Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx YO62 5LB

Simply stunning – the beautiful ruins of one of England's finest Cistercian abbeys are set in a quiet vale three miles outside Helmsley. For the full dramatic unveiling you can walk from Helmsley's castle on a bucolic path through the countryside, which takes an hour or so – or there's parking at the abbey. What confronts you on arrival is nothing less than a twelfth-century monastic retreat operated on an almost industrial scale – the tranquil riverside site was once home to around 140 Cistercian monks, but they in turn were supported by another 500 lay brothers who ran one of Europe's most profitable enterprises, focused on everything from wool production to mining, farming to fishing. The exhibition here fills in the background on how these vast monastic estates worked, while outside the ruined church, walls and chambers are set within lovely landscaped grounds, perfect for a picnic. Both Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx abbey were founded by Norman lord Walter Espec – he gave up all his wealth to become a monk at Rievaulx in the last years of his life, and if you spend any time at all at Yorkshire's most romantic abbey site it's not hard to understand why.

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