My brother recently remarked upon the absence of anything about Yorkshire in my travel blog. He is quite right I should have included something from this wonderful part of the world where I spent a large part of my childhood and to where I return frequently. Here is the first of my Yorkshire travel logs in an attempt to rectify this lacuna.
Not far from my brother’s home is Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal. A place we have visited so many times that we almost feel that it is our own…well as it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site I suppose it is all of ours now.
Fountains Abbey features prominently in Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 whereby he achieved the ruin of vast abbeys and estates with the assistance of his able Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell. Notwithstanding that Henry is probably our best known monarch he really was an extremely unpleasant character and not well loved, even today, in the north of England.
There is enough literature on Fountains Abbey so I shall not attempt to recapitulate its history here. Rather I would briefly like to extol what I personally believe to be one of England’s finest views and that is at the “blind view” of Fountains from Studley Royal Park. Now when I was young I do distinctly recall my mother calling this the “blind view” but the only contemporary references I can find refer to the “surprise view” but I find the former the better sobriquet and in memory of my late mother I will stick with it.
“Blind” because walking through Studley Royal you never actually see the Abbey until you turn the very last long circular corner at which dramatic moment the Abbey is gloriously opened up. Really a very clever piece of landscape gardening.
Now a brief history lesson on the park. The Studley estate was inherited by John Aislabie who is better known to the world as being England’s Chancellor of the Exchequer between 1718 and 1721. Ho hum….. yes quite but what is remarkable is that he was principal sponsor of the South Sea Company scheme and the bill for which was promoted by him personally. After this vast financial operation collapsed (an event aka the South Sea Bubble), he was expelled from Parliament and disqualified for life from public office. Clearly however Aislabie didn’t sink his own wealth into the South Sea Company as he returned to Yorkshire and devoted himself to the creation of the garden he had begun in 1718. After his death his son William extended the scheme by purchasing the remains of the Abbey and extended the landscaped area in the picturesque romantic style we see today. Between them, the two created what is arguably England’s most important 18th century Water Garden.
It is a kind of paradox therefore that the magnificent site we see today was essentially “created” by two Chancellors of England. One who effected the ruin of an abbey but restored, albeit briefly, the country’s finances and the other who ruined the country’s finances but created a garden….and what a garden. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.
By the 18th century the garden and park concept, one of England’s great legacies to the world, had well been ingrained into the English psyche. In 1730 Queen Caroline, the clever and ever-improving wife of George II, having already appropriated 200 acres of Hyde Park for the grounds of Kensington Palace, a source of widespread resentment, toyed with the idea of making the whole of St James’s Park private, and asked her prime minister Robert Walpole, how much that would cost. “Only a crown, madam” he replied with a thin smile. I digress however….moving on.
Couldn’t resist getting in my brother’s dog “Paddy” into the blog. I managed to catch her standing still…for just a millisecond, here just at the end of the formal water park at Studley Lake. Just about half a mile further down, the River Skell disappears into the limestone to reappear again to closer to Ripon.
And the “blind view”? Just glorious.