Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey

Walk Summary

A lovely walk around Fountains Abbey either side of exploring the follies, old and new, in Studley’s water gardens.

Distance: 4.7 miles
Total ascent: 1010ft
Walk Rating: *****
Parking: Car park, Visitor Centre
Route: Download Route [GPX]

Photo Gallery

Walk Report

It had been almost a month since we took our daughter on her first ascent of Pen-y-ghent. We’d not had chance to follow that up with another walk (and to be fair we probably need to give Rhiannon some time to get over that particular walk). On this particular day however the sun was shining so I thought it would be nice for us to do a much gentler walk. Remarkably it had been over 7 years since we’d last visited Fountains Abbey so I decided that we should head there.

The first thing to note was that the prices had gone up since our last visit. Indeed my enthusiasm waned somewhat after I’d paid a whopping £37 entry for the three of us. My mood deteriorated even further when, moments after our arrival, the skies clouded over. By the time we’d walked down from the visitor centre to Fountains Hall it began to rain quite heavily. After a sun filled morning this was absolutely typical. Taking shelter in a summer house in the gardens below the hall we sat for about half an hour waiting for the rain to subside.

“Returning to the main path we next visited the ‘The Listening Tower’. An odd looking piece it featured a number of sound holes and some interesting acoustics.”

Eventually it began to ease off so we crossed the Skell via a stone footbridge and walked to the mill via the apple orchard. At the side of the mill there is a long rope attached to a bell and Rhiannon amused herself for a while ringing it. She was enjoying herself so much that despite myself I began to smile again.

In the hope that the sky would brighten up later we left the abbey itself until the end of the walk. Instead we took a path running to the south of the ruins alongside the Skell as far as the water feature known as the Half Moon Pond. Just beyond this we left the lower path to climb up to Surprise View. Rhiannon soon began to complain about feeling tired. To make things worse when we arrived at Surprise View it was to find that the iconic view of the river and abbey was completely spoilt by a multi-coloured monstrosity that had been built on the hill opposite.

I didn’t know it at this time but this was ‘Polly’ one of four modern follies that have recently been added to the water gardens. I spent a while trying to get a picture of the view without Polly in it. Whilst I was there not one person had a good word to say for its placement. As we shall see the modern follies are quite interesting. But to have placed this particular one in such a prominent place is to, my mind, an act of vandalism. After the price we’d paid to get in it was another mark against the National Trust.

From Surprise View we continued on the upper path visiting in turn the historical follies of the Temple of Fame, the Octagon Tower and the Serpentine Tunnel. These never fail to delight me, especially the dark Serpentine Tunnel. Between the Temple of Fame and Octagon Tower I also spied some deer in a field beyond the trees and was able to creep to the edge of the wood and get a few pictures.

At the foot of the Serpentine Tunnel we crossed over the small wooden bridge where the Skell flows into Studley Lake. On the other side of the river we turned left and soon came across ‘The Cloud at Silver Pond’. This unusual construction was the first of the four modern follies that we saw up close. Designed by eleven-year old Foster Carter, the earlier rain had had the unfortunate effect of making the cloud look like a soggy sheep torso. Still it was an interesting idea and now I knew about the follies I decided we should make a detour to the next one.

This involved a short climb up to the right to visit what proved to be my favourite of the four modern follies. This was called ‘The Gazing Ball’ which was built on the site of a lost folly called the Rotondo. With a large mirrored globe at its centre it was an arresting piece of art. The fact that it was near the old Banqueting House, which I don’t recall visiting before, was also a bonus.

Returning to the main path we next visited the ‘The Listening Tower’. An odd looking piece it featured a number of sound holes and some interesting acoustics. Further along the path we enjoyed some nice views back over the water gardens before one final detour, this time to visit the folly which had ruined the earlier panorama from Surprise View. As mentioned earlier it is called Polly and is supposed to resemble a South Sea parrot. Inside Polly is a so-called camera obscura. Using a specially built lens the camera obscura reflects images from outside to inside the folly. It is an interesting concept. I wasn’t sure if it worked particularly well but it did lessen my dislike for this particular folly. If only they’d placed it elsewhere!

As we left Polly the sun finally began to break through the clouds. Just as I was looking forward to getting some nice photos of the abbey my camera developed a fault. Every picture I took seemed to be completely bleached out. Eventually I worked out that for some reason the shutter wasn’t closing after I’d take a photo. After some manual adjustments I managed to compensate for this problem. Sadly though this was to be the beginning of the end for my trusty Olympus EM-10.

The ruins of Fountains Abbey truly are fantastic. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say it is worth the National Trust’s exhorbitant prices it is a magical place. Undoubtedly my favourite part of the abbey is the magnificently vaulted cellarium, the featured photo at the top of this page. As is also customary when we visit ruined castles and abbeys Rhiannon wanted to play hide and seek. I was particularly pleased with the photo I got of her running happily down the side of the main church.

Finally it was time to return to the car. The entry fee, rain and camera problems meant that this wasn’t quite the walk I’d expected it to be. The modern follies were also something of a surprise, but not an entirely bad one at that. All things considered it was a fascinating walk around one of the jewels in the Yorkshire crown.

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