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The dramatic remains of the Yorkshire's greatest medieval structures

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There have been monastic houses in Yorkshire for centuries, but the most famous of these were all set up during one particular period of history. This was just after the Norman conquest of 1066, when hundreds of monks came over from Europe to spread their faith. These newcomers kick-started a huge wave of enthusiasm for monastic life. New abbeys and priories began to spring up across the country at a breath-taking rate, with no expense spared.
A huge proportion of these buildings were located in North Yorkshire. Perhaps the county's open, rolling dales echoed the monks' peaceful lifestyle, or perhaps they just enjoyed the views. Either way, for almost half a millennium, the monasteries had a huge influence on Yorkshire life. This all came to an abrupt end in the 1530s, during the reign of Henry VIII. His dramatic upheaval of the English church saw him dissolve several hundred monasteries and priories across the country. Some of the buildings were sold off, or put to use as churches. Many others were demolished. The stone from their walls was used in new buildings. Thankfully though, some of the structures weren't completely dismantled, and they're still standing today. These abbey ruins are atmospheric, beautiful places. Some of them are set within peaceful gardens, while others have been overgrown with wild flowers. They have become a much-visited, much-loved reminders of a huge part of Yorkshire's history.
The most spectacular of the ruins is undoubtedly Fountains Abbey. It lacks a roof, but the rest of the building is still there. This includes the huge, 50-metre tower, that still stands proudly after all these years. You can see where all the different rooms were, from dormitories to storehouses. It really gives an insight into how the monks lived their simple lives. The abbey is surrounded by the Studley Water Gardens. This Georgian creation features lakes, temples and statues, all carefully laid out to form the best possible views. In 1986, the ruins and gardens together became Yorkshire's first World Heritage site.

Fountains Abbey
Photo Robbo-Man

The Temple of Piety at the Studley Water Gardens
Photo alh1
Fountains is the best preserved of the abbeys, but back in its day, it wasn't the biggest. Rievaulx Abbey, for example, was once the largest and most important in the country. Many of the rooms are completely gone, but others still have the power to impress. In particular, the three-storey church walls show how imposing the building once was.

Rievaulx Abbey
Photo Vix_B
It's hard to tell which of the monasteries has the most picturesque setting. Putting in a strong claim is Bolton Abbey, on the banks of the River Wharfe. The grass between the water and the ruins is possibly the best picnic location in the county. Surrounding this spot is 121 square kilometres of parkland. Dozens of other medieval buildings are scattered throughout, but none match the abbey for grandeur.

Bolton Abbey
Photo dbenbenn
There are several other abbeys and priories in Yorkshire, each with their own distinct features. Jervaulx Abbey, for example, has over 180 species of wildflowers growing on its walls, while Whitby Abbey helped inspire the story of Dracula. Given that the monasteries of Yorkshire suffered such destruction in the 16th century, we should be grateful that so many of them are still there for us to enjoy.
Visitor Information
Fountains Abbey is open daily from 10am to 5pm April to September, 10am to 4pm, October to March (closed Fridays during winter). Entry costs around £9 for adults, £5 for children. Ripon, Harrogate, HG4 3DY. Tel: 01765 608 888
Rievaulx Abbey is open daily from 10am to 5pm April to September, 10am to 6pm, October to March (closed Tuesday/Wednesday during winter). Entry costs around £5.60 for adults, £3.40 for children. Rievaulx, Nr Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5LB. Tel: 01439 798228
Bolton Abbey is open daily, 9am to 6pm. Entry costs around £6 per vehicle. Bolton Abbey, Skipton, North Yorkshire, BD23 6EX. Tel: 01756 718009

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