A rival to Fountains for its extensive remains and idyllic setting, Rievaulx sits tucked away under the hillside at the bottom of a steep incline. Luckily, however, you can drive right to its door where there is a nice little shop and exhibition about the abbey's history.
There are so many rooms to explore here, it's difficult to know where to start. Some are merely foundations, but others stand to full height. Particularly impressive is the monks' refectory. It's vast - and one of the finest ever built, showing how St. Ailred made Rievaulx one of the largest monastic establishments in the country. He was the most prominent religious figure in 12th century England and his shrine behind the high altar later became a popular place of pilgrimage. The remains of a second, highly unusual, shrine to his predecessor, St. William of Rievaulx, can still be seen slotted into a window of the Chapter House.
It is the abbey church, however, which is the real draw of Rievaulx. Its aisle walls have gone, leaving the upper clerestory windows to stand high on the open-air columns of the nave arcading. The effect is quite stunning, as elegant pillars seem to embrace the viewer from all angles. Just the place to stay and contemplate a while.
The site is run by English Heritage. There is an entry fee, though Free admission to members.
Next Stop: Byland Abbey