Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal on the world stage

Looking over the half moon pond from Surprise view at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.

Studley Royal park, including the ruins of Fountains Abbey was one of the first sites in the UK to be inscribed into the UNESCO World Heritage Site listings in 1986.

First thing's first, what is a World Heritage Site?

The World Heritage Site list is chosen by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). This list is made up of sites across the world which have great cultural and/or natural value and need to be treasured and maintained for future generations.

How does it happen?

It's a gruelling process to become a World Heritage Site. First of all, after lots of hard work you make it onto a 'tentative list of future nominations'. Then the World Heritage Committee decides on whether you make it onto the list of Sites that include Machu Picchu, the Great Wall of China, the palace and park of Versailles and the pyramid fields from Giza to Dashur.

Why are we a World Heritage Site?

To become a World Heritage Site you must be able to show 'outstanding universal value' and be able to meet one of 10 criteria set out by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

Recognised as a ‘feat of human creative genius,’ it was awarded one of the highest honours in 1986 - to be up there with the most culturally relevant properties, landscapes and sites in the world as a World Heritage Site.

It's not all about the abbey

Many visitors assume it is Fountains Abbey which gives the estate its World Heritage status, but it is in fact the ‘harmonious whole of buildings, gardens, and landscapes…which represents over 800 years of human ambition, design and achievement.’ Studley Royal water garden is an essential element of this harmonious whole.

Enjoying the Fountain Abbey ruins from afar
A couple enjoying the Fountain Abbey ruins from afar
Enjoying the Fountain Abbey ruins from afar

A tale of two parts...

There are two distinct parts to the Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal estate, as the name suggests: Studley Royal water garden and the ruins of Fountains Abbey. The two parts, while so different merge together to create one awe-inspiring whole.

The garden vision

The water garden at Studley Royal is one of the few great 18th century gardens to have survived well in its original form. It's the creation of a man called John Aislabie and later his son, William.

They both had astounding vision for how they wanted this garden to look, working with the landscape rather than changing it. Their design ingeniously channels the winding waters of the River Skell past the abbey ruins and into moon shaped ponds and mirrored lakes, framed with formal bosquet hedges and laurel banks. They pushed the boundaries of what's considered to be a garden and heavily influencing the typical 'English' garden style.

Visitors at Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
Visitors at Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire
Visitors at Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire

But that's not all...

Sat on the west side of the abbey there's also the transitional Elizabethan/Jacobean Fountains Hall - built partially out of stone from the abbey - and Fountains Mill. Situated in the medieval deer park is St Mary's church, designed by William Burges in 1871 and is often thought to be one of his greatest pieces of work.

Explore Fountains Mill
Explore Fountains Mill
Explore Fountains Mill

What does it take to look after a World Heritage Site?

There's a big responsibility to look after the site and to preserve it for the generations to come but of course this, as a conservation charity, is what we do best. You can find our whole World Heritage Site management plan, our progress report and our statements of significance below.

See what's been happening so far

World Heritage management plan: progress repot (PDF / 2.6MB) download

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