The grounds of Fountains Abbey and Studley Water Garden and park are always good for strolling. Less well known is the attractive, well wooded rolling countryside around the World Heritage site, not quite part of the dales but certainly distinct from the Vale of Mowbray to the east. This 9 mile walk on quiet paths explores the beautiful landscape to the south of the abbey.
Distance: 9 miles returning via the Water Garden and Abbey
Time: a minimum of 5 hours
Conditions: well signed field paths and bridleways
Refreshments: three cafes in heritage site
OS Explorer Map 298
Originally published: 22 October 2015
We start from the car park outside the west gate entrance to the site off the road between Markington and Aldfield (GR 271682). Turn left out of the car park, cross the River Skell and go up the steep hill away from the gate.
In 200 yards, at a very sharp right hand bend go left over a stile. The path drops back into the thickly wooded valley of the Skell, an indication of the kind of wilderness which had to be cleared by the first monks when they arrived a little downstream in 1132. After passing first a stone and then a wooden bridge go left over a second stone bridge. The path then climbs through the trees to a traffic free lane. Go left along the lane which has distant views of the Jacobean Fountains Hall and the majestic 16th century tower of the abbey church.
At the next junction go right. The road is bordered on the left by Monk Wall, built to encircle the abbey's hunting park. Although the dry stone wall has been much reduced since the abbey's dissolution in 1539 sections some 2 to 3ft high remain to give some indication of its construction. In less than half a mile turn left on to a bridleway which crosses a large field. Keeping some 100 yards away from the fence on the right, the right of way skirts the corner of a little copse before continuing to a gate leading into woods. A path then descends to cross a well preserved section of Monk Wall before reaching Fish Pond, a tranquil oasis popular with water birds.
Bear left to the wooden bridge which spans two arms of the lake. On the far side the bridleway climbs to a gate and then follows the right edge of a field to Foal Cote. Go through the farmyard and follow the access track to a cattle grid. Our walk turns right here, along the left side of two fields. Then, instead of climbing the little rise to Haddockstones farm go left following a path to Watergate Road three fields distant. Away to the left there's a glimpse of The Tower, an eye-catcher built by John Aislabie in 1717 to enhance the distant views from his newly built water garden.
Turn left on the road for a few yards and then go right through a gate and across one field to Westerns Lane. Go right and in less than half a mile turn left between the gate pillars of Ingerthorpe Grange. Just before the house bear left through a gate and past the buildings of the Yorkshire Riding Centre.
The bridleway then continues along a stony lane between high hedges before reaching the Markington to Ripon road. Turn left and then almost immediately left again along another bridleway. After some 250 yards look out for a stile on the right.
Ahead, three fields away, and on a slight eminence, sits Markenfield Hall, the most picturesque of Yorkshire's medieval fortified houses. Built in the relatively peaceful times of the early 14th century when some landowners no longer felt the need to live behind the stout walls of a well defended castle, Markenfield still appears castle-like with its token gatehouse and crenellated hall with windows facing the outside world. Even its moat though is a gesture; the property would not have resisted a determined foe for long.
As you approach the hall look out for its park wall, very similar in construction to the Monk Wall though the park was much smaller than that of the abbey. From the gatehouse go right, over a wall and then along the hall's eastern side. After one field the path recrosses the park wall by a wall stile, joining a grassy track, left, which was once the medieval route south from Ripon. We follow it through to where it joins the track from Bland Close farm.
It's now easy going with distant views ahead to Ripon cathedral standing proudly above the red roofs of the city. After passing a picnic table look out for a bridleway to the left, through a gate, just before the farm buildings of Whitcliffe Hall.
We now cross one field before entering woodland. At a T junction in the trees there's a choice to be made. The shorter route back to the starting point (mapped) is ahead on a well signed path which in half a mile passes Mackershaw Lodge, a gatehouse in Greek style built as an eye-catcher for Studley Royal (now demolished) the home of the Aislabies. The path then passes the front of Hill House Farm and continues to a gate in the well preserved Abbey Wall, the capped, 8ft high wall which surrounded the abbey precinct. You then join a lane where go right and, with the wall on the right, drop back to the car park.
The main walk is longer by almost a mile but includes most of Fountains' attractions. Turn right at the T junction and drop down a cobbled track to cross the Skell by a footbridge where turn left. The bridge is the first in this Valley of the Seven Bridges and was landscaped in Aislabie's early plans for Studley Park. Beyond the park entrance gate the success of his scheme is soon evident. A series of pretty bridges and paved fords enhance the winding valley. Halfway along the Skell, flowing down from The Lake, disappears underground in dry seasons.
Beyond the valley we follow the edge of The Lake to the weir with its charming fishing pavilions. Through the ornamental gates is the pay kiosk to The Water Garden with its follies and canals. A mile long drive links them to the ruins of the abbey, the monastic mill, Fountains Hall and the west gate. The official guidebook does justice to all these outstanding features.
An alternative route, avoiding payment of the entrance charges, is to climb the slope above the car park and then bear to the left of St. Mary's church to a gate in the park wall. Turn left and follow the boundary wall past the main entrance to the site and back down to the west gate ( nearly 2 miles of walking, not mapped).