In the secluded valley of the River Rye, amid fields and woods loud with birdsong, stand the magnificent ruins of Rievaulx Abbey (pronounced ‘ree-voh’). The extensive remains give a wonderful sense of the size and complexity of the community that once lived here, and their story is fleshed out in a series of fascinating exhibits in the
neighbouring visitor centre.
This idyllic spot was chosen by Cistercian monks in 1132 as a base for their missionary activity in northern Britain. St Aelred, the third abbot, famously described the abbey’s setting as ‘everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world’. But the monks of Rievaulx were far from unworldly and soon created a network of commercial interests ranging from sheep farms to lead mines.
In the 1750s, landscape-gardening fashion favoured a Gothic look and many aristocrats had mock ruins built in their parks. The Duncombe family were able to go one better, as their lands contained a real medieval ruin, Rievaulx Abbey. They built Rievaulx Terrace and Temples so that lords and ladies could stroll effortlessly in ‘the wilderness’ and admire the abbey in the valley below. Visitors today can do the same, with views over Ryedale and the Hambleton Hills forming a perfect backdrop.
Rievaulx is located about 3 miles west of Helmsley. Note that there’s no direct access between the abbey and the
terrace. Their entrance gates are about a mile apart, though easily reached along a lane (steeply uphill if you’re heading from the abbey to the terrace).