Whilst on our way to Scarborough we decided visit some Historic sites and found 2 great historic things to do in North Yorkshire near Helmsley. The Rievaulx Abbey and The Helmsley Castle ,both looked after by English Heritage or its new name Historic England. The distance between the 2 is only about a 5 minute drive, so easy to see both in the same day or if you want you can go by foot via Cleveland way national trail which takes about an 1 to 1/2 hours to walk.
The first thing you notice about the Rievaulx Abbey is its location, nestled in the lovely valley and meadows of Ryedale and towering high into the sky.You can see why the Medieval Monks decided to build it where it is, they weren’t silly !!
The surrounding areas are breathtaking, tranquil and serene, perfect for prayer and meditation. There were of course also next to water for drinking, washing and also for fishing. It should be pointed out that this was a living breathing industry in order to sustain themselves, they also sold mined iron and ore and they traded wool from their flocks of sheep and sold it throughout Europe.
The Abbey was originally built by the Clarivaux monks established by St Bernard of Clairvaux and was the first northern Cistercian monastery. The intent was a missionary to reform christianity in western europe in 1132. At its peak there where 140 monks here and when you visit the chapel you can only imagine how wonderful the sound that would have resonated when they were all in song !. There were also 500 lay brothers who carried out clerical and administration works.
The original plan for the Abbey was that the monks where to go out and to establish daughter Abbeys in the rest of the kingdom. A steady flow of monks came to Rievaulx Abbey purely due to the reputation of the 3rd Abbot Aelred he was known for his preaching and authorship. His tomb can be seen in the chapel near the new Alter stone which was erected in 2015, the original altar stone is placed on top of the new one. Staying at the Abbey in 1322 was king Edward II, the English were surprised by the Scots army at shaws moor and the battle of Byland was fought. Following the English defeat the Scots plundered the Abbey.
The Abbey started to decline due to an epidemic that affected the abbeys sheep flocks and also because of the black death in 1346-1353.
Rievaulx Abbey Chapel
The Abbey fell into heavy debt and by the time Henry the VIII dissolved it due to reformation in 1538 there were only 22 monks and 100 Lay brothers left. It is well worth a visit !!. If you are ordering food from the cafe, be prepared to wait as it takes a long time during the high season but the food is good.
The address is Rievaulx, NR Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5LB
The 2nd place we visited in Helmsley was the castle raised mostly by the crusader Robert de Roos and his descendants. Helmsley castle was passed down to him by his father in law Walter Espec who built the first timber structures of Helmsley.
Helmsley Castle still Guarded today
The castle itself when first built was not such a great fortification in that the major defense where the surrounding earth works and timber buildings. Robert de Roos had a pair of strong barbican entrances built and also the keep like east tower in a D shape that still faces the town today.
Helmsley castle East Tower
Although eventually strongly defended, it wasn’t until the Civil war that Helmsley castle saw some action, it was successfully besieged after a 3 month battle in 1644 by the parliamentarians and was made indefensible by demolishing parts of the curtain walls and blowing up the East Tower. The remains of the destroyed east tower can still be seen today laying in the ditch next to the tower. This was a warning to the towns folk and also a constant reminder of their vulnerability as the blown up part of the east tower is visible from the town.
Looking out to the countryside from the west tower
Following the civil war It became the residence of the Duke of Buckingham and his wife, the daughter of Thomas Fairfax, the Parliamentary commander. Later it was the residence of the manners family who built a comfortable residence in the 16th century in the central area of the castle. Below is a picture of the fireplace.
Robert De roos was one of the barons that witnessed the signing of the famous Magna carta by King John some 800 years ago on the 15th of June 1215 and is known today as the (800 years of liberty magna carta). This was celebrated again on the 15th of June 2015 at Helmsley Castle.
The address is castlegate, Helmsley, North Yorkshire, YO62 5AB
Both of these places are well worth a visit and 2 great historic things to do in North Yorkshire if you are in the area.