Historical Abbeys in Yorkshire - Beautiful Escpaes

Historical Abbeys in Yorkshire

28th November 2023

Welcome to the world of historical abbeys in Yorkshire, UK, where the majestic ruins give a glimpse into life of centuries gone by. Yorkshire, a region steeped in rich history and cultural heritage, boasts a treasure trove of medieval abbeys that tell tales of devotion, power, and the ever-changing landscape of England.

Each abbey holds its own unique story, a narrative woven into the fabric of Yorkshire’s past. From the haunting beauty of Whitby Abbey, perched dramatically on the cliffs overlooking the North Sea, to the serene ruins of Rievaulx Abbey nestled in the peaceful Rye Valley, every site invites you to step into the footsteps of monks and nobles who shaped the destiny of these sacred spaces.

There are many to explore and make a great day out so add these to your to-do list when you enjoy a Beautiful Escape in Yorkshire.

Rievaulx Abbey

One of the best-preserved Cistercian abbeys in the United Kingdom, Rievaulx was founded in the 1130s by local landowner Walter Espec. This remote North York Moors valley setting was chosen for its sense of isolation and natural beauty, conducive to a contemplative lifestyle. It was initially settled by a group of monks who followed the teachings of France’s St. Bernard of Clairvaux and were skilled in farming, fishing and trades. 

Over the centuries, the abbey was enlarged and developed, growing in prosperity and gaining nationwide significance. However, following its seizure in 1538 under Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, the impressive structures fell into ruin. Awarded Ancient Monument status in 1915, the abbey was brought into the care of the then Ministry of Works two years later. It is now owned and maintained by English Heritage and includes an exhibition featuring original artefacts, a museum and a tearoom. 



Byland Abbey

Another of the greatest English monasteries in England, Byland Abbey’s Gothic architecture provided inspiration for the design of many subsequent northern church buildings; most notably the iconic famous York Minster rose window. Enveloped by rolling rural Ryedale land, its agricultural activities also proved a great success, ensuring the abbey played a key role in the economic development of the region. Like Rievaulx, Byland was seized during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and later recovered by English Heritage, who instated a bookshop, a museum and guided tours. 

Visitors to the area can enjoy a fine pub lunch overlooking the ruins, at The Abbey Inn. Owned by the multi-award-winning Michelin-starred chef, Tommy Banks, this 19th-century inn serves a seasonal menu that champions British produce. Created in collaboration with Head Chef Charlie Smith, the dishes — including a delectable Sunday roast — are crafted using ingredients from The Abbey’s own farm and kitchen garden. Patrons can enjoy a few drinks in the garden, lunch in the Coxwold Room, or order from the full dining menu in the Piggery. 



Fountains Abbey

A UNESCO World Heritage Site close to Ripon, the grounds of Fountains Abbey encompass the magnificent 18th-century landscape of Studley Royal water garden and pleasure grounds (one of the few great gardens to have survived relatively intact). Allow plenty of time to traverse the vast site, which includes the River Skell, canals, ponds, cascades, lawns and hedges, garden buildings, gateways, statues, a deer park, a 12th-century water mill, Swanley Grange, the Jacobean mansion of Fountains Hall and the Victorian-era St Mary’s Church. 

Ascend to the top of the estate and you’ll find a breathtaking viewpoint known as ‘Anne Boleyn’s Seat’. In 1597 the entire property was purchased by Stephen Proctor, who added Fountains Hall, his country home, in the early 17th century. The hall later became a stately home, a courthouse, employees’ lodging and a farmer’s house, but now contains information about the property and its heritage. 

The Abbey itself (once the richest in England) retains high walls and an awe-inspiring vaulted cellarium, spanning more than 300 feet; from here you can see the cloister, the refectory and the muniment room. Refreshments, in the form of shops, a restaurant and a tea room are provided, for those who wish to spend a lengthy period discovering this beautiful National Trust estate. 



Jervaulx Abbey

An abundance of wildflowers, shrubs and trees surround this atmospheric 12th-century ruin. Tucked in the valley of the River Ure, near the village of East Witton in the Dales, it’s especially tranquil. Plundered and pillaged during the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the abbey went on to be preserved in the 20th century. It is now, unusually, privately owned and managed by the Burdon family, who take great care in maintaining the site. 

With the exception of weddings — when the grounds are transformed  into a magical setting for couples’ nuptials — Jervaulx Abbey is open to the public from dawn to dusk, daily. It gives a fascinating peek into what monastic life in Yorkshire must have been like, due to its simplicity (you won’t find tea rooms or museums here).  As such, Jervaulx Abbey is an ideal stop-off for those seeking some moments of quiet contemplation. 



Bolton Abbey

Found in the Wharfedale region of North Yorkshire, this former Augustinian priory dates back to 1154. Lady Alice de Romille first established the property on her land beside the River Wharfe, before gifting it to the order’s canons. Despite its later dissolution, the nave continued to be used for religious services, as it does to this day. Indeed, the entire estate remains a hub of activity; there are frequent events for families, a pirate ship playground and pop-up waterside “beach” during the summer months, a BBQ site, a tea cottage, tea rooms and The Cavendish Pavilion cafe with indoor and outdoor seating. 

The wider Bolton Abbey estate offers many miles of all-weather walking routes through which you can take in dramatic waterfalls in the Valley of Desolation, the popular Strid Wood, an aqueduct, an 800-year-old oak tree and stepping stones across the river. The Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway terminates at a station one and a half miles from the abbey. Meadowcroft, one of our properties, sits on the edge of the 30,000-acre estate, placing guests in a prime position to access Bolton Abbey and its many attractions. 



Whitby Abbey

These dramatic cliff-top ruins are famed as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the novelist visited the site in 1890 and used it as a key setting in the book). Rising above the North Sea, Whitby Abbey’s story began as far back as AD 657, when it arose to become one of the most prominent Anglo-Saxon Christian religious centres. Following Viking raids, it took on a new role as a Benedictine abbey. An imposing landmark, the abbey was used by sailors to signpost the headland and became a muse for one of the first recorded poets, Cædmon. 

Now a Grade I Listed site managed by English Heritage, the ruins received a £1.6 million investment in 2019. Present-day visitors can enjoy the associated museum and visitor centre in Cholmley House (named after the family who took ownership in the 17th century), a herb garden and a tea room. When viewed with the sea as the backdrop, this abbey’s eerie and imposing silhouette is among the most photogenic in the land. 



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