Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden in Yorkshire

An 18th century garden with a World Heritage monastery ruin as a folly

Fountains Abbey
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Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, together make up one of North Yorkshire's best year-round visitor attractions. 

What makes this combined site unique is that it is the product of virtually one English eccentric's obsession and it has Britain's largest ruined monastery as its garden folly.

How a Disgraced Politician Created a Masterpiece

In 1693, John Aislabie, a prominent politician and the Tory MP from Ripon, inherited Studley Royal, an estate with roots dating back to 1200.

Some years later, in 1720, he was involved in a major financial scandal known as the South Sea Bubble and was drummed out of Parliament. By then he had risen to Chancellor of the Exchequer, one of the most powerful offices in the land, so his fall from grace must have been devastating. It led him to retire to his country estate where he spent the next 21 years - the rest of his life - creating his water garden.

One Man's Obsession

Remarkably, in an era that saw the rise of famous English landscape architects and celebrity gardeners, Aislabie developed Studley Royal Water Garden with almost no professional help. 

He and his son William, both enthusiastic amateur gardeners, designed the water garden to set off the estate with ornamental lakes, canals, and waterfalls, scenic vistas and lots of 18th century ornamental temples, statues and monuments. They took no advice from the top gardening and design names of the day - Capability Brown and John Vanbrugh among the most famous. Instead, Aislabie's head gardener was an estate worker and local laborers did most of the heavy lifting. 

Today, Studley Royal is considered one of the best surviving examples of a Georgian water garden and was Yorkshire's first UNESCO World Heritage Site.

About Fountains Abbey

Garden follies were a fashion in 17th and 18th century England. Every country estate with an important garden had a tiny faux classical temple, a few Greco-Roman-style columns or a tower that was never part of anything, designed to improve the view.  

When John Aislabie's son William decided their garden needed some picturesque ruins to improve the view he didn't go halfway. He bought the neighboring 900-year-old Cistercial abbey and integrated it into the garden plan. Now the abbey is one of the reasons this National Trust site achieved World Heritage status in 1987.

The abbey is Britain's largest monastic ruin and considered an aesthetic and engineering masterpiece. One of the National Trust's most visited sites, it was founded in 1132 by Benedictine monks. Three years later it became a Cistercian monastery and, before Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries, was one of the richest in England.

Fountains Abbey is one of the National Trust's most visited sites. If you don't manage to get there, you can still see some of its stained glass; stolen from Fountains during the English Reformation, some of it is installed at York Minster and Ripon Cathedral. 

To get the most out of your visit, join a guided tour of the abbey or the abbey and gardens, During the winter the tours are offered several times per month. Normal admission to the Abbey applies but the tours themselves are free.. Don't be surprised if you come across a group of tiny white friars. They are actually school children experiencing a day in the life of the abbey - a popular school outing.

And While You are There, Don't Miss

  • The Mill The estate's oldest building, the 800-year-old watermill is the only Cistercian cornmill left in Britain and you can try your hand at milling flour.
  • The Deer Park There are 500 Red, Fallow and Sika deer roaming open woodland studded with trees that are more than 300 years old.
  • St. Mary's Church A Victorian addition, the church is a focal point for the Deer Park, known for its stained glass and for the brightly colored parrots carved into its woodwork.
  • Fountains Hall An Elizabethan house on the estate with several rooms open to the public. You can stay in several vacation rental apartments in the Hall and even get married there.

    Visitor Essentials

    • Where: Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, Fountains, Ripon, North Yorkshire HG4 3DY, England
    • Phone: +44 (0)1765 608888
    • Opening times and ticket prices: - As with many National Trust properties, the schedule of opening times and admission prices for Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, is complicated, changing seasonally and from year to year. Ditto prices. The best way to find out what's open when and what it will cost you is to visit their website. In 2016, the standard adult price was £13.50 or £15 with Gift Aid.
    • Getting to there​
      • By car: Fountains is 4 miles west of Ripon off the B6265 to Pateley Bridge - follow sign posts from the A1. It is 12 miles north of Harrogate on the A61. If you use satellite navigation, the OS map reference is 99:SE271683.
      • By train and bus: Bus service is available from British Rail York and, in spring and summer, from rail stations in Harrogate, Wakefield and Leeds. The "Ripon Roweller" is a regular shuttlebus from the town center. Ripon has no train station but it is only a half hour journey by bus or taxi from Harrogate Rail Station. For an up-to-date bus schedule, check the Dalesbus Website.

      Staying at Fountains Abbey

      The National Trust rents out several vacation cottages and apartments on the estate. There are two luxury apartments in Fountain's Hall, three stone cottages near the Hall and the Abbey, and a large stone house, Choristers House, that sleeps ten. 

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