I took the family to Fountains Abbey a few weeks ago – it was a short detour from the route we were doing. I hadn’t been all that keen, because I’d been before, although thinking about it, it must have been about thirty years ago – and I didn’t remember it being all that impressive. And since a ruined Cistercian abbey isn’t likely to get any better, I arrived with low expectations.
So low in fact, that rather than head direct for the ruins, I took Number One daughter to the cafe for lunch. (Number Two daughter, the husband and the hound were asleep in the car)…
Eventually we made our way to the abbey – and the only thing I can say is, my memory must be going – because really, it was a fantastic place.
It seemed about five times as big as the last time I went there – in fact apart from the tower, I didn’t recall much of it at all. I don’t suppose someone actually has been building bits on the ends have they – no, I guess not.
After a while I had to admit I’d been wrong about Fountains Abbey, it probably is worthy of its World Heritage status (although one day soon I’ll write about Rievaulx Abbey, which remains my all time favourite monastic ruin).
If size matters, Fountains certainly deserves its accolades. It makes you realise just what sort of scale these monasteries operated on – they must have been the equivalent of FTSE 100 businesses in the medieval times – and brings it home very clearly, why Henry VIII would have targeted their wealth.
I’m glad we went, it’s definitely an important historical site. I still can’t say I felt especially connected with it. Sometimes monastic ruins seem to be permeated with a peaceful atmosphere – I didn’t get that at Fountains. Of course it’s a very busy attraction and I suppose it can be hard to tune in to the spirit of a place when it’s so full of people, perhaps a visit in the dead of winter might be more conducive.
Nevertheless, even without going on to explore the vast park, it’s one to have on the list.
For more information
Click here for the National Trust visitor information site. The cafe was very good by the way, despite being very busy indeed.
Wiki has a lot of facts and figures about the monastic history if that sort of thing floats your boat.
Fancy staying at the park? Get a few friends together and rent this place – unless of course you have a dog.