Fountains Abbey, Studley Royal Water Gardens, and Brimham Rocks

A varied day exploring north west of York, starting with the World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens. The Cistercian abbey was one of the largest and most powerful religious houses in the country from the mid-1200s onwards.

They built a huge complex with a sizeable chapel and tower, joined to cellars, a cloister, refectory, infirmary, and guesthouses, much of which survives.

Fountains Abbey’s ended in 1539 with the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII. After laying abandoned for centuries the remains became a popular tourist attraction from the 1700s, with people taking the train from London and other major cities to visit them.

Neighbouring the Abbey, the Studley Royal Water Gardens were developed in the 18th century by the politician John Aislabie. Not your usual gardens, they’re more a collection of ponds, with follies, statues and eye catchers built around the sides. In 1767 John’s son William bought the abbey ruins to bring them together.

There are good views back toward the abbey if you crop the diggers working on the river banks…

Twenty five minutes drive down the road Brimham Rocks are a completely different experience, an example of nature at its best. Like a less colourful and dramatic version of rock formations I’ve seen in Australia, Iceland, and Bolivia, the Brimham Rocks offer a surreal landscape of unusual shapes.

Formed of millstone grit over millions of years, eroded by wind, fridge, sun and people, they have been a popular tourist attraction for over 200 years. Most of the formations have evocative names including Dancing Bear, Blacksmith’s Anvil, Smartie Tube, Druid’s Writing Desk, and Yoke of Oxen and Baboon.

From the boundaries are views of typical Yorkshire landscape beyond.

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