FOUNTAINS ABBEY

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Today, we visited Fountains Abbey, a National Trust property on the outskirts of Ripon in North Yorkshire.

At the moment, what with one thing and another, entrance is by advance online ticket only. Tickets are for a certain time; on this occasion, we bought them for a 3pm – 3:30pm entrance time.

We came here a week ago, in search of Autumn colours, but the weather was dreadful, cold and raining for the most part, prompting us to repeat the exercise this week (we seem to be doing that a lot just lately – repeating a visit to a location because of the conditions not being quite right).

Another reason we wanted to come back this week is because, between the 19th and 25th of October, the opening hours are extended to 9pm, and the abbey is floodlit… something we rather fancied experiencing.

So, we duly turned up at just before 3:30pm, parked the van and headed on into the park.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is one of the the jewels in The National Trust’s crown, as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been there several times before, and it never disappoints.

Its one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian monasteries in England. It was founded in 1132 and operated for 407 years, and was also one of the wealthiest monasteries in England until it was closed down in 1539 by Henry VIII.

From the abbey, a choice of several good paths lead you to the Water Gardens, where there are temples, obelisks, towers and statues, and a handful of weirs on the connecting waterways. It being deer rutting season, when stags compete for females by fighting with each other, there was also a great deal of roaring and macho posturing going in the Studley Royal deer park at the far end of the water gardens. While last week’s visit was marred by being overcast and rainy, this week, the conditions turned out rather perfectly.

I love the Autumn, but to fully appreciate the colours, you really need the sun on them… this week… bingo!

We’d chosen a late entrance so that we could enjoy the added bonus of floodlights. It’s something the National Trust do every year here, but this was the first time we’d had the opportunity to enjoy it. Once we’d finished walking around the extensive water gardens and started heading back towards the abbey, the sun was starting to set, and from around 5:30pm onwards, the floodlights were turned on.

The transformation was as dramatic and exciting as we’d hoped for. As it got darker, so the lighting became more prominent. Walking through the abbey with walls and random corners illuminated by the floodlights was indeed a magical experience… made all the more magical by the sound of piped Gregorian chants, echoing off the walls.

Unsurprisingly, the event was popular, and even after we’d finished and were leaving at around 7:3pm, more visitors were still arriving. One of my favourite parts of the abbey is the vaulted cellarium (which is another name for larder, apparently), although every corridor and archway seemed to benefit from the subtle illumination.

We love Fountains Abbey, and the floodlit event is something that we’ll almost certainly be putting in our diary for a repeat visit next year.

From Fountains Abbey, we headed a few miles West, towards Brimham Rocks, where we stayed the night in the campervan on a small secluded, rural car park overlooking the moors. We had planned to visit the Rocks (another National Trust property) the next day, but the weather on Friday morning was wet and windy, so we headed home instead. Fortunately, both Fountains Abbey and Brimham Rocks are only a forty minute drive away, so we’ll be heading on back out there again hopefully very soon…

Peter Woolley

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