Hunters, a family run deli. This shop had been named the Best Small Shop in Britain in 2015!
If you’re visiting in the summer, the Helmsley Walled Garden was first built in 1759 and has a huge variety of plants. Duncombe Park was the home of the Duncombe family, who bought the Helmsley and Rievaulx estates. The house was destroyed in a fire in 1879, so not much is original. But the grounds have several temples and beautiful landscaping.
Helmsley is accessible by public transportation from York, by the #31X bus. The journey takes about 1.5 hours, Monday-Saturday (Sundays and Bank Holidays only operate in the summer). Additionally, the Moors Bus M4 makes the journey between Helmsley and Rievaulx a few times per day on Sundays and bank holiday Mondays in the summer.
If you’re headed to this part of the North Yorkshire Moors, I really recommend combining the trip to Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley. I absolutely loved this day exploring this part of North Yorkshire!
Have you ever visited any places like this, in England or anywhere in the world?