Tag Archives: Fountains Abbey

Yorkshire – Fountains Abbey

I like WordPress, I like the fluidity  and the ebb and flow of friendships and contacts.

I originally posted this in 2014 when I was in a completely different group of blogging pals, following and followers so I repost it here five years later.  If you have seen it before then I apologise.  Skip it and move on.

Fountains Abbey Ripon Yorkshire

This is a fabulous place. From the approach all you can see is the top of a stout tower because the Abbey was built in a deep valley of the River Skell and it is only when the path begins to dramatically drop that it is possible to grasp the immensity and grandeur of the building and to appreciate the serene beauty of this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Read the Full story…

Here I am reliving my days as a churchgoing choirboy…

Benedictine Monk Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

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Yorkshire, England – Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey Ripon Yorkshire

Ripon had been rather quiet for a bank holiday Monday, which I suppose gives away the fact that it wasn’t that interesting – the busiest car park in fact was next to Sainsbury’s Supermarket – but in contrast, and I really wasn’t expecting this, Fountains Abbey was absolutely heaving with bank-holiday visitors.

We had considerable difficulty finding a parking spot and as we drove round and round, further and further away from the visitor centre I began to fear that I had made a mistake in coming here.

Eventually we found a space and beat two or three other people to it and as I eased the car into the tight space another driver waved to me and said well done – well I think that is what he said although he did look rather agitated and on reflection it wasn’t a friendly gesture and a smile it was ‘up yours’ and a scowl.

Now that we were parked any thoughts of by-passing the place and carrying on to an alternative visitor attraction immediately evaporated so we paid the rather expensive entrance fee of £10.50 each and made our way across a field to the ruined Abbey.

This is a fabulous place.  From the approach all you can see is the top of a stout tower because the Abbey was built in a deep valley of the River Skell and it is only when the path begins to dramatically drop that it is possible to appreciate the immensity of the building and to appreciate the serene beauty of this UNESCO  World Heritage Site.

Benedictine Monk Fountains Abbey Yorkshire

When the original thirteen Benedictine monks discovered this place in 1132 I bet they couldn’t believe their luck!  The sheltered valley had all the natural features needed for the creation of a monastery, providing natural protection and shelter from the weather, stone and timber for building and a supply of fresh running water.  After enduring a harsh winter in 1133, the monks applied to join the Cistercian order and in 1135 became the second house of that order in northern England after Rievaulx a few miles further north.  They began a journey that turned Fountains into one of the richest monasteries in all of Europe.

The Abbey flourished for four hundred years, its immense wealth based on sheep farming and the woollen industry especially after a law passed in 1326 which forbad English people from wearing foreign cloth.  What a stroke of luck that must have been, I can see the monks going around insisting on looking at the little labels sewn into peasant’s cloaks to make sure they weren’t made from something with an overseas origin.

All of this came to an end of course sometime between 1536 and 1541 during the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries when Henry VIII disbanded religious houses in England, Wales and Ireland, appropriated their income, disposed of their assets, and provided for their former members and functions. He was given the authority to do this in England and Wales by the Act of Supremacy in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England.

What surprises me is this.  In 1540 they hadn’t even finished building Ripon Minster,  four miles away, and this place was way bigger and better, so why didn’t they just abandon the Ripon project and just keep this one?  It seems to me that the Dissolution Business Plan was fundamentally flawed!

The land was confiscated, the treasures stolen and the building sold for redevelopment, a sort of medieval brown-field site and the Abbey was systematically dismantled and the stone sold for alternative construction work including nearby Fountains Hall.

Although it was busy it was not uncomfortably crowded and we walked through the ruins and then through a meadow of wild flowers next to the river and to the landscaped water gardens of Studley Royal and then after a couple of hours in the sunshine and without a picnic basket with which to join hundreds of other al- fresco diners on the Abbey front lawn it was time to move on.

Fountains Abbey Monks

Yorkshire, England – Ripon and the Cathedral and Tykes on Bikes

Ripon Market Place

“I came around a corner in the road, not thinking of anything other than reaching my destination, miles to the north, in the Yorkshire Dales,  rising up ahead of me… was a gorgeous church, practically towering over me.” 

I have been challenged several times for neglecting to visit more places in the United Kingdom and so after many years avoiding UK travel opportunities for some unexplained reason I decided completely out of character that we should set off for a couple of days into neighbouring Yorkshire.

The journey was a pleasant, mostly free flowing motorway and as this was a bank holiday I considered ourselves fortunate to reach the Cathedral city of Ripon in a little under two hours and parked the car close to the large Market Square and wandered into the centre.

Yorkshire Dales Postcard Map

If I had temporarily forgotten why I don’t travel in England I was reminded straight away.  Apart from the obvious differences in physical layout (and to be fair Ripon has a large and attractive market place) they are all the same.  Every town has the same shops, there is practically no individuality in the town centres.  Every shop that I can expect to find in my home town could also be found here.  These are not shops that interest me a great deal in Grimsby so it was completely unlikely that they would do so in Ripon.

Even worse than this however is the fact that town centre shops are in decline and just as in every other English town there was an over-supply of banks, building societies and pay day loan money lenders.  The trouble with financial service providers of course is that they simply cannot make their window displays interesting and except for a different logo all they can display is a list of lending and savings rates all of which are mostly similar anyway.

And then there are coffee shops. Coffee shops everywhere, they are spreading like a disease and I fail to understand the attraction of paying an inflated amount for a teaspoon full of granules and some hot milk and water.  If you want a drink – go to the pub!

Not being a fan of cycling I had forgotten that the 2014 Tour de France was starting with three stages in Yorkshire and this at last explained why there were so many yellow bicycles on display. Bicycles everywhere, yellow jerseys, yellow shop displays, yellow flags.  Every shop window, every advertising hoarding, every lamp post – the biggest and most successful French invasion since the Norman Conquest.

Tour de France Yorkshire

Personally I find it rather odd that they should start the Tour de France in Northern England, it’s like playing the first week of Wimbledon at Roland Garros or racing the first ten laps of the Canadian Grand Prix at Indianapolis and almost as daft as holding the FIFA Football World Cup in Qatar.

It didn’t take very long to walk around the centre of the fourth smallest city in England (fourth after Ely, Wells and the City of London) and after visiting a display of local art (not very good) in the Tourist Information Office we made our way along a street of charity shops and tea rooms to the jewel of the City – the Romanesque Cathedral.

The website Britain Express awards Ripon Cathedral a Heritage rating of four out of five and we entered through the main doors and waited for a few minutes while prayers were being said and then made a rapid tour of one of the smallest cathedrals in England.

Ripon is the Cathedral of the Bishop of Leeds for the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales.  This is a new Diocese created by a Church reorganisation in 2014 and as well as Ripon the Diocese has two more cathedrals at Wakefield and Bradford.  In fact Yorkshire has five cathedrals in all because there are two more at York and at Sheffield.  I used to think that each English County had only one Cathedral city but it turns out that as well as Yorkshire having five, Lancashire has four and Cambridgeshire, Kent and Hampshire all have two each.  Of all the forty-two Diocese however, West Yorkshire and the Dales is definitely however the only one with three cathedrals!

It is also possibly the largest Diocese in England although both Lincoln and York are working hard to dispute this claim and take bragging rights for themselves. It’s a very close thing, all of them cover an area of about two thousand seven hundred(ish) square miles but this is nothing however compared with the Diocese of Gibraltar in Europe which is geographically the largest diocese of the Church of England covering nearly a fifth of the entire World including North Africa, Europe (but not the UK obviously because this is split between Canterbury and York), a bit of Asia (Turkey) and the countries of the former Soviet Union.

Despite this immensity it has only one cathedral, the Diocesan Cathedral is the Holy Trinity, Gibraltar which is interesting for its Moorish style of architecture and it is headed by the Bishop in Europe, Rob Innes.  Except for having to live in Gibraltar* that sounds like a rather good job!

Plain and austere (except for Gibraltar), Anglican Cathedrals are no way near as interesting as the great Catholic cathedrals of Europe so it really didn’t take a great deal of time to look around.  At one stage there are some nice carvings of a handful of English medieval Kings and an impressive stained glass window but the Cathedral is most proud of its Saxon crypt which dates from 672AD and is claimed to be the oldest church building in England which has been in uninterrupted continuous use.  The crypt, less than ten feet high and seven feet wide, is part of one of England’s first stone churches and was founded by St Wilfrid to be the guardian of the Christian faith in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria.

On account of this I was expecting great things but a steep set of steps led to the overwhelmingly disappointing bare room and another set of steps led out again almost immediately from the other side.

And so we left the Cathedral and found a small café where we stopped briefly for a light lunch and a pot of Yorkshire tea and then made our way back to the car park and drove out of Ripon towards our next destination at nearby Fountains Abbey.

Ripon Cathedral Yorkshire

Some interesting information about cathedrals

* Actually he doesn’t live there at all but rather in Crawley in Sussex.  I’ve been to Crawley and on balance I think I’d rather live in Gibraltar!