As I have blogged on quite a number of occasions now, Steph and I have enjoyed our National Trust membership since becoming members in early 2011. It certainly gives a focus for days out when the weather permits – and we’ve more than had our money’s worth in terms of membership fees versus entrance charges. So on our way back home last Sunday from our visit to the northeast we took the opportunity of stopping off in North Yorkshire. The weather forecast had been so-so, but it turned out to be a perfect late September day: bright and sunny, balmy even; almost an Indian summer.
In July we had visited Fountains Abbey, a derelict Cistercian abbey near Ripon. About 20 miles as the crow flies northeast from Fountains Abbey is another famous Cistercian ruin: Rievaulx Abbey, which is owned and managed by English Heritage.
But it wasn’t the abbey that we went to visit, but a delight of 18th century landscape gardening on the hillside above the ruins – Rievaulx Terrace and Temples. Constructed in the mid-18th century by Thomas Duncombe II (who had inherited Duncombe Park in nearby Helmsley), it provided a pleasant landscape from which to view the abbey ruins in the valley below of the River Rye (which also runs alongside another NT property, Nunnington Hall, about eight miles away to the south).
The grassy terrace, just below the brow of the hill, is bordered on the east side by a beech wood, and on the west – towards the abbey ruins – the valley drops away steeply, and is densely wooded, except for a number of avenues that were cut through the trees to provide views of the ruins below. You can see these quite clearly in the Google Earth satellite image below, just below the label ‘Mossy Bank Wood’.
There are two temples – that at the north end is an Ionic temple, open to the public at various times of the day; and the southern temple is a Tuscan round design, and is permanently closed.
We were very lucky to arrive just after noon, and the Ionic temple was still open. Visitors are restricted because of the delicate nature – and quality – of the interior furnishings. And what masterpieces the temple contains: original table and chairs, Royal Worcester china from the 18th century, the marble fireplace, and most important of all, the absolutely stunning frescoes on the ceiling. They quite took my breath away. The temple was used to entertain guests, with a kitchen in the basement.
The Tuscan temple has the most gorgeous painted plaster ceiling. The National Trust has placed mirrors on the inside of the windows and it’s therefore possible to view the ceiling.
But a stroll along the terrace reveals the Rievaulx Abbey ruins in all their medieval glory. I visited the abbey once in my Southampton student days during a walking holiday in 1968 on the North York Moors. And then in the 1980s, when our daughters were small, we rented a holiday cottage just north of Scarborough on the coast, and one of our trips was to Helmsley and Rievaulx.
Rievaulx Terrace and Temples were a complete surprise. Beautiful (especially on the day we visited), simple, and serene. If you ever get chance to visit, do make sure it coincides with one of the Ionic Temple opening times. You would surely regret missing out on those Georgian glories.