Friday, December 13, 2019

Fountains Abbey: towering, vast, ancient link with a long ago time


Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in Yorkshire is  the largest of  its kind in Europe, a vast ruin open to the sky.

Bruce Keller dons a monk's robes to try to imagine what life might
have been like centuries ago, working the inhospitable land.



 NAMED FOR the nearby water source that once fed the monks' crops, Fountains Abbey is one of the best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England.
We recently walked in the monks' shadows in this beautiful but rugged, much loved sanctuary in North Yorkshire. It's located near the charming village of Aldfield and is a World Heritage Site.
Medieval architecture remains in a beautiful setting
making Fountains Abbey a unique tourist destination.
Our Yorkshire hosts, John and Sue, prepped us for the beauty and drama of the ruins, but not the sheer size.  Fountains not only boasts beautifully preserved ruins. It is also by far the largest monastic ruins in the country.
ONE CAN walk for hours, and still not explore its verdant slopes entirely.
The abbey goes back nine centuries, founded in 1132 when 13 disgruntled Benedictine monks broke away from St Mary’s in York. They felt St. Mary's had strayed too far from the original Benedictine principles of austerity and simplicity.
These hard-working men eventually founded their own order, meanwhile plowing the land, raising sheep and providing their own food and garments.
Fountains remained in private hands until the 1960s, but in between were the Georgians, who crafted the first of the stunning gardens.  John Aislabie, a well known British politician, and his son William owned the land for years and added to its elegant hedges and sculpture gardens.
An opulent Victorian church was designed by William Burges in the deer park.  A Jacobean manor house also stands on the grounds, and this month, Christmas is ushered in with frost twinkling above the moon ponds and a carol service in the cellarium.

"Keller and Cookie" prowl the Fountains grounds.
  The place is lighting up for the holidays and concerts.
THE ESTATE is expansive -- almost 670 acres -- and includes a unique water garden, graceful temples, imposing statues, and large grassy areas used for weddings, picnics, concerts and parties. People travel from all over the world to bask in the glories of the natural landscape. National Trust volunteer guide John Carter explained the history behind the landmark as we wandered: The thick forests and mountain slopes, jutting rocks and raging River Skell convinced York's Archbishop Thurston to deed the inhospitable land to the troublesome  monks.  Perhaps he figured it wouldn't amount to much. Wrong.
Clever, and desperate, the monks offered to pray for their neighbors' salvation in exchange for gifts of money and endowments.
Eventually, their enterprise made it one of the largest, richest and most influential Cistercian abbeys in Britain.
Abbeys abound in Europe and the United Kingdom, but none to surpass
Fountains Abbey with its well preserved ruins and fine Visitors Center.

BUT LIFE for a 12th century monk was not easy. The monks undertook vows of poverty, simplicity, obedience, chastity and silence. These vows were strictly observed.  Contact with women was forbidden. Their diet was severe: bread, vegetables and beer; just two meals were offered each day in summer, only one in winter. The monks dedicated their lives to prayer and meditation with church services eight times a day, every day, starting at 2 a.m. Not a life for the weak or unprincipled. 
  A wedding party rests between photos at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. 

LOCALS LOVE to show  the abbey off, as well they should. We promised our friends we would return to do adequate justice to it.  One could easily spend a day or two in any season. The site is part of the National Trust, which looks after the place. It also boasts a nice restaurant where we enjoyed lunch. And, of course, a gift shop.
Perhaps it's time to purchase your own personal monk's robe.

This Chinese style duck was found not in a Cantonese city
but in a fancy Istanbul restaurant, on Christmas Day.
UP NEXT:  You may not find traditional fare while dining abroad during the holidays.  But you may be pleasantly surprised if you watch where the locals go to celebrate -- and embrace their choices.  Whether it's steak in Argentina, latkes in Israel, paella in Spain or a barbecue Down Under, give something new a try and embrace the change.  You may find yourself dining on duck in Istanbul! Remember to explore, learn and live, catching us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, the arts, family, nature and more:


  1. Love this wonderful corner of England. We also enjoy the beautiful area around Rievaulx Abbey, Birdsall, etc. Thank you for these lively, beautifully illustrated posts.

  2. Enjoy your original takes on travel. Always tune in and have shared many a post. Keep them coming, Cookie. And thanks for Bruce Keller's artful illustrations. What an eye!

  3. Fun day for us just last week. Heard beautiful carols.

  4. Francophile from NiceDecember 16, 2019 at 9:41 AM

    A wonderful part of England. Such history and grandeur in the ruins. Love the photos.

  5. As American ex-pats living abroad it is so refreshing to get your lovely, informed take on the world. Plus great photos. Keep it up

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