Where else would you start a tour of the abbeys and priories of Yorkshire than at Fountains. This archetype of an ancient ruin sits majestically at the bottom of a deep valley, landscaped as part of the park of Studley Royal. You park at the top and have to walk down to it. It's a short yet extraordinary jaunt which takes you very close to the highest windows of the 160ft tower! There are two routes to choose from: a long one with view points that aren't that great and a short steep one that isn't that steep.
From the beautifully manicured lawns of your destination, the Abbey church sours into the sky above you: the tower, great empty windows, the row upon row of columns ending in the massive Chapel of the Nine Altars, a model for Durham Cathedral. It just needs a roof. As one of the most complete abbey ruins in the country, it is surrounded by a large array of monastic living quarters of various kinds. Pick up a guide book to really understand how everything fitted together and the monks lived their lives. The cloister and chapter-house, the warming-house, the muniment room, parlours, dormitories, dining rooms, kitchens, washrooms, toilets, hospitals, guest-houses and mills are all around you with the tiny River Skell running in between. The storehouse or cellarium is particularly well-known for its 350ft of eerie stone vaulting.
There is lots to see here and the whole atmosphere is very calming, so come prepared to take your time. Particularly relaxing are the beautiful Water Gardens laid out by John Aislabie in 1721. 150 acres of lakes, weirs, temples and gazebos to explore to the north-east of the abbey ruins. There is a deer park where 350 animals still graze, the recently restored Fountains Hall and Studley Royal Church. Sadly Studley Royal house was burnt to the ground in 1946.