GEORGE WILKINSON heads to Fountains Abbey for a wander round a World Heritage Site.

FOUNTAINS Abbey and the adjacent landscaped water gardens at Studley Royal are a World Heritage Site, fabulous and a real must. If you haven't visited them already then pay your dues as I did for the paper back in December 1998 and don't let me distract you with today's toddle which is a cheapskates' tour: Fountains for free.

We parked and pondered the new Visitors Centre, a post-modern exuberance of swooping lead and steel integrated with stone and bare timber; fussy perhaps, the devil is in the detail. Anyway, we took tea - there is a kiosk - and moved on, popping down to the River Skell where we had a rethink about our route.

Our intention had been for a leg stretcher south of the Abbey for long views of Ripon, but it was a misty old day in sodden England so we abandoned such ambitions and turned in at the Monks Wall.

By following the remnants of this posh boundary wall we kept above and close to the treasures and, as the trees were bare, saw loads. First up, Fountains Hall: an unscrupulous 1611 use of stone from the Abbey, but good otherwise. Then the Abbey. 'Oh what a beauty and perfection of ruin', someone once said. And the 'best preserved' in England, the 'finest picturesque ruin' according to Sir Nicolas Pevsner.

The Visitors' Centre is very discreet from a distance. Also hard to spot (I didn't!) were The Seven Sisters - yew trees of which there is a survivor perhaps predating all else hereabouts.

Moving on, a farm had a neat yard but muddy approaches. We grumbled then took a vow of silence as we closed on the Deer Park. At the gateway a sign warned 'Deer are wild animals - do not approach'. It also alerted us to calving in June and rutting in October and November. The deer were not rutting but grazing, presumably the sex done with for the year. About 50 hinds fed, heads down, a few hundred yards away and the stag was still standing.

The deer have a lovely park and it brought us to more refined thoughts and landscape - the River Skell again, with Chinese influences, the serene water garden lake and then the surrounding parkland. Here stand terrific chestnut trees with big boles of spiralled bark. There were a few deer, camouflaged despite antlers. Perhaps they had eaten the chestnuts.

On a little rise is St Mary's Church, a High Victorian masterpiece, sadly closed for the winter.

Never mind, soon we were back at the Visitors' Centre where the restaurant offers an 'Historic Menu' including 'wild venison circa 1457'. We indulged our appetites while reappraising the fancy architecture. What had seemed fussy now fascinated and as our eyes delved into the detail of all the nooks and crannies our forks dipped into 'bread and butter pudding and fresh cream circa 1720'.

Fact file

Distance: Three miles.

Time: Two hours.

General location: Near Ripon.

Start: Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre.

Right of way: The complete route is along public rights of way, permissive routes and open access areas (park open dawn to dusk).

Date walked: Saturday, November 16 2002.

Road Route: The B6265 from Ripon, 2 miles to main entrance road.

Car Parking: Free car park.

Lavatories: Visitor centre and near lake car park.

Refreshments: Visitor centre. Restaurant tel. 01765 601003, kiosk.

Tourist & Public Transport Information: Ripon TIC 01765 604625. Fountains Abbey Visitors Centre 01765 608888.

Map: Based on OS Explorer 299, Ripon and Boroughbridge.

Terrain: Parkland and farmland.

Points of interest: Numerous 'Christmas Festivities' here, e.g. 'On the Hoof', 'Out to Lunch'.

Difficulty: Not difficult but a bit of mud. Avoid when deer rutting October to November, and calving in June.

Dogs: Short leashes near deer.

Weather Forecast: Evening Press and recorded forecast 0891 500 418


When in doubt look at the map. Check your position at each point. Keep straight on unless otherwise directed.

1. From visitor centre entrance, left to roundabout on private access road and left (path to side). At right hand bend, straight on to track (signed bridleway), 100 yards, left to road. Down, then uphill.

2. After River Skell and stream, stile/fieldgate on left to grassy track paralleling wall remnants. Fieldgate by wood corner, track.

3. Right at fence near farm, left in front of farmhouse, into farmyard and right, left between last barns then right to fieldgate and track (hedge on right).

4. When hedge ends, straight on downhill, gate and footbridge into wood.

5. Gate in stone archway, downhill through deer park (passing two ponds to your left), track downhill, gate, track under beech trees.

6. Bridge over River Skell, left to lakeside path, 200 yards, right uphill on private road to car park, path and fork right up to St Mary's Church (signed). Left at church, gates out of park and left to path back to visitor centre.

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

Click here to view a map of the walk

Updated: 10:39 Saturday, November 23, 2002