Ben and I were discussing memory at the weekend as we drove into the entrance to Fountains Abbey. This National Trust property is one that I’ve visited many times over the years, but if I focus hard enough, I think I can just about grasp my first memory of it. I have this short “clip” of a memory – looking out of a car window, entering a driveway with gates on either side, and my grandad telling me we were going to do a 7 mile walk. I don’t think I was more than about 4 years old.
The funny thing is that I can’t remember anything else from that visit, nor am I certain that it was even Fountains Abbey at all. And I can say that we most likely didn’t walk 7 miles that day!
Nevertheless, Fountains Abbey, and its next door neighbour, Studley Royal, is somewhere that’s been in my life for a very long time. That I’ve visited with various generations of family over the years, and finally, in the past 10 years, with Ben. The weather turned out lovely for my last weekend as a Miss, and despite feeling like there was something I should be doing for the wedding, we got up on Sunday morning, jumped into the car and headed over to Fountains Abbey, National Trust cards in hand, to enjoy the beautiful weather with a walk in beautiful surroundings.
My last outfit post was taken with another local ruin in the background, Byland Abbey, so I feel like I’m making something of a habit of this! Seriously, that could make a fun series though – we have another few within half an hour’s drive from home I could feature! Fountains Abbey is located just outside Ripon, where my office is – in fact, I could pop there on a lunchbreak if I wanted!
Like Byland Abbey, Fountains Abbey is an ancient ruin, founded in 1132 and dissolved in 1539, along with many others around the country. During its heyday, it was one of the largest and wealthiest Cistercian monasteries in England. The site for the ruins is huge and it’s very well preserved. You can wander amongst the stones and easily imagine what it might have looked like hundreds of years ago.
Fountains Abbey doesn’t stand alone; you can also visit an Elizabethan hall and the Cistercian mill on the property, as well as a medieval deer park of over 800 acres, and the stunning Studley Royal Water Garden which deserves a description all of its own!
The valley of the River Skell, which flows through Ripon, is beautiful in its own right, but in the 18th century, John Aislabie decided to change the estate of Studley Royal from a wild woodland that he’d inherited into a series of lakes, canals and ponds to create some of the most stunning Georgian gardens in England to impress his guests. These still exist today just like they did then, and the Abbey itself makes a dramatic backdrop to the carefully curated ponds of Studley Royal – on a hazy, sunny day like this one, it looks like a landscape painting in real life! In addition to this, the gardens are dotted with classical statues and follies. This summer, they have an exhibition of modern follies hidden throughout the gardens too.
Last summer we visited Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal on a similarly sunny day with a picnic in hand. This year, we got there earlier so parked up at the visitor centre and took the winding walk down through the wild garlic and bluebell filled woodland to take in the Abbey before wandering down the buttercup meadow alongside the stream to where it changes in to the more uniform landscape of the water gardens in the valley. This valley is surrounded by woodland groves before it opens out on the lake and rolling parkland filled with deer at the West Gate, where we stopped for an ice cream.
Though our walk on Sunday wasn’t quite the 7 miles I remember my grandad telling me we were walking (I think we did around 3 miles over a couple of hours), there are a number of walks around the Abbey, water gardens and deer park, as well as ones that take you around the surrounding area too.
And though I’m not entirely sure my outfit makes for the best walking outfit, it certainly made me feel very summery and was light and airy in the warm weather. Since the wildflowers were in bloom around the Abbey and water gardens, the florals on this vintage dress seemed to fit in perfectly with their backdrop.
PS: Sorry for the photo overload in this post – the Abbey and its surroundings are just too beautiful not to share!