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A Tour of Rievaulx Abbey

Substantial remains of Rievaulx Abbey exist, and since King Henry VIII called for the church to be rendered inhabitable, you cannot safely enter the structure. Instead, you’ll be traversing the ruins of the abbey, which provides for less of a “grand” interior tour. The ruins are equally as beautiful as many castles, but since the ruins are outdoors, you’ll need to go on a day when there is little rain or bad weather if you hope to enjoy yourself. There is an indoor museum, which has been updated with new relics from the past, and this is something that you don’t want to miss.

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Starting the Tour

Impressive from every angle, Rievaulx Abbey is situated in the remote North York Moors National Park. The devout monks at the time wanted to live in seclusion with as little outside disruptions as possible. As a result, the abbey was built in its remote location. The life of the monks would change over the centuries, with less of an importance put on their daily rituals and strict way of living.

Visitors who want to discover more about the abbey’s past will be able to pick up an audio tour that will provide you with in-depth information about the abbey as you traverse the grounds.  The new audio tour provides you with:

  • Commentary
  • Insight into the abbey’s monks

What’s really neat is that the audio is made to sound like it’s provided by one of the monks who lived on the abbey at the time. Adults and children alike will be able to envision what life was like at the abbey when listing to the audio tour. The tour should start at the village of Rievaulx, which is beautiful in its own right.

Your first stop will be the visitors’ centre, which is a tall building with a windowed front. English Heritage staff will meet you inside, and they’ll be able to help you with the audio version of the tour, or they’ll answer any questions you have. There are also tearooms and views of the Cistercian Abbey ruins.

Tall beech and oak trees can be found in the nearby garden and provide a tranquil place to sit and rest. Sheep-grazing pastures will surround you, and these pastures were integral to Rievaulx Abbey at the time. Sheep were raised for their wool, and Europeans from across the world flocked to the abbey to purchase the wool, which added to their finances.

Viewing the Ruins

You can tour the ruins alone, and it’s recommended that you bring boots along. The front of the abbey still maintains the beautiful arch design, but the roof is missing. Walking inside of the ruins, you’ll notice several decorated columns and arches that must have been a marvel at the time.

Walking along the stoned trail around the ruins, you’ll notice small plaques with further information and insight into what you’re viewing. Pay special attention to the columns and their design, trying to guess what style they’re in. If you’re especially lucky, you may see a carriage ride up to the former abbey. Many brides and grooms go to the abbey to take the picture of a lifetime together.

Benches exist on the property and provide a comfortable place to sit and enjoy the ruins, or a place to sit and relax after a long day of walking. When walking the abbey grounds, you’ll also be able to visit the Family Trail. This is a unique trail that was designed to help you and your family hunt for clues on how the abbey’s former monks lived. Guests with children don’t want to miss the excitement that the trail offers. Ruins remain, but the allure of Rievaulx Abbey has never been greater.

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A Trip to the Museum

One of the richest abbey’s in all of England, the abbey once sold wool, food and mining goods to make money. There were many monks that lived on the land, dozens of additional buildings and countless lay brothers.

A trip into the museum on the property gives some insight into what the inside of the abbey may have looked like. A few of the many items that are in the Rievaulx Collection include:

  • Frieze depicting life on the abbey
  • Ventilators
  • Finial
  • Window glass, which likely covered the giant front archways
  • Chess pieces
  • Floor tiles
  • Statues
  • Label stops

There is much more to see, too, with the museum expanded recently. There are new finds and items available from 2016 that give further insight into what the abbey must have looked like at the time. All guests are highly encouraged to visit the museum if they’re interested in what may have been inside of the abbey at the time. Henry VIII closed the abbey in 1538 and ordered its destruction. No one knows what other treasures the abbey may have held before the dissolution.

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