19 August 2010
Ryedale has links to the earliest times of Christianity. At Lastingham, the present church has origins going back to the 7th century. It is built over a stone crypt, believed to contain the body of St. Cedd, a missionary from Lindisfarne. St. Gregory’s Minster at Kirkdale was rebuilt between 1055 and 1065 by Orm, son of Gamal. This is recorded in the great sundial over the door.
In the 12th century, Ryedale’s abbeys and priories were built. The first of these, Kirkham Priory, stands on the banks of the River Derwent. Built by Augustinian monks, ruins of the priory remain, with the magnificent 13th century carved gatehouse depicting St. George, David and Goliath and St. Bartholomew. The finest ruined abbey in Yorkshire can be seen at Rievaulx. Established by Cistercian monks in 1131, Rievaulx Abbey is set in the wooded Rye Valley, and the grandeur of the stone arches can still be appreciated. Larger than nearby Rievaulx, Byland Abbey is Ryedale’s third great Christian monument. Founded in 1177, one of the finest collections of medieval floor tiles in Europe can be viewed here, in their original setting.
Ryedale’s Christian heritage continues today, with a thriving monastery at Ampleforth. The abbey was formerly a Bendictine priory, and the present church was designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott. Beautiful stained glass windows, carved woodwork by Robert “Mousey” Thompson and the high alter stone from nearby Byland Abbey are some of the delights of this church. Ampleforth Abbey is now one of the most successful Roman Catholic public schools in the country.
At St. Mary’s, in Old Malton, the remains of the west part of a Gilbertine Priory form part of the current parish church, the rest dating from the latter part of the 12th century. Monks of the Gilbertine Order established this monastery in 1147 – 1150, and St. Mary’s is now the only remaining Gilbertine priory in use in England.
The 12th century also saw the construction of Ryedale’s two ruined castles, at Helmsley and Pickering, both now in the care of English Heritage. Pickering Castle, a traditional motte and bailey castle, was once a royal hunting lodge, in the centre of the Forest of Pickering. Helmsley Castle is regarded as one of the finest medieval castles in England, with magnificent double earthworks. During the Civil War, in 1644, the Parliamentarians laid siege to the castle for three months, after which the garrison surrendered.
Historic Houses in Ryedale
Many of Ryedale’s magnificent stately homes and gardens were established in the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest example is Nunnington Hall, now managed by the National Trust. Situated on the banks of the River Rye, the house was developed from an earlier Elizabethan manor house. Nunnington Hall is home of the famous Carlisle collection of miniature rooms, and the informal walled garden is excellent in Spring and early summer.
Castle Howard, a Baroque masterpiece, is the creation of Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor in 1699. Television viewers will be familiar with the house and grounds, including the remarkable Atlas fountain, as the setting for Brideshead Revisited. The grounds at Castle Howard always impress visitors, with walks through woodland, formal gardens, along terraces and beside the lakes.
Just 15 miles away, Sir John Vanbrugh also had a hand in designing Duncombe Park, at Helmsley. Lord and Lady Feversham have carefully restored this house to its original resplendent glory. Statuary adds interest to the landscaped green garden, whilst much of the parkland is a National Nature Reserve.
The founder of Duncombe Park, Thomas Duncombe, also developed Rievaulx Terrace and Temples (National Trust), an elegant half-mile long grass covered terrace, with classical temples, as a setting for elaborate family picnics. Looking down on the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey, and with views of the Rye Valley and across to the Hambleton Hills, the terrace is still a wonderful site for picnics today.
A journey on the steam trains of the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a great day out, and visitors can experience part of Ryedale’s heritage through sight, sound and smell. Completed in 1836, after many engineering difficulties were overcome, this 18-mile track wends its way through the spectacular Newtondale, formed as glacial waters melted during the end of the Ice Age. The railway then passes through Goathland, known to many as “Heartbeat” country and, more recently, as “Hogsmeade” in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, before terminating at Grosmont.