Rievaulx, Byland, Helmsley and a SOK Repair

We started page 2 of Mark’s 2018 Savings List with a visit to Rievaulx Abbey.

Rievaulx, like Furness Abbey in Lancashire (which we visited on our last trip) was a Cistercian monastery.

Rievaulx was founded in 1132 AD and initially did extremely well. Its first and third abbots were sainted, and by 1160 AD it housed a total of 640 choir and lay brothers.

Mark is finding the concept of the lay brothers quite comical. The Cistercians were founded with the stated aim of following much more closely the Rule of St Benedict, as the Benedicines were viewed as having become a bit lax. One of the key requirements of the Rule was for monks to carry out manual labour each day, which by this time the Benedictines had largely abandoned in favour of more prayer (holding special masses could bring in plenty of loot from the secular rich wanting to secure favour with God). This was one part of the Rule that the Cistercians were supposedly going to uphold. Mark has noticed, though, that it doesn’t seem to have taken long for the Cistercians to have set up the system of lay brothers (and later paid servants) to do the vast majority of their manual labour…..

Quite a lot of the basic layout of the abbey remains, despite all the destruction as a result of the Reformation in the last 1530s – so you can walk round and imagine much more easily than at some of the other ruined abbeys what each part of the complex would have been used for.

Rievaulx had a hard time of it later. It was bankrupt in the late 13th century when the wool industry, on which the Yorkshire abbeys largely depended, was decimated by outbreaks of sheep scab and Edward I’s tax on wool.

The community was recovering nicely when it was raided by Scots in 1322, then the Black Death decimated the area in 1349. By 1380 there were just 15 monks and 3 lay brothers.

The monks seem to have been a hardy lot though, as the community recovered and began to prosper once again during the 15th century and into the 16th century – and then along came Henry VIII with his bright idea of a break with Rome.

At Rievaulx, as at the other abbeys once the Reformation came, everything that could be stripped out and sold WAS stripped out and sold.

Royal commissioners oversaw the removal of all valuable materials, which at Rievaulx went right down to “diverse old naylys” (various old nails).

The small museum contains a couple of items that give some hint of what happened following the dissolution of the abbey: a display of small fragments of glass from the abbey windows (everything larger would have been taken away and sold) and a half-ton bar of lead of the type that would have been made when the abbey roof was melted down.

The lead bar has the mark of Henry VIII stamped into it (a crown above a Tudor rose)

The museum also had a range of small artefacts found at the site together wih some fabulous stonework.

All things considered, Mark reckons that Rievaulx is the best ruined abbey we’ve been to thus far…. and I can’t disagree…..

Gluttons for punishment that we are, the next day we had a look at nearby Byland Abbey…..

(bottom left in the aerial photo corresponds to top left on the plan)

Monks from Furness Abbey founded Calder Abbey in 1134, but when that was destroyed by the Scots in 1134 they ended up in Yorkshire looking for a new home. After two temporary sites and several decades, they finally moved to Byland (they were moved on from one of the temporary sites as it was just that bit too close to Rievaulx – apparently the competing bells from the two houses were confusing the monks!).

We’re now all Cistercianed-out…. it may be a while before we visit any more ruined abbeys……

The nearby small town of Helmsley seemed very prosperous and was certainly picturesque. We frequented the bookshop and the butcher (no prizes for guessing which of us dragged the other into which shop!) and each was proclaimed to be very good indeed.

Helmsley Castle provided more “savings” but, if we’re honest, not too much in the way of inspiration.

Initially constructed in the 12th century, today you can see the remains of the surrounding ditch and walls, two towers and, joined onto one of them, a 16th century manor house built for the Manners family (whose main seat was at Belvoir Castle).

It was whilst at Helmsley that SOK had a bit of a mishap…. a smell of gas….. Mark went off to poke around in the “Norway cupboard” (the original gas locker that we regained for storage by having an underslung tank fitted) and decided that the gas was coming out of the tiny pressure-relief valve hole on the regulator……

Grrrrrrr – I’m not sure if we mentioned here the failed gas regulator we had last month in Penrith (it certainly went on Facebook). SO that’s two trips and two dead regulators…. A couple of ‘phone calls lined up a repair man to meet us today and fit a new regulator. He reckoned it was just one of those things……

We now have a shiny Truma-branded regulator. Perhaps we should start a sweepstake on how many days / weeks this one lasts?

We’re spending tonight on a small camp site near Harrogate; tomorrow we head to York for three nights……


  1. You seem to be enjoying a lot of blue sky! I think Mark should keep a record of that as well….

    Good luck with the new regulator, hopefully it will be a Truma and not a Trauma!

    Liked by 1 person

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