Fabulous Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey 03

After Coldstones Cut, we wended our way towards Fountains Abbey, which is near Ripon.

We stopped for refreshments and a comfort break at The Old Bridge Tearoom in Pately Bridge. Yorkshire Tea was definitely needed by myself, while Liz required a cafetiere of coffee and a warm plain scone with butter. I did have a slice of toasted fruit bread, which was nice, but I just nibbled as I was still quite full from breakfast at the Devonshire Arms.

After a suitable amount of time, we made our way to Fountains Abbey which is a place I’ve wanted to visit for many years now, ever since I discovered my love of old abbeys, churches, cathedrals and so on, particularly those with Romanesque architecture.

On arrival I joined the National Trust, something I’d been planning to do for a goodly while now, and so my entrance fee was covered. We were both shocked to find out that the fee was £15 just for Liz. That’s just under a quarter of the annual individual membership fee for the NT.  The ticket is valid for one day, but on looking at the site map of the Abbey and the surrounding Studley Royal gardens and so on we realised that there’s no way we’d manage to cover much in the day, especially as it was now well past noon. And that’s not taking into account how I like to take my time viewing the architecture.

I loved my time with the ruins. They have a story to tell in the different styles of architecture evident. From the early Romanesque to early Gothic and beyond.

I love Romanesque. It’s so solid, so honest, so ‘here to stay’. Here, the Romanesque isn’t ornate like it is in the Herefordshire school of Romanesque architecture, which has geometric designs in arches, wonderful sculptures of people and beasts, naive but honest and charming – the best the mason could do. At Fountains, the column capitals, the columns and arches around doors are devoid of such ornamentation, save for a few relatively simple decorations.

Both styles are beautiful in their own ways; Fountains in it’s simple sturdy elegance, the Herefordshire School and similar in their wonderful ornateness.

The Gothic was mostly early here, pointy window and door arches and not a lot of ornamentation. Some windows showed signs of tracery being present at sometime. This simplicity is, though, perfectly in keeping with the more austere ideals of the Cistercians who built the abbey.

There was evidence of water management with arches and bridges over a stream; the stream ran under the Abbey at one point.

The setting for the building at the bottom of a lush, green valley, sheltered from the bracing wind, was lovely indeed.

I had a fascinating time wandering, looking, pondering, taking photos. Most of my photos really are just for reference for me – either as memory joggers or for inspiration for arty things. I’m no photographer, but I will share some of my better images at the end of my words.

Liz made a very good and forceful point about our visit (other than the cost of entry to the site and the impossibility of getting value for money in one day). That was the total lack of information about the Abbey, it’s features, history, function and so on. Other people said the same too.

I never considered it. My reading and research on such things over the last decade and more has my head filled with some knowledge and understanding. Not dates, but I can vaguely decode the timeline of construction and spot changes made and so on. I also enjoy the aesthetics and have my artists eye on when visiting, so it’s not just about the history. However, when pointed out to me I get her point, and how that lack of information panels or even a decent information sheet given out after you’ve parted with £15. We did get an information sheet, which was a map of the huge site.

After viewing most of the Abbey, it was time for another comfort break and then to find some tea and vittles. We wandered back to the ‘restaurant’ and were sorely disappointed.  The menu was totally uninspiring to us both and so we turned around and left.

I can’t remember whether it was before or after the restaurant that we paid a visit to the gift shop as I wanted a book about the history of the Abbey, and I managed to get a decent one that wasn’t the tourist guide. Yes, there was a fairly good guide to the Abbey and Studley Royal on sale for £5.

I had wanted to go and see William Burges’ church in the grounds, but between aching hips and knees and a need for tea we decided to go in search of lunch elsewhere, maybe returning when refreshed to visit the church. As it turns out, we didn’t return. Not today. I would like to on another visit to the Yorkshire Dales at some point in time, but we’ll see on that.

One further observation is that the way the National Trust promotes it’s sites seems to be ‘a day out walking, picnicking’ rather than on sharing information about the history of the site in a way that is available to all and will pique people’s interest in it, satisfy their curiosity at the time they are curious and have questions about something with the Abbey.

I get that a focus on a nice day or hour or two walk out with a bit of lunch/tea appeals to a lot more people than perhaps the history does. However, the lack of information to those who are more curious about history puts people off returning.

The emphasis on enjoying the surroundings, walking, picnicking, eating/drinking is very evident in their handbook. The National Trust is in charge of taking care of natural environments deemed beautiful and in need of looking after for the enjoyment of visitors.

And that’s fine and well. It really is.

However, Fountains Abbey is the best preserved Abbey in the UK. It’s importance in terms of the history of the Cistercian order and medieval life is such that it is a World Heritage Site. World Heritage. With not a lot of information about why, or the building or the history of it while walking around and able to have the information about the parts of the building, their dates, function, what they were likely to have looked like. Some parts were labelled with their name, such as the cellarium, the undercroft, the lavatorium, and so on. But only some.  As far as I could tell, there weren’t any audio guides you could borrow to guide you around the Abbey.

However, the gloss of the visit was roughly removed for Liz, whereas I was in a happy place wandering around drinking in the architectural wonder and being a bit of a detective on the phases of building.

Here’s a couple more images of things that caught my attention at the Abbey.

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