Fountains Abbey has been on my radar for years, finally we made it. Easy to find, not far from Ripon in North Yorkshire, I expected some nice ruins and peaceful countryside – that I got but a stack more besides. A UNESCO World Heritage site, run by the National Trust, the Grade 1 listed abbey is one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries in England. These are for sure some of the most extensive ruins I have ever seen. Built in 1132 this was a thriving place until Henry VIII came along and plundered all the good stuff.
We parked up, had our picnic and set out to explore. The car park was packed, no problem though, the grounds are so enormous everyone gets absorbed. If you want a quiet corner there are no end of them to be had. Son wanted to linger in the gift shop (before we’d even started), we dragged him out and headed to the abbey. A gorgeous 15 minute walk, en route we passed a barn with children’s craft activities underway and had a peek inside.
Next up the Porter’s Lodge with an excellent exhibition all about the abbey, great if (like me) you didn’t know much about its history. Plenty of information and hands-on stuff for children too, it was perfect for us. Adults could read at their leisure while children remained entertained and absorbed, not just all about dashing to the next place. The lodge was once the gatehouse to the abbey, they have a great display on how the monks lived which really sets the scene for those ruins.
The ruins are extensive, huge and mind blowing. Some bits are complete ruins, others are perfectly preserved. There are guided tours throughout the day, our timings were out but I wish we had managed to take a tour. We caught the tail end of one, the guide was so entertaining and interesting, even Son admitted this would have been fun. Maybe next time…… The ruins are very atmospheric, you can almost feel the ghosts of the monks still going about their business.
Son loved Fountains Mill, built in the 12th century by the monks, it continued to function until 1927. We watched a very child-friendly video about the history of the mill, found more interactive stuff and tried our hand at grinding grain – backbreaking work. There’s a waterwheel to watch and upstairs a fascinating display set up like a dinner table showing the types of food and beverages the monks enjoyed.
We spent a while in the adventure playground after all that history and grain grinding – made of timber it’s top notch. Much jumping, balancing and swinging went on while Husband and I chilled out.
Later in the day we bypassed the ruins, strolled along by the river and made our way to Studley Water Gardens. This is a lovely wooded valley which, in the 18th century, was turned into spectacular Georgian water gardens.
Son could take or leave the water, but he did love the Follies. We walked the Folly trail and found a whole series of quaint buildings with breath-taking views – even a tunnel to go through right at the end. The water and ponds looked a bit murky, we didn’t spend too much time there but found the most gorgeous tearoom at the edge of a lake.
Fountains Abbey was a great family day out – Husband and I loved the ruins and all the history. Son, who can be immune to such beauty, still had a ball. Climbing, exploring, running around and those follies were his “best bits.”
On the way home, unplanned and unexpectedly we drove part of the Tour de France cycle route. Not quite the peloton passing through, but easy to imagine the electric atmosphere when this did happen. Yellow bikes everywhere, villages decked out with (knitted) bunting, yellow flowers in the shape of that jersey, it was fabulous. Many picture stops from us – wish we had been there when the real thing was happening, Yorkshire must have been buzzing.