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Around-England: Places to visit in England – especially the North including the Lake District
River Ribble Sawley Abbey Lancashire

The River Ribble, close to Sawley Abbey

The River Ribble rises in Yorkshire but comes to maturity in Lancashire. Not long after crossing from the white rose county to the land of the red rose it flows past Sawley. More accurately, I suppose, one should say the village of Sawley grew up by the banks of the Ribble. Before there was much by way of a village there was the Abbey, and before them both there was the Ribble.

Sawley Abbey ruins Lancashire

The Ruins of Sawley Abbey

On a warm Summer afternoon it is nice to stroll around the ruins of the abbey, maybe sitting for a rest after a walk by the river. There are no extensive building such as those over in Yorkshire at Fountains Abbey or Rievaulx, or for that matter further west into Lancashire at Whalley, but this is a pleasant spot surrounded by beautiful Lancashire countryside and English Heritage have provided information boards giving something of the history of the place.

Sawley Abbey Pendle Hill Lancashire

Part of the Sawley Abbey Ruins with Pendle Hill behind

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For centuries Yorkshire was divided into “Ridings”. Then in 1974 a modernising generation of politicians and bureaucrats decided that history had to be replaced by administrative convenience. New counties were created, among them North Yorkshire and East Yorkshire. Historic names and boundaries may have gone, but fear not. History refuses to be sidelined.

There is a lot of history in the areas around and to the east of Harrogate, Knaresborough and Ripon. Combined with beautiful countryside the history of this area makes for an excellent holiday. Castles and abbeys, on their hills and in their river valleys, add interest to country walking. Indeed for many people they are the focal points for their visits; pleasant walks simply add to the enjoyment of the history.

North York Moors Sutton Bank

North York Moors National Park Information Centre, Sutton Bank

Cistercian Abbeys – “Three Shining Lights”

In the Summer of 2015 I spent a few days in the area, based on the outskirts of Harrogate. I’ll leave that attractive spa town for another article and concentrate on a day of Cistercian abbeys. Incidentally, I don’t recommend following my example and packing all this into one day. I was short of time but a more leisurely visit would, I think, be preferable.

At that time I’d never come across the phrase, “The three shining lights of the North”. It was more recently that, while reading about northern abbeys I noticed that this title had been given to the three Yorkshire Cistercian abbeys of Fountains, Rievaulx and Byland in the centuries before their dissolution.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey Yorkshire Northern England

One corner of the Fountains Abbey grounds

I’d been to Fountains Abbey before, more than thirty years ago. On reaching what I remembered as the entrance I was surprised to find a sign pointing round a corner, up a hill and along a lane to the visitor centre. This leads me to my one and only criticism. The visitor centre could scarcely have been built at a more inconvenient place for anyone with limited walking ability, and that’s a lot of National Trust members.

I looked around at the people. Other than two groups of school children with their teachers the average age must have been well over sixty. The ruins are beautifully preserved in a wonderful valley setting, but the visitor has a lengthy walk down a steep hillside – and of course the return is up that same steep slope. Just as I was leaving I discovered that it is still possible to get in via the old entrance down in the valley – but only if you are eligible to use the disabled car park.

I’ll not go on about this at length but am disappointed in the National Trust for its seeming thoughtlessness. I say “seeming” because I know that location decisions can be complex. Now that things are as they are, however, much more attention should be paid to the needs of families with small children and of the elderly. Many who are not registered disabled nevertheless find steep slopes a problem. True, there is a courtesy bus, but I only spotted it as I was leaving. How well is its existence advertised?

Fountains Abbey – The Abbey Ruins.

Fountains Abbey - Yorkshire Cistercian Abbeys

Fountains Abbey – More of the Ruins

The abbey ruins are extensive and really need an article to themselves, but here’s a shot taken at the opposite end from the first one above. I must also in the not too distant future take a walk around the adjacent Studley Royal 18th century water garden. The combination of abbey and water garden are classed as a World Heritage Site. There’s also a watermill that I’m told is well worth an hour or so, and I love old watermills. That alone is a good enough reason for a return visit.

And so to another abbey …

Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey Yorkshire

Rievaulx from the road coming up the valley

This was my first visit to Rievaulx Abbey, although I had read about the remarkable combination of industry and spirituality demonstrated by the monks of the Cistercian abbeys. Of course that applied also to Fountains, but Rievaulx, to use what I recall of the language of one of the information displays, was their “Northern England business headquarters”. Founded in 1132 Rievaulx became one of the major abbeys of the North.

Northern England Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey – Some of the Abbey ruins

This was a major international agribusiness enterprise. It had its ups and downs. Like agricultural businesses nowadays it was vulnerable to the weather and to diseases of crops and animals, not to mention the predations of bands of Scots coming down over the border. Then there were the uncertainties of futures trading on the medieval European wool market which, just like commodity markets today, was not without serious risk.

In the case of Rievaulx it was the combined problems of animal health and market risk that led at one period to its having to be rescued from bankruptcy by the king. But Rievaulx bounced back until the monastic closures in the reign of Henry VIII. In 1538 Rievaulx, after more than four hundred years, ceased to function either as a place of prayer or of business, and its buildings were made uninhabitable.

Rievaulx Abbey Ruins Yorkshire

More of Rievaulx Abbey

Although above I’ve emphasised the business side of things it must not be forgotten that the abbey was at its heart a centre of Christian prayer and worship. In those days there was no secularist pressure to push faith into the margins of life, away from business and public affairs. Life, both public and personal, was less compartmentalised, more integrated. One of the early abbots, Aelred, was not only an effective administrator but also a much appreciated writer of both historical and spiritual literature, some of which is still in print today.

To my mind, though I admit that it is a matter of taste, the ruins of Rievaulx are even more impressive than those of Fountains, and much more accessible. The standard of upkeep is a credit to English Heritage. But now we must move on to …

Byland Abbey

Byland Abbey, Yorkshire

Byland Abbey

My third abbey of the day was Byland which also belonged to the Cistercian order, although not initially. The community was formed under the Savigniac order in 1134. Initially based in the North West, the monks moved several times before eventually settling at Byland in 1177. By this time the Savigniacs had been absorbed by the much larger Cistercian order.

Sadly Byland Abbey is not open every day, and I’d arrived on a day when the gate was securely locked. Further exploration will have to wait but here’s a second photo taken from the road alongside the site. Byland did not reach the eminence of Fountains and Rievaulx, and there’s not as much left of the ruins, but it was a significant centre for the Yorkshire Cistercians and I’m sure another visit will be well worthwhile.

Byland Abbey Yorkshire Northern England

Byland Abbey Ruins

Rievaulx and Byland are both within one of Yorkshire’s two national parks, The North York Moors. There’s a lot more to be said about this in later posts, and also about nearby Helmsley and Thirsk. I’ve got the photos and just have write the words.

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Back to the Lake District

by David Murray on 31 October 2015

in Lakes, Windermere

It’s some time since I put anything on this site about the Lake District (in fact it’s some weeks since I uploaded anything at all!) so although I’ve not forgotten my plan to have more about Lancashire and Yorkshire today’s picture is of Bowness on Windermere.

Bowness on Windermere Cumbria

Boats at Bowness on an October afternoon

It was only when writing the first paragraph above that it occurred to me that if I’d been writing it a little over forty years ago then some of the view here would have been Lancashire. Although Bowness was in Westmorland most of the lake itself and the western shore was in Lancashire. Ah, how the world changes.

Anyway, the photo was taken a couple weeks ago in the afternoon of a beautiful day, of which we’ve had quite a lot recently. Yes, the Lake District is great around the seasons.

Although I’ve not been writing much here in recent months I have been assembling a collection of photographs of both Lancashire and Yorkshire, including several of the medieval Cistercian abbeys, as I’ve travelled around. I just have to put some words to them now.

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Ash Fell to the Howgills by Ravenstonedale

I’m still trying to get a decent photograph of the Howgills from the top of Ash Fell. Somehow the weather or the time of day (sun angle) always seems to defeat me. Anyway, here’s my latest and despite its inadequacies I’m using it here to illustrate “Twixt Eden and Lune”.

The Eden and the Lune are the two main rivers of this part of the country, the Lune flowing south and west while the Eden runs north and west. Here at Ravenstonedale is the divide between Lunesdale (or Lonsdale) and the Eden Valley. The streams through Ravestonedale village join and flow as Scandal Beck into the Eden. Anything to the west joins the Lune.

Ravenstonedale Town Head to Wild Boar Fell

Actually Ravenstonedale needs to be thought of in two different ways. It is a village, but it is also an extensive parish. The parish spans the watershed and supplies both rivers. My second photograph for today (above) is taken from Town Head, at the top of the village, and looks out over that part of the parish to the east, toward Wild Boar Fell where Scandal Beck has its source. The image below is from close to the A683 Kirkby Stephen to Sedbergh road looking up toward Will Boar Fell in the background.

Scandal Beck flowing down from Wild Boar fell

This is fantastic walking country. The combination of the Howgills and the Upper Eden Valley attracts many who love tramping over the lesser known areas of our beautiful country. You don’t find the Lake District crowds here. There are no day trips to Mallerstang, except of course those passing through on the scenic Settle-Carlisle railway line (which has a station at Kirkby Stephen if you’re wondering how to get here without a car).

Kirkby Stephen centre

Some people may choose to stay in Kirkby Stephen, the local “walkers’ town” (above) or in Sedbergh, England’s “book town” at the southern end of the Howgills, but there’s accommodation in Ravestonedale itself and with the Black Swan (below) and the King’s Head there’s no reason to go short of amazing food at the end of the day.

Ravenstonedale Black Swan

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The Howgills: The Less-Trodden Cumbrian Fells

January 24, 2015

The Howgills are much less well known than many of the Cumbrian fells, and yet they’re more accessible than most, being close to the M6 motorway and the towns of Sedbergh and Kendal. Their western slopes are right alongside the motorway as it passes through the Lune Gorge between Junctions 37 and 38. Getting to […]

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Interesting Days in East Lancashire

January 6, 2015

In my last post here I announced the planned resurrection of the “Around-England” sites after a year’s unavoidable hiatus. Today, then, we start an “East Lancashire season” by referring briefly to a few of the area’s many interesting places in which a visitor (or for that matter a local) can spend enjoyable hours. “East Lancashire”. […]

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Change Comes to Around-England

November 15, 2014

After 6½ years here online Around-England is to become the central hub of a small galaxy of websites, both existing and new. Following something of a hiatus from mid-2013 until recently (due to health issues) I am now in the process of reviving my entire network of North of England websites. All are being relaunched […]

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Around-England is now in Kirkby Stephen

October 7, 2014

Kirkby Stephen is a village in the Eden Valley, Cumbria, popular with walkers on the surrounding fells and on the route of the Coast to Coast walk from St. Bees to Robin Hood’s Bay devised by Alfred Wainwright in the early 1970s. It is now also home to the Around-England web sites. After several years […]

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Wharfedale New Year

August 8, 2014

Although published here in August this item was mostly written back in January. As it was sitting here almost finished I decided to publish it now to revive the Around England site in spite of the long delay. Our New Year outing into Wharfedale actually started in Airedale. The previous day had been wet (an […]

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A Working Steam Driven Cotton Mill – History Alive

July 9, 2013

Personal Note:Regular visitors will have noticed the lack of new articles recently. Shortly after this one was published I suffered the first of a series of mini-strokes. Although there is no permanent brain damage it became very apparent that I was seriously overworking. I’m planning to keep “Around-England” and other sites going but there will […]

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