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Fountains Abbey & Royal Studley Park | A Snapshot of Medieval Monastic Life in Yorkshire

Fountains Abbey & Royal Studley Park | A Snapshot of Medieval Monastic Life in Yorkshire

Haunting and beautiful, the ruined sites of England can offer a way for people to take a raw peek into life in the Middle Ages. Yet the view of these abbeys as you descend towards them are enough to lift the spirits, especially on a crisp winter’s afternoon with sunlight streaming through the abbey’s many arched windows.

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None do this better than the UNESCO recognised Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Gardens near Ripon in North Yorkshire. It’s magnificent 12th-century abbey ruins is one of the largest and best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England and amongst the most significant monastic remains in Europe.  So the perfect place for a little ‘road schooling‘ with the help of their excellent audio guides. Using a clever narrative, you listen to a young ‘novice’ monk being mentored by an older choir monk… it takes you through all the aspects of how the monastic day was run, what the structure and hierarchy were and some of the medieval influences on the monastery.
It’s interesting to see how this differs from other abbeys we visited including Whitby and Riveaulx. Perhaps in part due to it’s position adjoining the Royal Studley deer park but also due to it’s excellent play facilities, water mill and water gardens, it’s certainly a place that offers a full day out for families.

Set in a charming wooded river valley, Fountains Abbey has a dramatic setting in an old river valley with cliffs on either side. However, it isn’t far from two other amazing places to explore at the National Trust ‘Brimham Rocks‘ or the Stump Cross Caverns in Nidderdale.

Created in 1132, it survived as a working Abbey until King Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 16th century. Many of the monastic sites throughout England were abandoned and gradually fell into ruin. If you wanted an easy way to find more, try a visit to ‘Barley Hall‘ in the centre of York. It’s excellent visual exhibition offers a child friendly experience to help understand the complex nature of Henry VIII’s financial and religious decision.
The dissolution of the monasteries was one of the key features of Henry VIII’s reign. Henry broke with the Catholic Church in Rome after his wish to divorce his first wife, Catherine of Aragon – who had failed to give him a male heir – was refused by the pope. This led to Henry setting up the Church of England and began to take over monasteries, as they were seen as a cornerstone of Catholicism. Between 1536 and 1540, Henry took charge of more than 800 monasteries, abbeys, nunneries and friaries.
Casting their antlers each year in March-May, it takes around 3 months to regrow…. You can see them at this time with a ‘velvet’ covering which supplies nutrients to the growing antlers. But in August, they are said to ‘be in tatters’ as the velvet is rubbed off against trees and walls…

But what’s particularly interesting about this deer park rather than the likes of Burghley Park near Stamford, is the variety of deer on show (not to mention the Canada Geese). You’ll be treated to the Red Stags who ‘roar’ during a rut, whilst Fallows ‘belch’ or ‘bark’ and Sika stags ‘whistle’ or ‘scream’. There’s just so many of them and it’s hard to pick a favourite…

fountains abbey

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Ever wanted to pack your bags, just jump in a motorhome and go off and explore Europe as a family? Well, that’s exactly what my family has done since September 2015. Visiting 35 European countries, travelling over 54,000 miles and grabbing over 450 family experiences on the way… enjoying Bobsleigh in Norway, Climbing into Mt Etna in Sicily or Kayaking the River Dordogne.

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