Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world,” remarked Rievaulx Abbey’s most famous abbot, Aelred, in reference to the 12th-century monastery.
More than 800 years have passed since those words were uttered, but as I strolled down a quiet lane through Rievaulx village and wandered by the softly lit ruins one late afternoon last year, I experienced the same respite from the rush of life.
Rievaulx sits in a secluded basin by the River Rye and is enclosed by woodland. The Abbey is easily reached by car (and bus in summer), but if you are in a meditative frame of mind or seeking tranquillity, travelling on foot is the best way to get here.
Helpfully, the clearly marked Cleveland Way will guide you on the three-mile walk from the busy market town of Helmsley.
The path climbs out of Helmsley not far from the magnificent Duncombe Park estate. It skirts a crumbling medieval fortress (Helmsley Castle) before entering open countryside where the trail continues across grassland and through woods. The view of Rievaulx as you descend towards the River Rye will lift the spirits, especially on a crisp winter’s afternoon when rose-tinted sunlight shines through the abbey’s many arched windows.
2. Monastic views
Aelred was responsible for the construction of many of the buildings you can see today, which fell into ruin following the dissolution of the monasteries under King Henry VIII. The presbytery’s archways have endured and are a tremendous sight as you wander down the village lane. Another fine vantage point is from Rievaulx Terrace – a raised wooded bank that overlooks the abbey. From here, you can admire the monastic buildings in their entirety nestled in the timeless valley below.
With daylight hours to spare, return to Helmsley, which has much to entice day trippers. Helmsley is typical of many market towns in North Yorkshire with its handsome Georgian houses, central square and array of old coaching inns. However, it stands out because of its high number of art galleries, interiors shops, expensive restaurants and delicatessens.
3. Sacred orchards
Make Ampleforth Abbey the next stop on your trail. The 2,000 acre (800 hectares) site is five miles south of Helmsley and offers good walking opportunities.
There’s also a tearoom and shop where you can pick up a bottle of Father Rainer’s famous cider and sample his apple cake, which are produced in the abbey’s orchard.
Open Thur-Mon in winter,
10am-4pm, adults £5.30.