On at least three occasions this year we have come close to visiting Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden but never actually made it there. We were delighted to finally visit the other day and it didn’t disappoint. Fountains Abbey is located near Ripon in North Yorkshire and is maintained by the National Trust. Please read on for my review of our day out to the Abbey and what we did on our day out. We spent a staggering seven hours there and we still didn’t manage to do everything we wanted to do.
*Disclaimer. We received complimentary tickets for the purpose of my review. All opinions and photos are my own and must not be duplicated without prior consent.
This was day 47 of our #80dayschallenge to have at least 80 days out in one year.
A bit about Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey is the largest monastic ruin in the UK. It was founded in 1132 by thirteen Benedictine monks from St Mary’s Abbey in York, they later became Cistercian monks. The abbey was named Fountains Abbey because of the springs of water that existed in the area. They were very successful and prospered for some time from the thousands of sheep that they kept. They even sold their wool goods overseas in Europe and increased to around 200 monks.
Review Fountains Abbey
We arrived a little after 10 am to a pretty quiet car park. You can park at the abbey or the Royal water gardens. Parking is free at the abbey but not the water gardens. We arrived at the Abbey entrance where you can use the toilets and restaurant before you pay to enter (or show your National trust card). We were handed a very large map which we actually referred to quite a lot during our visit. There are plenty of signposts around the grounds but the map was also very useful.
Fountains Abbey Adventure Playground
We noticed that the adventure play area was the closest thing to the main entrance. It had rained a lot in the night so we decided to go see how wet it was. Luckily it’s the kind of equipment where it doesn’t matter if it gets wet. The play area was excellent.
There was so much to play on and early on it was so quiet. My son really loved the adventure assault course. There was so much to it. He was over the moon and did it quite a few times. There’s also a lovely wooden play area based on an abbey, zip wire, lots of swings and an activity area with swing skittles, bean bag toss, ball rolling and more.
Other things to see on the way down to the Abbey
After at least an hour in this part, we headed on down to the abbey. Along the way, we found an old farm that used to be run by some of the monks. They used to have thousands of sheep and they sold their wool products throughout Europe. It was very enterprising and they also sold sheep’s cheese and milk. We stopped to add a row to their knitting.
We then carried on down the hill to Fountains Hall. It was now we started to realise just how hilly the grounds are. During our staggering seven-hour visit we walked up and down a lot of steep hills which can really tire out your legs. The paths are excellent though and mostly buggy friendly. We also noticed wheelchairs on the better paths. The hall is a gorgeous building and worth a visit. My son loved having a go on the old typewriter. Most things you are encouraged to touch and discover which is nice.
After visiting the hall we headed over to the mill. This is one of the oldest intact buildings. It’s was very interesting and the old mill wheel is still working today. You can even ring the bell but it has been deadened somewhat. There were videos and plenty of interactive things.
We also visited the Porter’s Lodge Inside there is an exhibition about the abbey and young and old can dress up as a monk.
We were then going to head to the abbey but we decided to stop for some lunch. There is a small cafe serving sandwiches and hot and cold drinks near the abbey. You can also get hot and cold food etc. in the restaurant by the main entrance. Or there’s a cafe over by Studley water gardens. One thing to note is this is also the only three areas for toilets. It’s a long way to get around without toilets so plan well.
Exploring Fountains Abbey
My son was itching to explore the abbey throughout lunch. Fountains Abbey is breathtakingly stunning. As is the surrounding grounds. The large and mostly intact tower towers over the ruins. How they ever built something so tall back then is beyond me.
Some of the remaining arches are also enormous and a sheer wonder. There is so much to explore in the abbey. You’re also allowed to walk on the walls and everywhere you looked you could see children having the time of their lives walking on the ruined walls.
The highlight for me was the Cellarium. The arched roof was stunning and I loved all the little bridges with four streams running under the floor.
We spent a long time climbing and exploring. It would have been nice to see some signs around the abbey detailing how each area was used. That is the one thing I felt was missing. Everything worth seeing is indicated with a number on the map so you can refer to this if you don’t want to miss anything. You can also easily access the stream so you can go paddling if you wish.
More photos of Fountains Abbey
I decided to then take the top path around the top of the grounds. This gave us some stunning views of the abbey. There was also a couple of things to look in along the way but I did later wish we’d gone the other way to the water gardens. That saying had we done that we’d have missed the swimming hedgehog that some ladies pointed out to us. I never knew they could swim.
Studley Royal Water Gardens review
In the grounds, we found a couple of wooden stands with a picture of a painting from the past depicting the scenery in front of us. You could then open the doors and see the landscape how it looks today. We loved this.
By now our legs were tiring but we were determined to push on and find all the follies in the Studley royal water gardens. Firstly we headed up to the Banqueting hall which was clearly once very lavish. Inside here they have some wonderful Georgian costumes that you are welcome to dress up in.
We then stopped for an ice-cream at the cafe near here and enjoyed a well-earned rest. Once rested we went on the folly walk around the rest of the royal gardens. The walk on the wooden platform over the water provides you with some stunning views plus it’s a little bit scary as there are no sides to the bridge.
The walk from now on on the path we took was up up up. The first folly was the serpentine tunnel. In the past, people used to walk up this dark tunnel to then be fed via a small kitchen at the top. Sadly no such treatment for us food-wise but visually it was certainly a treat. The walk then takes you high up through a forest which felt magical with the wind blowing through the trees. Here are some photos of other follies we found along the way. The path eventually leads you back down the hill and we walked around the large ornamental ponds with statues, geese, swans and ducks. There’s a perfect hill for rolling down around here.
It was getting late now. We had really wanted to walk over the seven bridges but no way could our legs go the distance. We often like to leave places with a reason to return so that is our reason. Instead, we headed for St Mary’s church. It’s a beautiful church but sadly for us, it was shut. It’s open from Easter until September from 12 pm until 4 pm. We missed it being open by just fifteen minutes….another one for next time.
My son and I were on the brink of not being able to walk another step further. But we followed the signs back to the car park and rewarded our selves with a lovely cool drink from the restaurant. What a day out. It is certainly somewhere you can spend a very long time. Or you could go there and just visit the play area and abbey and still leave happy and content. It is in such a stunning setting. I really can’t compare it to anywhere. It’s unique and well worth a visit. The price isn’t cheap if you aren’t a member of the National trust but to walk in such well kept, pleasurable grounds and to fit so much into one day makes it more than worth it.
It is free to visit Fountains Abbey if you are a member of either English Heritage or the National Trust. An adult standard ticket without gift aid costs £16.00 and £8.00 for a child. Children under 5 visit for free.
Fountains Abbey is open for most of the year. Please check their calendar before you leave home.