Fountains Abbey… Britain’s Top Heritage Attraction

Fountains Abbey was recently voted as England's Top Heritage Attraction! Located in Nidderdale on the…

Fountains Abbey was recently voted as England's Top Heritage Attraction! Located in Nidderdale on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, it makes for a great day out in Yorkshire! Join us as we explore Fountains Abbey… Britain’s Top Heritage Attraction!

As we amble through the towering archways and explore the vaulted cellarium, it's so silent and peaceful we feel like we've been transported back 1,000 years in history. Dating back to 1132, Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best-preserved Cistercian monasteries in England, and was recently voted as Britain's top heritage attraction to visit.

Located on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales and within Nidderdale AONB, the UNESCO World Heritage Site is not only home to the ancient Abbey, but also one of the best surviving Georgian water gardens in Studley Royal Water Garden, and Studley Royal Deer Park, where if you're lucky you can see over 300 red, sika and fallow deer roaming around the parkland.

Having loved our first day out in Nidderdale AONB when we visited How Stean Gorge and Pateley Bridge, we couldn’t wait to return to visit the Abbey and gardens. And in true TrovenTrippers style, we combined our visit with a unique ultraviolet experience at the nearby Stump Cross Caverns, and lunch at the stunning and luxurious Grantley Hall.

As always, we set off quite early in the morning to try and fit as much as possible into our day’s itinerary, only this time we’re a little too early and actually reach Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden before it opens for the day! But never mind, that gives us a chance to check the map and do some window shopping in the shop and courtyard. 

Fountains Abbey 

Once the doors do open, we get a pleasant surprise when our English Heritage members cards get us free entry despite not being an English Heritage owned site (entry is usually £18.70 for an adult with gift aid) . And the staff are super helpful in giving us a plan for our visit… despite us checking the map out earlier, we still weren’t sure how best to navigate the site as it’s so huge and there’s so much to see!  

You can book the tickets online in advance from the National Trust website

We have an hour until our guided tour starts which meets at the Porter’s Lodge close to the Abbey, so we’re advised to head to Fountains Mill and Fountains Hall first to see those buildings and the exhibitions inside.  

Swanley Grange

But before we even reach those, Sneha’s attention is taken by a small workshop called Swanley Grange, and when we venture inside, we find it’s a small display of the industrial history of the Abbey. The Abbey had to make money and so the site was used for agriculture, mining, pottery, and played a role in the wool industry.

One wall is covered by different coloured wools, and there’s a table at the end where you can practice some chain-stitching. Sneha’s creative side takes over and she’s soon stitching away (check out the video below), while Paul tries to have a wander around but somehow gets stuck in the wool threads hanging on the wall and Sneha has to take a break to untangle him! (hence the cut in the video when he got stuck!)

Fountains Hall

Once freed, we move on to Fountains Hall and learn some more history of the Abbey… during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, The Settlers Society was created by the owners of the Abbey to help young boys from deprived areas of the North East by giving them somewhere to live and work, training them with many skills and giving them job opportunities for the future. There are some information boards in the Hall and a wall covered by some of the boy’s stockings, with a radio in the back office playing stories from the boys. 

Fountains Mill

As well as the stories the Hall itself is a beautiful old building, and the lawns and hedges in the garden are perfectly manicured as we make our way through them to Fountains Mill on the other side of the River Skell. 

The Mill is the oldest building on the whole estate, dating back to the 12th century, and was used to mill grain right up until the late 1920’s. It’s really cool building to explore with the high vaulted wooden beamed ceilings upstairs housing a photography exhibition, and the downstairs still having lots of the old industrial machinery including the water wheel and a door engraved with names and initials of the mill workers, one being from 1757.

We stop to ring the bell on the outside of the mill, but as we wander away and spot the Abbey from a distance for the first time, we realise we’re a bit behind schedule (what a surprise!!) and the tour is about to start… so we miss the Porter’s Lodge and have to head straight to the front of the Abbey!

Fountains Abbey Guided Tour

We haven’t missed much though and our guide tells us about the origins of the Abbey… how some monks from nearby York had become fed up of the “extravagant” lifestyle they led, and so they escaped to live a more simple and quiet life somewhere new.  

The Abbey is the largest and one of the best-preserved ruins in the country, and the guide points out what all of the different wings were used for including prayer, dormitories for the monks and labourers, and where the guest quarters were.  

It’s quite a long and informative tour… great if you like that, but with the Water Gardens still to explore and a long itinerary for the rest of the day, we disappear from the group and have a much faster explore of the ruins on our own instead. 

The main part of the Abbey is huge and really gives us a sense of just how impressive it must have been in its day, and the other areas like the vaulted cellarium, the cloister and courtyard, and all of the rooms are really interesting to look around and soak up the history of the place.

After looking around the entire Abbey head off and follow the River Skell towards Studley Royal Water Garden… 

Studley Royal Water Garden 

One thing we learnt on the guided tour was the reason this site is a designated World Heritage Site is not because of Fountains Abbey, but because of the adjoining Studley Royal Water Garden. 

When the garden was first built in 1742 it was separate from Fountains Abbey… the owner of Studley Royal Park had tried and failed to buy the Abbey, but wanted to create an amazing garden full of follies, statues, and eye-catchers, and so became Studley Royal Water Garden.

Using the water from the River Skell, huge lakes and waterways were created and viewpoints were built to look out over the garden and the neighbouring Fountains Abbey. Then finally in 1767 the Abbey was purchased, bringing both estates together… and todays garden is pretty much the same as it was then 200 years ago. 

Surprise View & Anne Boleyn's Seat

We start by crossing the Rustic Bridge and skirting the edge of one of the lakes, following the High Ride Path up to the Surprise View and Anne Boleyn’s Seat… and the view is incredible!  

Perfectly positioned to see the Abbey in the distance, it was designed to cause visitors to take a sharp intake of breath when they saw it… and it definitely did that for us! 

Temple of Fame and Octagon Tower

Further along the path is the Temple of Fame and the Octagon Tower observatories, both again offering amazing views of the garden from different aspects. And to get back down the hill to the water’s edge we follow the Serpentine Tunnel which at first we’re not sure whether we can get all the way through, but it snakes around and it’s not too long before we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

We have a quick look around the Temple of Piety and Moon Pond, before leaving via the Fishing Tabernacles and cascade on our way back to the car park.  

Unfortunately, we don’t have time to explore Studley Royal Deer Park as we have plans for lunch, but the gardens have been absolutely beautiful and the Abbey awe-inspiring! In hindsight maybe trying to fit everything into one morning was a little ambitious, as we could easily have spent the whole day here! 

St. Mary's Church & Choristers' House

But instead, we need to head to our next destination, only stopping for a couple of quick photos of St. Mary’s Church and the Choristers’ House on the way back to the car. 

Grantley Hall 

After our morning of exploring, we’re feeling very hungry and we’ve got a special lunch planned at Grantley Hall


On our first day in Pateley Bridge we were told about Grantley Hall and that we HAD to come and visit, so we thought it would make a great place to stop for lunch. We were expecting a beautiful location and good food, but we were absolutely blown away!  

Read the full story of our visit here

Stump Cross Caverns 

After having relaxed and enjoyed lunch at Grantley Hall a little too much, it’s a bit of a struggle to get back into the sight-seeing mood for our final stop of the day!  

But just a few miles away is one of England’s top show caves, Stump Cross Caverns. Now, as we opened our previous blog, we’re not 100% sure where the Nidderdale AONB ends and the Yorkshire Dales National Park starts, and which Stump Cross Caverns are in. But Nidderdale tourism told us about them, so we’re going to trust them! 😊 

Read the full story of our visit here...

Troven Moments 

What a great day out again! Our first day trip to Nidderdale was amazing, and today has been just as good! We could (and probably should) have spent the whole day just at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden as there was so much to see and explore… we think another trip will be coming soon to see the Deer Park!  

Grantley Hall was just breath-taking… we’ve travelled far and wide, but we can’t think of a more luxurious or classy place than it. We highly recommend going for lunch or dinner to celebrate a special occasion, and if you ever get the chance to stay there, then lucky you!

And Stump Cross Caverns was a really cool and unique experience with the ultraviolet light tour…. very different to the other show cave tours we’ve been on, and well worth a visit. 

We’re very lucky that we live within an hour’s drive of Nidderdale so we can visit whenever we want (and believe us, we will!), but if you’re looking for a break with beautiful countryside, quirky towns, indulgent spa stays and lots of activities to do, then you should definitely look at Nidderdale… and best of all, it’s a true hidden gem often overshadowed by the neighbouring Yorkshire Dales National Park and so it’s always less busy!

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