For completeness, a grand garden needed a folly, typically a mock Gothic ruin serving no purpose other than to look nice. John Aislabie and his son William went one better, they incorporated a real ruin into the design, and not just any ruin, Fountains Abbey provides the backdrop to their stunning water garden. Founded in 1132, at it’s peak Fountains Abbey was one of the most powerful monastic orders in the country.
The National Trust acquired the estate now generally abbreviated to Fountains Abbey, in 1983. English Heritage maintain the Abbey. The entire estate is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the land and ruins passed through several hands. In 1693, John Aislabie, local MP and Chancellor of the Exchequer inherited the Studley estate. As a sponsor of the infamous South Sea Company, Aislabie couldn’t avoid the fall out from it’s collapse, he was banned from public office. So, with nothing to do, set about the creation of this landscape masterpiece.
The Georgian water garden at Studley Royal comprises several formal ornamental lakes with canals, temples and vistas. In contrast the abbey grounds and ruins, added by his son William provide an informal contrast. In reality, it is two quite distinct gardens seamlessly merged together.
Fountains Abbey is the largest monastic ruins in the UK. It covers around 70 acres, the nave of the church is about 300 feet long and the tower 150 feet high. The main abbey building is remarkably well preserved thanks both to the estates remoteness and to lesser surrounding buildings being easier to rob for stone. The accessible ruins provide an amazing adventure playground for children. A scale model of the Abbey showing how it originally looked is in the adjoining museum housed in the former gatehouse.
Studley Royal House, Fountains Mill and Fountains Hall
Fountains Abbey is just off the Pateley Bridge Road, about 3 miles from Ripon and about 12 miles north of Harrogate. A full range of National Trust services are on offer at the main visitor centre. At the Studley Royal end of the park, there is additional parking and a lakeside cafe.