Heritage North Yorkshire: Jervaulx Abbey and Bolton Abbey

North Yorkshire is well endowed with magnificent remains of medieval monasteries. I’ve visited and written about many of them, including Fountains Abbey, Reivaulx Abbey and Whitby Abbey.

Bolton Abbey from across the River Wharfe
Bolton Abbey from across the River Wharfe

However there are two abbeys that I had driven passed many times, but never stopped to explore:  Jervaulx Abbey and Bolton Abbey. Maybe as a member of English Heritage and the National Trust, I have tended to visit their sites rather than independent ones like Bolton and Jervaulx.

That all changed on a cold but sunny January day when I was returning from a New Year celebration in Scotland, and had time to spare when travelling down through North Yorkshire.

I visited Jervaulx Abbey first in the lower reaches of Wensleydale. Then after a scenic drive over the moors, crossing Nidderdale, I spent the rest of the day at Bolton Abbey in Wharfedale.

Approaching Jervaulx Abbey
Approaching Jervaulx Abbey

These two historic sites are very different. Jervaulx Abbey has a sign at the entrance stating: Historical, Tranquil, Beautiful – and that sums it up well. On the other hand, Bolton Abbey seemed to me to be more of a family focussed site with various activities around the extensive estate that follows the River Wharfe for several miles.

Jervaulx Abbey

The abbey is just a short walk from the car park, passing a small gushing spring and sheep grazing on a sloping bank to the right. Yes tranquil is definitely a correct description of the site, and historical and beautiful becomes more apparent the nearer you get to the actual ruins.

Small Spring
Small gushing spring

The size of the abbey only becomes clear when you pass through the first gateway and can see the complex of walls and entrances surrounding courts and the main cloister. It was one of the great Cistercian monasteries of Yorkshire, dedicated to St Mary in 1156.

Although some parts date back to the early 12th Century, including the long lay brothers building near the entrance, other parts, including the abbey church, are 13th Century. Some key buildings, including the meat kitchen and infirmarers’ lodgings are as late as 15th Century, not long before dissolution by Henry VIII in 1537.

My wife was fascinated by all the different styles of gateways and windows illustrating three centuries of architectural development.

Jervaulx Abbey
Different styles of gateways and windows at Jervaulx

There is no entry charge as such to the site, but an honesty box at the entrance to the ruins asks suggests £3 for adults and £2.50 from children.

There is small car park across the road from the abbey which has a charge of £1 payable into an honesty box. This is situated by a tea room which is open from late February till October, but unfortunately not when we visited in January.

Bolton Abbey

The Bolton Abbey estate is extremely well managed. Arriving by car, you have the choice of three car parks, each charging £10 per car with up to eight occupants. That’s the only charge for the site, so if you arrive by foot or on bicycle, there is nothing to pay.

Spectacular ruins of Bolton Abbey
Spectacular ruins of Bolton Abbey

I opted for the car park in Bolton Abbey village. The nearby tea room was very welcome after our one hour drive from Jervaulx and the abbey itself was just a short walk away.

The abbey church is still functioning now called the Priory Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert. Adjoining it are the spectacular ruins of the 12th Century Augustinian monastery, which is even more impressive when viewed over the River Wharfe.

Various additions were made to the abbey particularly in the 14th Century, before its dissolution in 1539, with just the church being spared.

The Strid
The Strid

Having explored the ruins and crossed the river by the bridge, not the stepping stones which looked a bit hazardous for us senior travellers, we headed up the eastern bank of the Wharfe. This designated walk has steep sections and unguarded slopes dropping down towards the river.

We could have crossed over a wooden bridge at the Cavendish Pavilion tearoom and continued on the less strenuous western route, but that side of the river seemed rather crowded with family groups and dog walkers. Hence we stayed on the eastern side of the river and continued two miles along quite tough terrain to the Aqueduct Bridge, passing the dangerous, white-water Strid along the way.

It was strange to find a large, turreted bridge in the middle of nowhere, but apparently the Aqueduct Bridge was built in 1899 as a key part of the water supply from a River Nidd reservoir to Bradford.

Aqueduct Bridge
Aqueduct Bridge

Having crossed the bridge, we headed back on the western side of the river passing various Christmas decorations and children’s games along the way.

The three miles back to the car park proved quite arduous, not helped by it gradually getting dark as we walked along!

I think we need to plan our Bolton Abbey estate walk better next time, and maybe the six mile round trip was a bit too much at this time of year, although the scenery and wild-life along the way made it all worthwhile.

If you are interested in visiting other historic abbeys and heritage sites, then see: English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to join?

Both Jervaulx Abbey and Bolton Abbey are open throughout the year, but many other heritage sites are closed between November and March, see: English Heritage and the National Trust – Winter openings?

POSTED 9th JANUARY 2020 by STEVE HANSON. The photographs were taken by BARBARA HANSON.