Yorkshire walk - Fountains Abbey
PUBLISHED: 11:31 14 December 2015 | UPDATED: 11:32 14 December 2015
This is an ideal walk for a short winter's day. Words and photographs by Terry Fletcher
The Cistercian monks who established Fountains Abbey in the 12th century and the Aislabie family who created Studley Royal’s stunning water gardens in the 1790s certainly knew how to pick a location. Both properties sit astride the River Skell in an exquisite valley close to the historic city of Ripon. This walk explores the lower valley and surrounding countryside and is ideal for a short winter day, protected by trees and supplied with not one but two tea shops. It also offers the option of visiting the abbey as well as perhaps catching a seasonal glimpse of, if not Rudolph himself, at least some of his cousins. It starts from the main visitor centre, signposted off the Ripon to Pateley Bridge road.
It is possible to approach the lake through the abbey and water gardens which are owned by the National Trust however, there is a charge for this. Currently the entrance fee is adults £11, children £5.50 and families £27.50. National Trust and English Heritage members are free.
Alternatively, the free option is to set off from the visitor centre car park and go back to the access road and then follow the bridleway rightwards, signed to St Mary’s Church and Water Gardens, which curves away along a hedged track running parallel with the road. After half a mile it comes to a large gate. Go through this to enter the deer park by the splendidly-spired and comparatively modern 19th century St Mary’s Church and an impressive obelisk.
Standing in front of the church, it is possible to look down the arrow-straight drive past the arched entrance to the park to the distant towers of Ripon cathedral beyond. The church is well worth a visit though this is probably best saved until the end of the walk which comes back this way.
For now drop rightwards down the mown path which leads down to the lake at the outlet of the water gardens. Those who have come past the abbey will rejoin the route here, where there is also a perfectly situated tea shop overlooking the water.
Carry on down beside the lake to cross its outfall on a footbridge and follow the stream as it enters the Valley of the Seven Bridges. The clear path wanders down the valley, criss-crossing the stream by a succession of small stone packhorse-style bridges until it reaches a metal gate. Go through this to reach a metal footbridge on the right a few minutes further on. The classic round of the Seven Bridges continues along the clear path to eventually reach the Studley Royal entrance to the deer park seen earlier from St Mary’s Church. However, this is a little too short for a satisfying walk so instead cross the footbridge and then go up a broad track, climbing the slope to reach a T-junction with another bridleway. Turn left along this following it until directed through a gate into open fields. Here turn half left across the field following a line of straggling wind-blasted trees and aiming for the buildings of Whitcliffe Hall, which is passed to its left. This is now part of the Ripon Rowell Walk which was named after the high quality spurs once made in the city.
As you continue leftwards along the access lane of the farm, Ripon Cathedral appears ahead. A few hundred yards after the farm look out for the entrance to Whitcliffe Woods on the left, which has an information board explaining that it is managed by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. Follow the main path downhill, following the fence on your left, eventually passing a small quarry to reach the exit. Here turn left along the field edge to reach Hell Wath Cottage. Turn left again along the brief lane for a few yards to cross a stile directly ahead with an information board about yet another path, the Sanctuary Way.
The track quickly comes to a footbridge and then continues pleasantly between neatly manicured hedges before eventually crossing the small Rose Bridge by a rather grand house. Continue for another couple of hundred yards to reach a crossroads of tracks and turn left. If anything this path is even more tidily kept and leads easily to the charming estate village of Studley Roger. When you reach it cross straight over the main street to take the continuation path which leads to a tall gate back into the deer park. A mown path leads slightly left to reach the access road from the Studley Royal entrance. Follow this uphill to the obvious landmark of St Mary’s and go through the gate used on the outward leg and turn left along the bridleway back to the car park.
Start/finish: Main Visitor Centre car park, Fountains Abbey
Time: 3 hours (plus time to explore abbey ruins and water gardens if visited)
Terrain: Clear paths
Parking: Free car park
Refreshments: Tea shops at Visitor Centre and Lakeside. Pubs and cafes in Ripon
Maps OS Explorer 298 Nidderdale