In July, on my way home from York I visited one of England’s most evocative ruins: Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire.
It was a wet morning but I was determined to see the Abbey as I had driven quite a distance out of my way. From the Visitor’s Centre entry you walk though a field and then down a winding path to the floor of the valley.
This is a view of the approach taken by the thirteen founding monks of the Abbey. They had been expelled from St Mary’s Abbey in York following a dispute about how the monks should live and worship. Their first harsh winter was spent camping here while they built the original wooden church on the site.
From there you could look back down towards the Abbey.
Looking at my map, I then realised the only way back down the hill was through this tunnel – it was pitch black in there and I could only see a couple of feet inside. It looked wet, slippery and very dark. There was no indication of how long the tunnel was but I knew that it would be quite a long way back to the level of the valley floor.
There was also this sign. It said that in addition to building and repair work taking place in the tunnel, it “is home to many bats…” and that it was designed to give visitors a “gentle fright”. I considered what to do – I could either walk the mile or so back along the hilltop or I could take my chances in the tunnel. Feeling brave I stepped inside. Even allowing time for my eyes to adjust, there were three or four steps I had to take in complete darkness when I just had to trust that the tunnel was safe and that I wasn’t going to plunge headlong into a crevice or be attacked by bats.
I walked several steps further and the tunnel bent to the right. Finally I saw the light at the end of the tunnel – literally. Luckily the tunnel isn’t that long but the bend in the middle means that you can’t see directly through it – hence its name: the Serpentine Tunnel. The rest of the way down to lake level was via a path.
I was now about two miles from my car. I could either go along the lakeside back around to the Abbey or continue on the path that curved in the other direction that would take me back to the carpark via paths on open fields. I chose the change of scenery afforded by the latter option.
The church is called St Mary’s and was built in 1870 in the late Victorian Gothic style. St Mary’s was the last stop on my walk but I was still a good half a mile from the carpark – fortunately the rest of the circuit was on level ground.