I had been saving this Fountains Abbey walk for a weekday, you know, to avoid the crowds. After living in Yorkshire for over three months, I finally made it. And it was worth the wait.
I’m usually more of the rugged remote walks kind of person, so I wasn’t expecting to like walking around Fountains Abbey as much as I did.
Fun Fact: Fountains Abbey is one of the largest and best preserved Cistercian Monastery ruins in England.
Before heading out, I studied a regular map, but still wasn’t completely sure what route I would take through the Fountains Abbey estate. When I arrived at the visitors centre, the National Trust lady got a much more informative map out, and showed me where everything was. I used this to then devise a route which would take me to most things around the grounds of Fountains Abbey and then the Studley Royal Deer Park.
This is what I’m going to show you today.
First I will give you a bit of an overview of the walk around Fountains Abbey, and then the Studley Royal Deer Park, with full logistics and a map of the route I took. Then I will go on to describe the route step by step with lots of photos. I will also show you how to shorten the walk, if you don’t want to go as far. I will also show you where to walk to see a few things that I didn’t see around Fountains Abbey.
When I describe the walking route around Fountains Abbey, I will tell you a little bit of the history behind some of the things you will see.
What to expect on the Fountains Abbey circular walk
This walk takes you around the grounds of Studley Royal, passing by the ruins of Fountains Abbey, alongside the Studley Royal water garden, and then across the deer park via the Seven Bridges Valley.
Did you know, that Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal was the first place in the UK to be named a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
The first half of the walk around the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Estate is the pretty bit, with one of the best preserved 18th century gardens in England.
Fun Fact: It’s the garden that set the tone for the typical English garden style we know today.
Studley Royal was inherited by John Aislabie. He was the one who set about landscaping the garden. His son William continued the project, purchasing Fountains Abbey to go with it.
William Aislabie also did the landscaping at Hackfall Wood. I did a walk around there recently, which you can read about here.
The second half of the Fountains Abbey walk takes you across the Studley Royal Deer Park. First through the deep valley full of stone bridges, and then across the vast fields where you might get a chance to spot some deer.
The walk finishes off with a wonderful sweeping view along the long long drive, with a perfectly framed cathedral in the distance, as you head to St Mary’s Church with it’s impressive gothic interior.
Then at the very end, as you walk back towards the Fountains Abbey Visitors Centre, you might have an opportunity to pick up some fresh eggs.
Is the walk hard?
This Fountains Abbey walk is not challenging at all, however, it is a bit hilly in places. Whilst a lot of the route is along easy path, and neatly cut grass, some of it is along rugged terrain. The most rugged bit is right at the other end of the loop.
How long is the Fountains Abbey walk?
This full walk around Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is about 6 miles. It took me 2h 15 min to complete, going at a leisurely pace, and meandering around the different sites.
Can you walk around Fountains Abbey for free?
You have to pay to walk around the grounds of Fountains Abbey which costs (at the time of writing) £18 per adult, and £9 per child. Family ticket is £45. It’s free for National Trust members though.
This walk also takes you across around the Studley Royal Deer Park and the seven bridges, which is free, if you choose to skip out Fountains Abbey.
How much is parking at Fountains Abbey?
The main car park at Fountains Abbey is free. It’s the entry into the grounds which you have to pay for.
Is Fountains Abbey dog friendly?
Dog’s are welcome at Fountains Abbey. They just need to be kept on a short leash. Around Studley Royal Deer Park, you need to be cautious of the deer.
Tips for walking around Fountains Abbey
- Although there are cafes about, it might be nice to take some of your own food, so you can enjoy it in one of the many scenic spots during your walk around Fountains Abbey, or the deer park.
- Trainers are fine for walking around the grounds of Fountains Abbey. Although it is a little bit more rugged in some areas of the Studley Royal Deer park, trainers should be fine there too.
- Even if you don’t follow my route, be prepared to walk a lot. The area is pretty big.
- If you can visit on a weekday, do that. There was still a fair amount of people when I was there on a Monday, but I did find a lot of quiet spots.
- The quieter spots are on the other end of the route, in the Studley Royal Deer park.
- If you like fresh eggs, take some change. Right at the end, when walking back to the Fountains Abbey visitor centre, there might be an honesty box type exchange. I picked up a box of 6 for £1.50.
- If you like places like this, and think you will visit more, then get a National Trust Membership. It gives you free entry to their sites, as well as free parking in National Trust car parks which are all over the country.
- Speak with a member of staff at the visitors centre to find out about what’s on. There might be something fun you can add on to your walk around Fountains Abbey. Alternatively, there is an information board as you enter the grounds, giving you all that info.
- Start/Finish: Fountains Abbey Visitors Centre.
- Where is it: Fountains Abbey is located in Nidderdale AONB, in Yorkshire. Post code: HG4 3DY.
- Public Transport: Yes. 139 bus from Ripon. Although, it only runs three days a week. Less regular is the 822, and 825, which come from York, Harrogate, Grassington, and Pateley Bridge. You can see the bus route timetables here.
- Distance: 6 miles
- Time: 2h 15 min at a leisurely pace
- Terrain: Well maintained path and grass when walking around Fountains Abbey. Studley Royal has the same, but also some more rugged bits, with rocks, dirt path, and bridges.
- Elevation: A bit hilly.
- Time of year: I walked around Fountains Abbey in early summer
- Amenities: National Trust visitors centre. Public toilets at a few places around the grounds. Lots of benches to sit on around the estate. Cafe at the visitors centre, and two more cafes en route. One cafe is at the entrance to Studley Royal. After this, there is nothing for the rest of the walk, until you return to Fountains Abbey.
Map for the walk around Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal
You can see my more detailed route map for the Fountains Abbey walk on Alltrails
For more walks in this part of Yorkshire, you can check out all the walks I recommend in Nidderdale here.
Route Description for the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal walk
Walk through the Fountains Abbey visitors centre, passed the information board, and turn right at the junction. At this point, I did ponder which way to walk. Right would take me through a playground. I wasn’t sure I wanted to walk past children, with their children noises.
I decided to risk it. Luckily, there weren’t too many of the little beasts about.
Walk past the playground and picnic benches, then once out of the tree cover, you will get your first view to Fountains Abbey poking out above the trees.
Continue on the path, as it then curves to the right towards the trees. You will walk past a sign pointing ahead to Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden.
At the next junction. Left takes you straight to Fountains Abbey, right takes you to Fountains Hall. I wasn’t sure which way I wanted to go. I kind of wanted to walk straight to Fountains Abbey, but was I missing out if I didn’t go right?
A member of staff was passing me by, and noticed I was in a conundrum, so he told me about each route, and what I would see.
So I went right. And I’m glad I did.
If you turn right, very soon you will get a very pretty view to a what looks like a little cottage and Fountains Hall partially hidden behind the trees.
That little cottage is actually a toilet. It might be the prettiest toilet building I’ve ever seen.
Passed the toilet, I went and stood outside the entrance to Fountains Hall and imagined it was my house.
Fountains Hall was built in the 16th and 17th centuries by Stephen Proctor, using some of the stones from the ruins of Fountains Abbey. After William Aislabie bought it, he didn’t live there, but instead leased it to tenants. Imagine renting that.
Fun fact: Queen Elizabeth and King George VI used to stay here as a guests.
Then during the second world war, it was used to house evacuees, and then because home to one of the local schools.
The tea garden and orchard
Directly opposite the entrance, there is a gap in the hedges, which will lead you to the tea garden and orchard.
If Fountain’s Hall was my house, then this would be my garden. I was liking the idea more and more.
Go over the bridge, and turn left to walk through the orchard. Each tree has a name, which was cute.
That building you can see on the other side of the orchard, is Fountains Mill. It was open, so I went and had a little look inside.
Fun Fact: Fountains Mill is the oldest building on the estate, and was in use until 1927.
Follow the path around to the left of Fountains Mill, to reach the other side.
Top tip: If you have come with kids, they might like to have a go ringing the bell on the other corner of the building.
Directly opposite Fountains Hall, go through the opening in the wall.
Walk to Fountains Abbey
As you walk through the wall, you will get another view to the top of Fountains Abbey, past the lovely bridge.
You now have two options to walk around Fountains Abbey. I decided to stay on this side of the river. Mainly because I could see and hear a big group of school children on the other side.
You can still walk into Fountains Abbey from this side. So go have a little explore.
Walk away from Fountains Abbey along the river
You can follow the river on either side to reach the Studley Royal water garden. I stayed on this same side, but if you choose to take the other, there will be a bridge crossing later to get you back onto this route.
The path on the other side is flat, this side is a bit hilly, but does give you a nice view looking down to Fountains Abbey.
If you took this side, the hilly bit isn’t too bad, and soon takes you back along the riverside.
Top tip: When walking along the river, make sure to look back occasionally, for a lovely view to Fountains Abbey.
Surprise View ‘Ann Boleyn’s Seat’
Next on the agenda, is the surprise view.
As the path and river curved around, I could see a temple nestled in the trees above. I wondered if this was surprise view (it’s not).
After the path curves around, keep an eye out for a rugged uphill path to the right, pointing to surprise view, Temple of Fame and Octagon tower.
This path is the most rugged so far, and the steepest. As you reach the top, you will see a structure hidden behind the trees ahead. This is surprise view.
Fun Fact: Surprise view is also known as Ann Boleyn’s seat. Not because Ann Boleyn ever sat here, but because there was a headless statue in this spot (which was taken away, and now put back).
Temple of Fame
Continue on the woodland path, and next you will reach the Temple of Fame. The view from there is just the tree tops mainly.
Fun fact: The pillars are not stone as one might think. They are just painted wood. This is one of the creations of William Aislabie, as a place to entertain visitors to the garden.
Octagon Tower and creepy tunnel
Next along the woodland path, is the Octagon Tower.
Next to the octagon tower is a big hole. I walked past it, thinking about how creepy it looked, and that I definitely wasn’t going in there….
Looking on my map, I could see a trail to take me down off the hill. Only, I couldn’t find it. I went back and forth, around the tower, and no trail was to be seen.
I had resided to the fact that no such trail existed, and I had to walk back on myself…then I had a sudden ‘ohhhhh’ moment. Could that creepy hole be the way down?
I slowly ventured inside, and realised there was a path in there, leading down. Following it, everything turned to pitch black, with nothing but the echoing sounds of my footsteps.
I hurried along, completely blind to what was ahead, and soon saw the light at the end.
Walk to the Studley Royal Deer park
Out of the tunnel you will be at the Studley Royal Water Garden, turn right on the main path, and keep going all the way to the bridge and lake.
Cross over the bridge, and follow the path around the other side of the cafe, where you will reach the entrance to the Studley Royal Deer Park.
You don’t need to show your ticket or anything. You will just need to show it if you walk back to Fountains Abbey this way later.
Once in the Studley Royal Deer Park, follow the main path around the lake.
Then at the other end, leave the path, to walk on the grass, continuing around the lake, to reach the start of the Seven Bridges Valley.
Walk the Seven Bridges Valley
Next you have all the cute stone bridges. I fully expected the walk through the Seven Bridges Valley to be busy, but it wasn’t at all. In fact, this is where it started to get quieter.
Fun fact: Although called the Seven Bridges, only five remain.
Go over the first bridge, then follow the left path into the valley, and make your way along the Skell River, crossing each little bridge as you go.
A few bridges in, I realised there was no more water. Was the river dried out, or is this how it normally is?
As I went deeper into the valley, I was soon totally alone. Just the way I like it.
Exit the Studley Royal grounds
At the end, go through the gate to leave the grounds of Studley Royal. Don’t worry, you come back soon(ish).
Through here, it’s just as green, maybe even more so, as you follow a path lined with big leafy trees.
Keep an eye out for the bridge on the right. A disappointing bridge after having walked over the others.
At the next junction, turn right….
I initially turned left. I wanted to get to a particular road. A road I had driven on a week ago, due to a diversion. A road with a view that I needed to see again.
As I made my way up the hill, I got my bearings and realised I was heading to the wrong end of the road. The bottom end. This would mean walking uphill on road for a long way. Uphill road walking is my least favourite thing, after shingle.
So I turned back and took the right turn instead.
Walk up to the entrance of Studley Royal Deer Park
The next section of the walk is along a very rugged trail, and very uphill. Although I wouldn’t call it tough, this is the toughest bit of the walk. I was surprised at how green everything still was, despite being out of the park grounds.
Follow this tree lined dirt trail all the way up, then to the right, and keep going. There isn’t a lot to see along this bit. Just trees, and peaks to some fields on the right.
Keep right at the junction, and keep going top reach the big archway entrance back into the Studley Royal Deer Park.
What happens next made me so glad I didn’t take the other route…
Walk through Studley Royal Deer park
As soon as I entered the Studley Royal Deer park, I saw them. The deer. I had wondered if I’d get to see any on this walk.
You want to now follow the roughly outlined grass trail. It’s in the direction of straight, from the gate entrance.
As I made my way along, I realised it wasn’t just me and the deer. There were cows. I was now faced with deer with horns to the left, and cows to the right. Not a situation I wanted to be in. So I proceeded with caution.
I was mainly keeping an eye on the cows, who were all together at the pond, like lions at the watering hole. One was right in the middle of the pond, taking a bath.
Once ‘safely’ past, I looked back and saw a cow running right in my direction. I froze. Maybe if I was still he wouldn’t see me?
He proceeded to run straight passed. It turned out he was running to his cow friends on the other side of the field.
I then walked over to the edge of the field, along the fence, and continued down the field, feeling a little better that I now had an escape route if needed.
Keep going all the way to the other end of the field, and onto a more obvious path, to reach the gate.
Through the gate, you will get back to the start of the Seven Bridges Valley. Now make your way back to the lake.
This is where I had a sit down for my snack.
The big road and St Mary’s Church
If you have had enough, you can walk back to Fountains Abbey from here. However, there are just a couple more things left to see, if you keep with me.
From the big pond, follow the path that leads up the hill. This will lead you to the road I talked about earlier. The Studley Royal Driveway.
When you reach the road, look to the right for a grand view all the way down the tree lined drive, with a view to Ripon Cathedral, way in the distance.
Now turn around and walk up to St Mary’s Church.
Fun Fact: St Maria’s Church was designed with a gothic style interior by William Burger in the 1870’s.
St Mary’s Church was built in memory of Frederick Vyner, who was kidnapped on his way to Greece. He was killed during the rescue attempt. Frederick Vyner’s sister was married to an Earl De Grey, who at the time owned the estate of Studley Royal and Fountains Abbey.
Walk back to Fountains Abbey
At this point you have two options. You can walk down the grass hill to the left, which will take you back to the entrance to Fountains Abbey. From there, you can follow the path back on the other side of the river and spend time exploring the water garden a bit more.
Alternatively you can walk straight back to the Fountains Abbey visitors centre. I did the latter. I’m glad I did because of the eggs…
To go back to the Fountains Abbey visitors centre, walk out of the gate and turn left. It’s a nice path all the way back, hidden from the road. It was along here that I passed by the eggs for sale.
I pass stuff like this all the time when out on a walk, but I never have money on me to get them. Including today. I was bummed, before I realised I had coins in the car.
So I hurried back to my car, and came right back with the change.
More walks near Fountains Abbey
Not too far away, you have the very old and very impressive Brimham Rocks. It’s also National Trust. You could try this walk which takes you around the rocks and then across the moor. It’s a very easy, and short walk.
Another way to see the rocks, would be this walk from Pateley Bridge. It’s a much longer route, and a little tougher. But great if you really want to stretch your legs.
My favourite reservoir in Nidderdale is Scar House, which is further north. It’s less popular than Fewston and Swinsty, but I think it’s better. So it’s a bonus that it’s less popular.
Read more: Best Nidderdale Walks
If you like to see things like Fountains Abbey, then you might like this walk to Bolton Abbey. It’s over in the Yorkshire Dales. This route takes you all the way along the river, to reach the Abbey, passing by the Strid, which is supposedly the most dangerous strip of river in the world.
Read more: Best walks across the Yorkshire Dales