Hello and a very warm welcome to my newly relaunched blog. I'm Paul a 40 year old family man from the UK. In this complex, information overload 21st century world, too often we lose sight of what's really important. Here I want to celebrate life, share inspirational stories, throw the spotlight on charities and causes close to my heart. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you all.

Friday, 2 April 2010

It's a Jolly Holiday Good Friday!

Well once again not much time to post today, but I guess that's how it should be as it means I get to spend precious time with my family over the Easter Holiday period.

Today was a wet , blustery, washed out day, but we all had a great time. Went over to the family in Scunthorpe, had an indoor Easter Egg hunt for the kids, a lovely bit of dinner and then burned off the excesses trying out our best moves on Wii Dance- thank goodness no one was pointing a video camera in my direction! Back home to the village and a Fish and Chip supper followed by a Jolly Holiday trip with the effervescent Mary Powwpins!

In keeping with the spirit of the season, here's an article I wrote about one of our favourite North Yorkshire family days out - at the beautiful and historic World Heritage site of Fountains Abbey.

Whisper it.

The sun is gradually starting to linger that bit longer, we're edging that bit closer to the Easter holidays, and so I confess that I am now increasingly hankering after a family day out in our glorious British countryside with my personalized picnic-o-meter already at amber alert levels.

Today I'm going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of one of my ultimate favourite destinations, a sublimely peaceful and inspiring place in the heart of North Yorkshire, Ladies and Gentlemen I give you the true national treasure that is Fountains Abbey. 

Fast Flowing History
Set in over 800 acres of rolling green landscapes in the Valley of the River Skell, on the outskirts of Ripon, the largest Monastic Ruins you'll find in this country still dominate the skyline and are beautifully interwoven with the surrounding water features

Founded by a small group of Benedictine Monks in the 12th century, through extensive trading and exporting of wool it rapidly achieved the status of being the richest Cistercian Abbey in the country by the middle of the 13th century. In 1539, all of its wealth and treasures were stripped away by as part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries under the orders of King Henry VIII, the land was sold on to a merchant named Sir Richard Gresham.

In 1598, Stephen Proctor purchased the estate from Gresham's family and built an Elizabethan mansion in the grounds which he called Fountain's Hall, using original Abbey stones in its construction. Finally in 1767, William Aislabie who already owned the nearby Studley Royal estate, bought the Abbey and extended the stunning Water Gardens built by his father John to incorporate the Ruins into the landscape.

In 1983, the estate was bought by the National Trust and in 1988 it was awarded the highly prestigious World Heritage status.

Quick Visitor's Guide
The Abbey is very well signposted from the A1 in both directions, take the exit to the A61 via Ripon and follow the brown signs. There really is ample parking for cars and coaches, at the main entrance you will find row after row of gravel covered, tree lined parking bays. The visitors centre is a wonderful structure of light wood and slates, blended perfectly into its environment.

The most recently published entry prices for 2009 are (including Gift Aid) £8.25 for adult, £4.40 for a child, family £22

If like me you are fortunate enough to be members of either the National Trust itself or English Heritage you can enjoy all of this for free. Believe me, if you are wavering about become a member of either of these fantastic organisations, Fountain's Abbey is the kind of place that makes your mind up for you!

Time to explore!
OK, for me that's more than enough of the basics covered. It's time to take you on a journey through my eyes, so naturally the first thing that's caught my attention is the magnificent restaurant complex right by the entrance.

Oh yes, it's already high time for a cuppa and cake, and I'm sure you won't fail to be impressed by the restaurant facilities. Built in the same naturally blended woods and spacious style as the visitor centre, it is modern, family friendly and offers a fine selection of delicacies fit for even the most discerning of palates.

Luckily I'm just a greedy gannet who knows what he wants so I'll sit down and guzzle my coffee and walnut cake while you decide. The baby change facilities are really well thought out and clean, and depending on the weather, there's both an indoor and outdoor kids play area, boasting those giant versions of Connect 4 and the like. It's a great place for lunch or afternoon tea, tends to be a little on the expensive side, but definitely high quality of food and service. Remember we've brought a picnic basket - credit crunch and all that, plus I forgot to mention my mate Dave and his 3 girls have joined us, as well as my missus and our little man (amazing but on my lifetime English Heritage membership I can get all those adults and kids in for free!) so we can't hang around here all day....

The path to ruins
So, back through the visitor centre, off along the path we go. Hang on we've not gone 10 yards and little man's found some kind of mini maze thing carved in the grassy banks , like a mini outdoor amphitheatre - ahhh look the kids are running up and down, maybe those biscuits were a bad idea. OK we're back on track, round the corner, through the gate (don't look right don't look right -that's the adventure playground - save it for later, must save it for later...). Two path options down the hillside, a longer version for the discerning walkers with more time or the straight down and charge plan for the weary parents to play catch up with the little bundles of energy. Into the trees, there's a steep path down to the left - keep hold of them. As you get to the bottom, you'll get a first view of the main Abbey buildings - impressive....

Now on this particular occasion there happens to be some kind of medieval living re-enactment going on, so in amongst the ruins there's a whole series of tents, and good folk passing on their wisdom on any subject from cooking to combat. But as ever, the kids have instantly concocted their own plan of attack and head straight to the craggy collection of stones and courtyards. It's hide and seek on an epic scale, interspersed with rock jumping contests onto the squishy grass fortunately, but still requiring that bit of supervision.

There is a huge grassy area, and naturally it's premium picnicking turf - what do you mean we've only just had cake - I've got a coolbox and a chicken leg with my name on it so there!

Let's walk it off
Hmm maybe I did have one too many scotch eggs there. Never mind, pack up the rugs, and away we go. Over the bridge, and up the right hand side into the trees we go, as we pass the Abbey on the left, you get the first glimpses of the cascade of water that leads down from the Abbey to the Water Gardens. There's mini waterfalls on route, and every time you look back behind you the view of the Abbey seems to get more stunning. Back on level ground you come to the lush green epicentre of the watery piece, with little white benches gently adorning the scene. Chance would be a fine thing for a sit down, instead a more challenging route awaits.

A steep path up to the right, winds its way up to Surprise view, also affectionately known as Ann Boleyn's seat - apparently because a beheaded statue used to be located here, with all those associations with the Dissolution. No matter the detail, we are truly rewarded with a panoramic perfectly aligned view of the Abbey and its waterways - get the cameras out.

The nature trail continues a pace, this section is known as High Ride ; as we weave our way through the trees look to the right and you might just catch a glimpse of the deer in the field.

We pass a couple more temple features, and then another discovery - A tunnel. The Serpentine Tunnel. Now for those of a nervous disposition or who's kids have particularly overactive imaginations, I have to point out that yes it is fairly dark in there, but it's only 50 feet or so long so the kids should be alright.

It leads us back down to the heart of the water gardens and our journey continues.

Stepping stones no more
One of the things I particularly remember as a kid when visiting Fountain's was when you come to the end of the Water Garden trail which leads into the main Lake surrounding Studley, you had the option to cross the stream via the bridge or via a set of carefully spaced out stepping stones. Sadly the Health and Safety brigade have removed this particular adventure from the menu by blocking access, so as we stroll slowly over the plain wooden boardings, little man can only look on and dream of one day getting to take part in a remake of Takeshi's castle...

Still after a good half a mile hike to this point, our spirits are undoubtedly lifted by the sight of , yes you've guessed it a tea room. It's a hot day, we all deserve an ice cream and they have Ryeburns real dairy icecream on sale out the back - a true Yorkshire classic.

Skipping through the meadows
Whether it be the sugar rush from those giant ices, or just the general euphoria of having so much space to run around in, the next leg of our journey is where the kid's really come into their element. As we head back down the opposite side of the water way, (pausing briefly to look up the hill where it's advertising wedding receptions are hosted here - not a bad venue I'd venture), it seems that unlike the intricately mown lush green carpets of grass around the other side, this bit has been allowed to grow properly wild.

Next thing you know the three sisters are heading out into the long stuff, jumping up and down like frogs. Our little fella is desperate to tag along so dutifully I follow, chasing him away from any impending water. As I collar him, I look back and it strikes me; I'm somehow transported to the opening title sequence of Little House on the Prairie as the carefree children amble wistfully through the fields. It's magic, there's not a Nintendo DS within twenty miles, this is kids being kids and loving every minute.

The fun continues back at the picnic area, those steep grassy banks the perfect opportunity for some top quality hill rolling. Caught up in the excitement, I have a go myself -hmm, maybe I should have taken the keys out of my trouser pocket first - oh well....

The final adventure
Somehow time has caught up with us, and we eventually start to make our way back up the hill. However, in our initial hurry on entering, we completely missed the activity barn located on the left hand side. No time like the present, inside we find all sorts of colouring and puzzle stuff, plus some really cute little wooden sheep faced rocking horses, perfect for the little kids to ride on -throughout the holidays there's all sorts of extra stuff going on here. But we have to save what little energy reserves we have left for the grand finale.

More than just an adventure playground, this thing is almost a work of art, completely original and full of challenging obstacles to cater for a whole range of kids ages. There's a giant wide slide, huge wooden ship like structures to climb up and down, rope climbs and a mega sized tyre swing, enough to tempt even the most inactive of adults out of playground retirement.

It's a great way to round off the day, and hopefully I've been able to give you a flavour of things at the Abbey, but of course there's really only one way to find out - go see it for yourself!

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