Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden

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Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, to give it the full name, is a National Trust site and only a few miles from where I was staying with my aunt and a friend in Pateley Bridge last May. I have been to Fountains Abbey a few times because there is so much to see there. The first time was with my aunt – a diversion on our way home from the Lake District – and the second time on my own while staying in Harrogate. My aunt’s friend had not been there before and was not sure about spending a whole day there, but once we got there she became as enchanted with the place as we are and did not want to leave. We started in St. Mary’s Church – access to the car park is by Duck House, just past the Fountains Abbey entrance. We took the 11:00 a.m. tour of the church. The church was built by William Burges for the 1st Marquess and Marchioness of Ripon. One wonderful aspect on the outside of the church is that if you stand outside behind the sanctuary you can see Ripon Minster in the distance through an avenue of trees. It is wonderful that this view has not been interfered with in all these years. Inside the church is beautifully decorated with a very colourful sanctuary in reds, golds, lavenders and greens with lions and musical angels. There is no electricity in the church so it closes at 4:00 p.m. The first time we saw the church we were too late to enter so on subsequent visits we make sure it is our first stop. After our tour of the church we checked out the holiday let next door which used to be the chorister. It looks like a lovely house and you can’t beat the location and scenery! Down the hill below St. Mary’s is the tea house by the lake at the edge of the water gardens. It is a great spot to watch the water birds and it was a nice warm day to have lunch outside and listen to the cascade from the canal into the lake. After lunch we entered the water gardens through the Canal Gates entrance and spent the afternoon wandering around the water gardens and the path around the abbey. We saw a partridge up on the hill at Anne Boleyn’s Seat and a coot on its nest in the Half Moon Pond. The underbrush in the woods was full of wild garlic – a lovely sight and a very distinctive smell. The meadow along the River Skell to the east of the abbey ruins was awash with buttercups. It was a stark contrast to the thunder and lightning show we experienced on our first visit to the abbey, the largest monastic ruin in the country. That time we spent most of our time in Fountains Hall escaping the weather followed by a walk through the gardens and up on the hill to see the Surprise View/Anne Boleyn’s Seat, the Temples of Fame and Piety, the Octagon Tower and the Serpentine Tunnel before heading into the Deer Park and St Mary’s Church. Last time I took two tours in the grounds: the Aislabie Garden Tour at 11:30 and a tour of the abbey at 2:00. The first tour started at the Porter’s Lodge, went past the abbey along the water and round to the rustic bridge along the canal up to the Banqueting House for views across the formal water garden to the Temple of Piety, continuing along to Lakeside. The guide was very knowledgeable about the creation of the gardens by John Aislabie capturing the views to be enjoyed of the abbey and the temples and statues which adorn the gardens. The second tour was also very informative about the abbey ruins and how the monks lived and worked. If you do not have your own transport, Fountains Abbey is accessible by bus. There are often concessions to the National Trust admittance fee if you arrive at attractions via public transport. There is a 10:30 a.m. bus from Ripon (the Little Red Bus) which provides round trip service for £2.95 (2010 prices). Those wishing to walk can follow the footpath from Ripon for 3 miles to the Abbey. The last Little Red Bus leaves Fountains Abbey at 3:47 for Ripon. There is so much to see there and more walks that I have not been on such as the Seven Bridges Walk that I know I will be back.

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