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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Visiting the ruins
Rievaulx is today managed by English Heritage for more details about visiting the abbey, facilites and opening times see the English Heritage Website for Rievaulx Abbey

Rievaulx Abbey: Location

The spot was by a powerful stream called the Rye in a broad valley stretching on either side. The name of their little settlement and of the place where it lies was derived from the name of the stream and the valley, Rievaulx. High hills surround the valley, encircling it like a crown. These are clothed by trees of various sorts and maintain in pleasant retreats the privacy of the vale, providing for the monks a kind of second paradise of wooded delight. (1)

Aerial photo of Rievaulx abbey
©Dave MacLeod
<click to enlarge>

Rievaulx Abbey lies in a deep valley by the River Rye, from which the monastery takes its name. It was chosen to be the setting for Bernard of Clairvaux’s first Cistercian ‘outpost’ in the North. The founder of Rievaulx, Walter Espec, a royal justice, gave the site for the abbey to the monks; this was only a few miles away from his own castle at Helmsley.

Walter was a frequent visitor to Rievaulx. He maintained an active interest in the community and retired there shortly before his death c. 1153.

Rievaulx now lies within the North Yorkshire Moors National Park and is celebrated for the beauty and tranquillity of its setting. In the twelfth century the site was a rather desolate wasteland, described by one contemporary as ‘a horrid and vast solitude’. This was, however, an ideal setting for the new Cistercian community to establish a self-sufficient abbey.

They set up their huts near Helmsley, the central manor of their protector, Walter Espec, a very notable man and one of the leading barons of King Henry I.

[Walter Daniel, Life of Aelred, p. 12]