One of the most evocative ruins in Britain, a water garden that’s a World Heritage Site, plenty of old and interesting paths and links with Robin Hood – walking by Fountains Abbey and through Studley Royal Park makes an admirable expedition for an autumn day.
We go quite often because of the beauty of the landscape and the fascinating history of the place. Our walk the other day coincided with the rutting season for the Studley Royal deer, the bellowing of the stags echoing across the valley.
When I wrote my recent historical novel Villain – the third in the Chronicles of Robin Hood saga, I was determined to have some scenes at Fountains Abbey – there is a tradition that this is where a monk called Tuck first encountered the famous outlaw and where they dunked each other in the River Skell.
Here there is a Robin Hood’s Well and a Robin Hood’s wood – all waiting to be explored.
Though, in fairness, I have to add that there was a Fountains down in Sherwood which could make similar claims. But I rather liked putting one of my favourite walks in a novel, so there we are!
It was a beautiful day as we set out from the Fountains Abbey visitor centre to walk down to Studley Royal. We took the woodland path, passing Robin Hood’s Well along the way.
Not only is there the medieval abbey to look at – and the ruins are more substantial than the simpler and early abbey that a monk like Tuck would have known – but the 18th century water gardens laid out by the landowners John, and his son William, Aislabie.
So from the medieval you soon find yourself walking through a formally designed Georgian landscape.
Below Studley Lake we walked down Seven Bridges Valley – actually only five bridges now survive. Part of this was once a formal Chinese Garden, though there’s little trace of this now. Never mind. The narrow and rocky valley is a delight.
The path climbs up through woodland to an agricultural landscape with fine views over Ripon with its cathedral, passing Plumpton Hall on the way. This is a fine old building, looking lost in time as you go.
The park of Studley Royal remains, though the great home of the Aislabie family is no more – fire destroyed it utterly in 1946.
But we saw plenty of deer as we walked through the park and heard the bellowing of the rutting stags. We walked up to St Mary’s Church, built in 1870 and a fine example of Victorian Gothic, designed by William Burges.
Then back to Fountains Abbey – such a haunting place which despite its ruined state still gives you a feeling of what it must have been like for a medieval monk.
If you feel like walking here there are several good walks which may be downloaded from the National Trust’s Fountains Abbey site or which may be picked up as leaflets at the visitor centre.
And if you haven’t read my Robin Hood novel Villain, which features Fountains Abbey, it’s out now in paperback and on Kindle. Just click on the link below to start reading for free…