The Abbey is situated in the wooded River Rye valley near Helmsley, North Yorkshire, in the north east of England and has an enviable position. The River Rye valley at this point is heavily wooded and provides shelter to lower lying farmland around the river. Small stone quarries are still evident in the woodland adjacent to the "Cleveland Way" walking trail that leads from the nearby market town of Helmsley to Rievaulx.
History and Location.
The construction of the Abbey began in 1132 when Cistercian monks arrived from Clairvaux, France. Walter L'Espec, the Norman Lord of Helmsley had granted the land to the monks to establish an abbey following the Norman Conquest of 1066.
Wood, stone and farmland were readily available on the sheltered site
At the height of its success, the Abbey farmed 14000 sheep and prospered from wool sales. The early years of the Abbey's operation were commercially very successful but declined in the 1300's due to the Black Death and the final blow of the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII in 1538.
The present state of the Abbey would certainly suggest that the buildings were dismantled, rather than being ransacked, and all valuables removed, including stone, lead and wood. Some of the stone found its way into local buildings, whilst the more valuable items were seized by the crown.
The Abbey is managed by English Heritage and the Visitor Centre is at present under renovation. Parking is available at the site which is clearly signposted on the local road network, the main access road being the B1257 - Chop gate to Helmsley, North Yorkshire.
The hamlet of Rievaux, which surrounds the Abbey is possibly one of the most scenic, unspoiled areas in North Yorkshire.
We visited the Abbey on a warm August day. There was a small Visitor shop for payment of entry fees and purchase of any printed guides or merchandise required. Temporary toilet facilities were available and a mobile unit selling hot drinks and snacks.
The site consists of the abbey ruins, and is accessible on foot with short walks required between the buildings that are mostly attached to the main abbey. The remaining stonework and architecture remains impressive and is certainly a credit to its builders. The site is very neat and well maintained, and audio guides are available for those with an interest for more detailed information.
As a photographer, the stone and arch designs really caught my eye. I was really drawn to the detail in the stonework and grand columns. It had been many years since my last visit, so I viewed the abbey as if I was seeing it for the first time, and I was impressed ! The stone ruins and walls were well maintained as were the grassed areas and footpaths.
Its grandeur and imposing size is still evident, as is the peace and calm of its sheltered setting.
The Rievaulx Terraces are sited on the raised hillside on the south side of the abbey - they can be accessed also from the B1257 but are a separate venue with their own entrance charges. Views of the abbey are available from the terraces through spaces cut in the hillside woodland.
Rievaulx Abbey is certainly still an impressive structure and would be an attractive venue to the majority of visitors. Those with historical, architectural or religious interests would enjoy the abbey. None of the abbey buildings are under cover, so visiting in dry weather would be preferable. Most of the site is reasonably flat, but some of the buildings have the original stone stair ways, which must be negotiated with care.