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Things to do at Fountains Abbey

The ruins of Fountains Abbey from De Grey's walk viewing deck
Fountains Abbey was once one of the wealthiest and largest monasteries in the country. | © J Shepherd

The ruins of Fountains Abbey are truly something to behold. Walk down the path from the visitor centre or along from West Gate car park and come face to face with some of the oldest abbey ruins in the country. As well as the abbey itself, you can explore Porter's Lodge, Fountains Hall, Fountains Mill and learn about heritage crafts at Swanley Grange.

Exploring safely

The abbey ruin is nearly 900 years old and there are steps and stairs which have been worn unevenly over time. Please take time and care when exploring. We recommend wearing sturdy shoes when you visit. There are some gentle and steep slopes throughout the estate. Please also be aware of uneven ground, height drops and deep running water.

Flowers at Fountains Abbey

Snowdrops are one of the first signs of new life emerging from the freezing winter earth here at Fountains Abbey. Wrap up warm spot their nodding bright heads dancing on the riverbanks and in the woodlands as you wander through the estate. The abbey ruins have been surrounded by a white carpets of snowdrops since the 19th century when Earl de Grey wrote his signature in snowdrops on the banks of the River Skell by the abbey.

Guided tours

Join our volunteer tour guides every Saturday and Sunday from 1:30-2:30pm and unearth the monastic secrets of a great abbey and the daily routines of the monks who lived here.

You can find out more about our upcoming guided abbey tours here.

Alternatively, download an audio tour here and head on a self-led tour through the grounds of the abbey. We recommend downloading the tour beforehand as network coverage is very poor across the site. You can use the free wifi available at the visitor centre and Swanley Grange.

Porter’s Lodge

Before you start exploring the abbey itself, make sure to pop inside Porter's Lodge, tucked inside the original gatehouse, which sits on the edge of the west green overlooking the abbey.

Important visitors to the abbey would have passed through the gatehouse, while local poor people would have gathered outside the gates waiting for free food from the monks.

Today you can learn about the abbey’s rise from humble origins to religious powerhouse, and its eventual decline. You will also see a model showing the abbey as it would have looked before the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s.

Once you're up to speed on the turbulent history of these ruins, it's time to walk across the west green and step into the cavernous nave, which looks down to the 'crossing'. Here you'll find both the oldest and newest part of the abbey, with the Chapel of the Nine Altars at the end.

Any questions? Our volunteer tour guides will be on hand every day from 3-4pm to answer any of your questions.

The cellarium

Soak up the view over to the cellarium, which you will spot the moment the abbey comes into view. It sprawls off to the side of the main abbey building – look out for the arched doorways and large windows. As you wander under the low roof you can easily imagine this chilly space as it once was: a food store.

It's now used for events such as Carols by Candlelight at Christmas, choir performances during Fountains by Floodlight and for servises throughout the year. It's also been used as a filming site, including for the BBC short series Gunpowder about the Guy Fawkes plot.

Upcoming services in the cellarium:

Good Friday service

12pm on Friday 29 March

This service is free to attend.

The vaulted ceiling of the Cellarium at Fountains Abbey
Shelter from the winter weather and explore the vaulted ceilings of the Cellarium | © Andrew Butler

East side abbey remains

From the cellarium you can see the remains of the cloister, the refectory and the muniment room. And don't miss the huge fireplace in the warming room. As you wander through to the east side of the abbey, be sure to visit the ruins of the infirmary, built over the river itself.

There were even prison cells here. You can find them under the remains of the two-storey abbot’s house. The words ‘Vale libertas’ ['Farewell freedom'] were once inscribed on the stonework and there's still an iron ring in the floor, which was used to keep prisoners chained up.

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Visit Fountains Mill. The oldest standing building in the care of the National Trust | © Chris Lacey

Fountains Mill

Fountains Mill is the oldest building on the estate and was in continuous use until 1927. It was built by the Cistercians in the 12th century to grind grain for the monastery. It survived the closure of the abbey and continued to mill grain until 1927.

In its long history, the building has also been a monastic granary, a timber sawmill, a home for refugees and a mason’s workshop. Today, you'll find an interactive exhibition and items discovered when the mill was restored in 2001, including some very old graffiti.

Swanley Grange

Granges were like monastic farms that provided food for the monks, and Swanley was one of three ‘home’ granges within walking distance of the abbey. The wool from the sheep that the monks kept generated an income for the abbey and enabled it to grow into one of the largest and wealthiest monasteries in the country.

Keep an eye out for crafting events and try your hand at traditional crafts such as weaving and knitting. Meet the new woolly and feathered residents and explore the vegetable garden.

Fountains Hall in the summer
The dominating presence of Fountains Hall | © J Shepherd

Fountains Hall

In 1597 Stephen Proctor bought the Fountains Abbey estate and began the construction of Fountains Hall soon after. He built this elegant mansion as his country home in the early 17th century.

The hall has seen many uses over the years: a stately home, courthouse, an estate employees’ lodging and a farmer’s house. Explore the hall and see informative displays or stay in one of the holiday flats in the hall.

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