Fountains Abbey England
The path winds gently through patches of woodland, bending briefly into lush grassy clearings, rolling green hills. A tiny bird hide sits to the left and, inside, a peaceful spot to watch pheasants, magpies, pigeons gleefully forage on the woodland floor.
The final slope opens out onto a sprawling clearing, a gentle river bubbles in the distance and, beyond, the lush greenery of more forest. The atmosphere here is serene enough to warrant its own visit, an idyllic spot by all measures of the word. However, on this clearing sits the ruins of Fountains Abbey, an enormous, hollow structure slowly being reclaimed by the wild surrounds.
In 1132, it was this atmosphere of peace and serenity that 13 Benedictine monks were offered as respite after fleeing riots in York. They founded Fountains in this clearing in search of a more peaceful existence.
They soon found that existence beyond civilization requires hours of dedicated labour and, seeking to devote more of that time to God, the monks decided to bring in layman to tend to the land. It turns out the monks had picked wisely, as the layman generated considerable wealth from cattle, horses, wool and quarrying.
And, despite setbacks from the Black Death, invading Scots and in-fighting within the church, the abbey flourished, evolving from a small two-storey wooden building in the early 12th century to an enormous stone structure that remains one of the biggest in England.
However, the prosperous times ended abruptly in 1536 when Henry VIII ordered the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Over the following centuries, the abbey was slowly reclaimed by nature.
The abbey church is about 90 metres long, 11 bays along its sides.
The tower was originally 49 metres high, an addition to the grounds carried out just before Henry VIII closed it down.
Birds nestle in the abbey’s nooks and crannies and, everywhere, the greenery slowly creeps up the walls.
At its height, the abbey contained an infirmary, kitchen, store, buttery, refectory, dormitories and the enormous abbot’s house.
The River Skell runs quietly alongside the abbey, separating it from the untouched forests beyond.