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Visit Historic Fountains Abbey Ruins and Studley Royal Gardens in Yorkshire

Visit Historic Fountains Abbey Ruins and Studley Royal Gardens in Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey in Ripon, Yorkshire, is England’s largest and best-preserved monastic ruin and a British landmark I was eager to see. I enjoy wandering around religious ruins, but this one would be the biggest and most intact I have visited to date.

Not only is it a feat of architectural brilliance, but it is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Its history dates back to 1132, when 13 Benedictine monks founded Fountains Abbey as a place to live a simpler life.

On the same site is Studley Royal, a haven of gardens, statues, water features and gothic follies.

As we were staying in nearby Harrogate during our Road Trip around England and Scotland, we decided to visit Fountain Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens to learn more about this must-visit Yorkshire attraction.

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A Pinterest graphic depicting Fountains Abbey

Must-See Attractions When Visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens

  • See the Cellarium, Huby’s Tower and the Chapel of the Seven Altars.
  • Step inside Fountains Abbey mill.
  • See the follies in Studley Royal Water Gardens.
  • Walk along the lake between the ruins and the water gardens.
  • Follow the path to see the Temple of Fame, Anne Boleyn’s seat and the Octagon Tower.
  • Stroll through the medieval deer park.
  • Visit St Mary’s church, with its gothic architecture.
  • Learn the history of Fountains Abbey at the interactive exhibition.

The History of Fountains Abbey

Why did the monks choose to build Fountains Abbey in Ripon?

We never expected the grounds and ruins to be so large and in such good condition.

From the gated entry point to the main chapel and abbey ruins, it felt like the monastery had only been standing for a few centuries rather than dating back to medieval times.

It’s easy to see why the 13 monks arriving in 1132 from St Mary’s Abbey in York found this the perfect place to locate their abbey.

The monks had branched away from the Benedictine Order and joined the Cistercian Order, originating in France, which focused on a life of manual labour and self-sufficiency.

They were looking for a simpler way of life, and a return to a stricter existence of worship, and Ripon offered them just what they were searching for. They set about building their religious community naming it Fountains Abbey after the natural water springs in the area.

The monks employed lay brothers (labourers) to harvest crops, tend to livestock and deal with wool production.

This left more time for the monks to dedicate to God. It worked well for all concerned and made Fountains Abbey very wealthy.

Monastic Orders

I should mention the difference between the two orders.

The Benedictine monks originally followed a strict daily routine. They dedicated their day to worship without contact with the outside world, but this sect became more lapsed over time.

The Cistercian Order was formed to return the values of hard work and continual daily worship to the monks’ lives. 

Each Cistercian Abbey was laid out similarly so that visiting monks from home and abroad would find their way around and quickly settle into monastic life.

Read about Waverley Abbey in Surrey, the first Cistercian Abbey to be built in England

Why was Fountains Abbey left in ruins?

The monks remained at Fountains Abbey for 400 years until Henry VIII dissolved all Catholic monasteries in 1539. They were then sent away with a small allowance to start a life elsewhere, and the abbey was sold.

It remained privately owned and in disrepair until the 1960s, when the local council took it over.

In 1983 it was once again sold, this time to the National Trust, which is now its custodian.

Things to See at Fountains Abbey

Stroll around the ruins, and you can imagine what life would have been like all those centuries ago.

See the Cellarium and Raby’s Tower and stroll along the stream as it meanders beneath several small bridges.

Picnic by the wooded and grassy areas or order refreshments from the cafe by the stream near the ruins.

Studley Royal Water Gardens

Fountains Abbey is part of Studley Royal Water Gardens, and a leisurely lake walk links the two.

Suppose you are looking for a quintessentially English setting. In that case, you will be hard pushed to find a better location, as Studley Royal water gardens are the best-preserved example of Georgian landscaping in England.

Created in the 18th century and designed in harmony with the abbey ruins, the gardens remain in their original form.

Mirror-like lakes, water fountains and babbling streams can be seen all over the gardens and are breathtaking. Hard landscaping consisting of ornate statues and several follies (extravagant garden buildings designed to suggest another purpose) adds visual depth to the gardens.

We followed the garden trail that took us all around the site, highlighting viewpoints and areas of particular interest. 

A centrepiece named the ‘moon pond’ is in front of a Greek-style villa and statues of Greek Gods. The property remained in the ownership of the council until the 1980s when the National Trust bought it.

Near the car park, you will find another cafe overlooking a beautiful lake with inside and outside seating; a lovely spot to visit at the beginning or end of your day for refreshments. The adjacent Fountain Abbey deer park has a trail to the Church of St Mary, a Gothic revival church constructed in 1871.

Fountains Abbey is just one of many great things in the Yorkshire Dales. We stayed for around 4 hours and got a fantastic insight into monastic life in medieval Britain.

Getting to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens

Address: Fountains Abbey Ripon, North Yorkshire, HG4 3DY

By Car: Parking is free on-site at the visitor centre or pay-and-display at Studley Royal car park. Travelling from Ripon will take 10 minutes, from Harrogate it will take 25 minutes, and from York one hour.

By Coach: If you are using York as a base to explore this part of England, then you may enjoy a Tour of the Yorkshire Dales and Fountains Abbey.

Stay: We travelled from Harrogate and stayed at the beautiful Rudding Park Hotel and Spa.

The National Trust now owns the property and it is free to enter for members.

Please Pin for Future Travel to England

Pinterest Graphic showing the chapel at fountains abbey


Tuesday 9th of June 2020

It seems they just left it to weather. One set of owners in the 17th century built a Manor House for their private use using some of the stone from the abbey and also used the stone to create several structures in the gardens.

lannie travels

Saturday 6th of June 2020

love this post! i'd love to visit this place. if you can imagine, yorkshire is near the top of my list for when travel between scotland and england is allowed! :) thanks for sharing!


Saturday 6th of June 2020

Yes we did visit it on our way back from Scotland to England. It’s a lovely place to spend the day.


Tuesday 2nd of June 2020

Oh wow this place looks amazing! Exactly the sort of thing my husband and I love exploring, so thank you for the introduction! I’ll be pinning for future reference x


Wednesday 3rd of June 2020

Great to know Kerry 😃 hope you can visit at some point soon x


Tuesday 2nd of June 2020

Beautiful ruins! I to find it so interesting that there are these sites everywhere in a England and yet people often overlook them. Maybe that’s a good thing! Just love the history and the settings!


Tuesday 2nd of June 2020

We are blessed with so many historic places in the UK - we are spoilt for choice!


Tuesday 2nd of June 2020

It's lovely to hear that you have actually been here - it's a great place - glad I could take you for a walk down memory lane.