Rievaulx Abbey & Helmsley
So after spending a few days in Northumberland what better place is there to stop off at than Rievaulx Abbey in the North Yorkshire Moors?!
The abbey is a 2 hour drive from Rothbury and lies just 2 miles North from the chocolate box town of Helmsley.
Rievaulx Abbey was founded in 1132 and was the first Cistercian Abbey in the North of England. 12 monks originally occupied the Abbey, however at it’s height in the mid 12th century, the Abbey was home to 140 monks and 500 lay brothers and servants.
The Abbey itself had a reputation of being one of England’s finest Abbeys up until 1538 when it was seized by Henry VIII during the dissolution of the monasteries. At the time of the dissolution, the abbey is said to have contained 72 buildings which then meant
that these buildings were deemed to be uninhabitable and stripped of valuables such as lead. The estate was then passed down to the Earl of Rutland before being taken over by the Duncombe family in the 1700’s.
During this time, Thomas Duncombe III built the terrace with two Grecian-style temples which are currently owned by the National Trust. The Abbey itself was one of the first major ruins to be conserved by the Office Works, which is an ancestor of English Heritage, in 1917.
We had arrived in Helmsley around midday and begun a 2 and a half mile walk from the town centre to the Abbey. The walk took us through forests and had magnificent views of stunning Rydale as we made our descent down to the foot of the valley. The river Rye runs parallel to the road as you enter the small hamlet of Rievaulx and leads straight down to the Abbey.
An adult admission to the abbey will cost you £8.90, with a child admission costing £5.30. The Abbey is open between the hours of 10-4 for the month of February. The grounds of the Abbey also contains a visitor centre, shop, cafe and museum. The cafe serves hot and
cold drinks and food from locally sourced ingredients including sandwiches, cakes, soup and tray bakes.
The first place that we decided to visit was the museum to learn more about the history of the Abbey. The museum also contains artifacts from the Abbey including medieval stone carvings, chess pieces and gold coins. An audio guide can be purchased from the visitor centre which gives you the history of each part of the Abbey as you walk around the grounds.
We then begun our walk around the Abbey. The first place that we visited was the old church; this is certainly the most visually impressive part of the Abbey with the majority of it still intact. You can also clearly make out where the stained glass windows used
to be. The church was built in the 1140’s and was one of the earliest great mid 12th century Cistercian churches in Europe. A section of the cloisters were later reconstructed to provide accommodation for the choir monks.
After visiting the church we then moved onto the refectory. It was interesting to find out that this room actually served as a charcoal store after the suppression and supplied fuel to the nearby blast furnace. The blast furnace was built in 1577 and was potentially the first of it’s kind in the North of England.
We then took a trip to the infirmary (not literally, the doors to this particular infirmary closed hundreds of years ago!). The infirmary was built in the 1150’s and is the earliest surviving infirmary complex on any Cistercian site in Britain. One particular cloister in the infirmary was used for the sick and elderly monks and it was surrounded by an open arcade.
Soon after completing our tour around the abbey, we begun the 2 and a half mile walk back to Helmsley.
Helmsley is a medieval town located 24 miles North of York. The town is very popular with tourists and has won the Large Village category of Yorkshire in Bloom for 3 years. Helmsley castle is arguably the town’s most distinguishing feature.
The castle was built in 1120 and overlooks the River Rye. In the 1200’s a wall was built which separated the North and South sides, with the Southern side becoming a private area for the Lord of Helmsley’s family and the Northern side being used by the
steward and other castle officials. The castle was briefly under ownership from Richard III, however Richard preferred to stay at Middleham castle. The Office Works took ownership of the castle in 1923 and it is now in the care of English Heritage. The castle
is however, still owned by the Feversham family of Duncombe Park.
As we walked towards the centre of the town, we passed the castle and made our way towards the town square. Another feature of the town that makes it stand is that roofs of the houses are covered with pantiles. The majority of the houses were built shortly after the arrival of the railway in 1871 and it is easy to tell that they are well looked after; so much so that 48 buildings in the town are Grade II listed and 3 are Grade II*.
The town square is packed with small shops selling local delicacies and conveniences including a cheese shop, bookstore, gift shop, numerous clothes shops and a sweet shop. There are also 2 pubs in the square- the Royal Oak Hotel and the Feathers Hotel. The most picturesque spot in the town has to be the view from Borough Beck; a must see for all photographers like myself!
That brought to a close what had been a fabulous day spent in the North Yorkshire Moors. I think it is fair to say that I will definitely be visiting Helmsley and Rievaulx Abbey again!