Fountains Abbey is a fantastic day out. When we visited in September 2010 we didn't even get around all off in the day.
Located near Ripon in North Yorkshire it is situated in a secluded wooded valley. The Abbey is Britain's largest monastic ruin and was founded by 13 Benedictine monks in 1132. As well as the Abbey there is a large estate, called Studley Royal Estate, offering some excellent walks. The estate has a deer park, water gardens, woodland walks, rivers & lakes, a visitor centre, a church called St Mary's Church, a mill called Fountains Mill and a Jacobean mansion called Fountains Hall.
While Fountains Abbey is impressive today it must have been truly outstanding as a fully built, fully functioning Abbey. Even by todays standards some of the architecture is truly outstanding. How places like this were built without todays modern methods is mind-boggling. It's amazing how much of the Abbey has survied which is good as this give plenty to see. Towards the South (rear) of the Abbey is a river, called river Skell, and parts of the Abbey have even been built across the river thus making the river part of the Abbey so to speak.
Fountains Mill is a monastic water mill complete with an 18th century working water wheel. Unfortunately this wasn't working when we visited due to some problem with the stream that feeds the mill. Inside the mill are all kinds of exhibits that have been found both in the mill and around the estate grounds. I remember reading somewhere that the mill is the oldest part of Fountains Abbey but hasn't actually been open to the public that long.
Fountains Hall is a large Jacobean mansion not to far away from the Abbey. Building of Fountains Hall began in 1598 and some of the stone used to build Fountains Hall has been taken from the ruins of the Abbey. Fountains Hall does have some of it's rooms open to the public and is well worth a visit.
The water gardens and woodland walks are yet another excellent part of Fountains Abbey and feature some stunning scenery both natural and man-made. These walks could easily take up a whole day of your time without even exploring the Abbey, mansion or mill. Around the grounds are several temples and towers (I refer to them as follies but I'm not sure if I'm correct by calling them this) such as the Temple of Piety, the Temple of Fame and the Octagon Tower. There are also several bridges, landscaped rivers and ponds and the Serpentine tunnel which is a fairly dark, winding tunnel cut through the rock.
Discover Yorkshire - Fountains Abbey
Wikipedia - Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey Official Website
National Trust - Fountains Abbey