Walk: Ripon to Fountains Abbey

in Ripon

Ripon Cathedral, Studley Royal Deer Park, Fountains Abbey & Hell Wath.

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The Route

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Walk Description

In 1132, thirteen Benedictine monks set off from St Mary’s Abbey at York in search of a more austere way of life. They stayed at Ripon on Christmas Day before walking four miles further west to an area of land in Skelldale given to them by the Archbishop of York.

Despite its sylvan appearance now, this remote wooded valley was “more fit for wild beasts than men to inhabit” in 1132. They established Fountains Abbey as part of the Cistercian Order, which grew over the centuries into one of the richest monasteries in Europe with vast tracts of land throughout the North of England from the Lake District to the North Sea on which sheep were reared for their wool and meat.

However, bad harvests and frequent Scottish raids during the 14th Century brought about economic collapse. Despite its financial problems, Fountains remained an abbey of great importance with its abbots sitting in Parliament. All this came to an end in 1539 with Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, although Henry did give the Abbot and his monks a generous pension! The ruins of Fountains Abbey are the largest remains of a Cistercian abbey in Europe, an outstanding example of monastic life and architecture that includes an exceptional stone-vaulted Cellarium and one of the finest Cistercian mills in Europe.

The adjoining Studley Royal Water Garden was laid out in the 18th Century by John Aislabie. Although an amateur, Aislabie transformed the wild valley of the River Skell into a formal landscaped garden. The Water Garden now stands as the most important Georgian water garden in England with lakes, water features, temples, statues and woodland. The Water Garden occupies 60 acres of the 760 acre Studley Park, an expansive deer park where over 600 deer roam.

This walk retraces the footsteps of those monks who set out from Ripon Cathedral on Boxing Day 1132 to establish Fountains Abbey. The striking 13th Century West Front of Ripon Cathedral dominates the city skyline. The Cathedral is famed for its Saxon Crypt, the oldest in England, a simple chamber deep beneath the Nave. This is all that remains of the Saxon monastery founded in 672AD by St Wilfred above which towers the magnificent Norman Cathedral. Inside there is a wealth of architecture to marvel at including the 15th Century choir stalls and misericords carved by the famous Ripon School of Carvers.

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