FOUNTAINS Abbey near Ripon and the adjacent Studley Royal Water Gardens are a World Heritage Site, one of only 28 in Britain designated so by UNESCO, and indeed of “outstanding universal value”, worth a visit now and then.

The morning foothills air was soft and peaceful, the mist sparkling with birdsong. My route went round to the West Gate, the old way into the abbey grounds and where the River Skell flowed gently over a weir.

But then, for economy, I diverted and took a route by the Abbey Wall. This is a high stone boundary and following it brought golden marsh marigolds flowering in a pond and a grand view down on to the abbey ruins, notably the 172 ft tower, the “monument to the lost ideals” of the initially austere Cistercians.

Hill House Farm involved a bit of concentration, the distraction of a Labrador type that was free ranging, barking but not biting, but the numerous waymarks enable a zigzag through and out of the yard.

The first bluebell wood held promise of colour, the first sight over the parkland held nothing, not a person, not a deer. A herd were in a hollow, grazing and quiet but, dog owners note, in the autumn they are excited with rutting and in summer nervous with calving, and there are hundreds. And people there were soon, because our route drops down to the picturesque lake. Here swans in pairs competed for poise, and lesser water birds in noise.

I read an info board. Apparently the National Trust is going to remove the lake island to restore the vista, the 18th century sight line to a canal in the water gardens. To explore the abbey and walk the wonderful geometry of the water gardens, you have to pay.

There you may pose in the Temple of Fame. I like to lurk in the Temple of Piety. But this doesn’t come cheap, £20.90 for a family ticket, whereas this walk is free.

The next vista comes with the lime tree avenue that bisects the deer park, with at one end, our end, a splendid gothic church where you can make an offering to the twin deities of English Heritage and the National Trust who own and manage it. There’s also an obelisk, overshadowed.

That’s it for the abbey lands, you leave them by ingeniously weighted self closing gates. And the next mile is plain, a track with bird boxes and a back lane with little traffic.

It brings up the village of Aldfield where on its church wall is a blue plaque to William Powell Frith R.A. 1819-1909, in his time a popular but traditional painter.

A sundial was an hour out because of British Summer Time. Aldfield is a nice enough place, acquired by the abbey in 1356. The pastures bore wet new lambs, wool was the monks’ main cash crop, their empire reached to the Lake District and Teesdale.

Grass curves down to the valley of the River Skell, and a path drops through Spa Gill Wood. I’ve wanted to walk here for a long time, where the river runs a couple of miles upstream of the abbey.

The water was low and the valley will be spectacular in a couple of weeks when the steep flanks of bluebells are out, but it’s pleasant anyway and the sound smooth track leads one back through Skell bank wood and Spring Wood.


1. From visitor centre, 100 yards to roundabout and through gap in hedge to footpath by first road on left signed ‘West Gate Entrance’. Fifty yards on road, straight on to track at bend.

2. Left to road, half a mile.

3. After side stream, left and ten yards to gate (Bridleway/National Trust signs), keep up by hedge/wall/high wall to right 500 yards. Fieldgate (signs) to straight fenced track, curves right, then left. Fieldgate (waymarks).

4. Fieldgate to farmyard (waymarks), right before barns, left between barns, right between barns, (waymarks), fieldgate out of yard. Track with hedge to right, at end of hedge 11 o’clock (waymark) downhill to gate (waymark) to path in wood edge.

5. Right and through grand stone gateway’s sidegate, across parkland to left of first pond, no path for 500 yards. Left to join track. Gate in trees.

6. Bridge on lake dam, track peels away from lake, 100 yards, right to join metalled estate road 200 yards. Left to metalled avenue, pass church etc.

7. Wooden gates, cross road to gate (waymark), path across field, track with hedge to left, 500 yards. Gate on right at apparently dead ash tree gate (waymark) and ten o’clock across field. Gate and right to road (waymark), first left (signed Aldfield) pavement.

8. NB this direction not quite as on OS map, but all waymarked. After farm and field on left and opposite Yew Tree House, ornate gate on left (waymark). Fieldedge by wall 50 yards to but not though gate, left 50 yards and through gate on right, 1 o’clock, 200 yards, fieldgate, 1 o’clock 200 yards down. 9. Stile to woodland path (waymark), ignore paths on left. At ruin left to good track, one mile. Ignore signed route to right, stile/gateway. Left to road and rejoin outward route.

Fact file

Distance: Six miles.

General location: Near Ripon.

Start: Visitor centre.

Right of Way: Public.

Dogs: Legal.

Date walked: April 2009.

Road route: Signed off from B6265.

Car parking: Free car parks at visitor centre.

Lavatories: Visitor centre.

Refreshments: Visitor centre.

Tourist and public transport information: Ripon TIC 01765 604625, visitor centre 01765 608888.

Map: Drawn from OL Explorer 298 Nidderdale.

Terrain: Gentle hills.

Difficulty: Moderate.

Please observe the Country Code and park sensibly. While every effort is made to provide accurate information, walkers set out at their own risk.

York Press: Countrywalk Fountains Abbey