Val Holmes Rivaulex Abbey

Down a steep road into the River Rye valley, north of Helmsley, North Yorkshire lies the picturesque and tranquil ruins of a Cistercian abbey, founded in C12, in the village of Rievaulx.

This beautifully preserved and peaceful place has been in the care of English Heritage, or its predecessor, since 1917. Walkers, artists, poets, scholars and tourists have marvelled at this hidden away gem for years.

Abbey Riverlaux Val H

Rievaulx was the first Cistercian abbey in the north, an order that was founded by St Bernard, near Dijon, in 1098. The focus of the order was on an austere life.

However, it was Abbot Aelred, whose celebrated writings and scholarly reputation attracted so many to the growing community that it doubled within his time there (1137-1167) to accommodate 140 monks and 500 lay brothers. The English Heritage site reveals that many of the existing buildings date back to this period.

Time changes outlooks and lifestyles. By the time Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, Rievaulx only had 23 resident monks. The lands were sold to the 1st Earl of Rutland in 1543 and the lead from the roof and bells were removed and gifted to the king.

Abbey Riverlaux Val H

The site did have another use, though, for a time in the late C16 and early C17 as a water-powered forge. The blast furnace died out when the supply of local timber was exhausted. However, by the late C18 its beauty had been recognised by visitors as it became a favourite subject of artists. The valley and site is overlooked by The National Trust's Rievaulx Terrace.

These were created with classical temples built at either end of the terrace to add to the romantic outlook of this peaceful place. Set as it is against the steep wooded bank, you can see why the abbey continues to capture the eye of visitors and artists alike.

Abbey Riverlaux Val Holmes

Rievaulx Museum

Today they can explore the abbey’s ruins, learn about the life and history within it in times past and see a number of artefacts in the museum, before refreshing themselves in the tea rooms, which sells freshly prepared food. For the more energetic, you can follow the walk from the abbey to Helmsley Castle 4 miles away. Both sites are dog friendly. However, do be careful about keeping dogs on the lead near sheep and livestock.

Abbey Riverlaux Val H

There are car parks at Rievaulx Abbey and Helmsley Castle (council pay machines are in use at the castle car park) and disabled access and facilities are available at both. Please check the sites for further details, especially about winter opening times.

I love the way the abbey is tucked away down a very steep wooded bank like a time-capsule ready to be discovered and explored. Its history has been dramatic at times, but what was created centuries ago is being lovingly preserved for our and future generations to enjoy.

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