Rievaulx Abbey and Terrace, Helmsley Castle, and Nunnington Hall

A heritage packed day exploring north of York, starting with Rievaulx Abbey. Founded in 1132 it was one of the largest Cistercians abbeys in England, until it’s dissolution by Henry VIII of England in 1538. At it’s peak it was home to 140 monks and 500 lay brothers.

The life of a monk was austere, starting with prayers at 2am, and having only one meal of vegetable soup a day. The rest of the day was filled with activity – praying, reading, and managing their extensive sheep farms.

It’s a relatively popular place with a small car park so rewards arriving early. The audio guide is informative, though if combined with abundant photo taking makes for a sore neck. The on-site museum protects some of the more intricate carvings.

On the hillside above, Rievaulx Terrace was developed in 1758 to offer views of the abbey below. Since then the trees have grown somewhat so there are only broken views. At either end of the terrace are a pair of mock Roman temples, built in the mid-18th century, with Doric and Ionic columns, and some more recent sheep statues.

A few minutes down the road are more ruined remains at Helmsley Castle. Building here started in the 12th century, with the main surviving building, the hall and kitchen, dating from the 14th century.

Loyal to the King, it was under siege for three months during the English Civil War, surviving mainly intact but running out of food. After surrender the Parliamentarians demolished most of the castle.

It continued as a home though, with the remains turned into an Elizabethan hall during the 1500s, before finally being abandoned in the 18th century.

Fifteen minutes further along the road Nunnington Hall is a pretty typical National Trust property, with the house dating back mainly to the 17th and 18th centuries, though the Stone Hall dates from the 16th century.

The 8 acres of organic gardens are pleasant, with a few bird sculptures by David Cooke.

Inside the house is pretty standard fare, if slightly eclectic in places.

On the top floor is the Carlisle Collection, a charming set of miniature rooms built to one eighth actual size. Mrs Carlisle started collecting in the 1920s and gifted them to the National Trust in 1970.

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