Rievaulx Abbey has long been high on my list of places to see but, for one reason or another, we never managed to get there on our three previous visits to Yorkshire.
Having eventually done so, was I disappointed? Not in the least. Who could fail to be impressed by the extensive ruins of one of the most important Cistercian abbies in England, set in a remote valley where you can still experience the peace of those far off times.
At so many monastic sites either the church remains and the majority of the associated buildings have disappeared (nearby Whitby, for instance, or Sherborne in Dorset), or the church has gone and the other buildings have become part of a great house (Laycock or Beaulieu for instance).
Here not only do all the buildings remain, many of them are intact to near eaves level. Even the vats in the old tannery are still in place, right next to the refectory which can't done anything for the dining experience.
Originally founded in 1132 by twelve monks from Clairvaux Abbey on land given to them by Walter Espec of nearby Helmsley, there were several distinct phases of building. The original timber buildings no longer exist, but traces of the church have been detected in a geophysical survey on the north side of the cloister.
The first stone abbey was built in about 1135 parts of which still remain (principally in the west range of the cloister). The abbey was greatly expanded over the next 50 years or so, and then in the early 13th century the entire east end was taken down and remodelled into the spectacular building we see today.