Rievaulx Abbey ruins, with the herb garden in the foreground

There are ruined abbeys aplenty in North Yorkshire. English Heritage preserves the remains of many of these historic sites, including Byland Abbey, Fountains Abbey, and Rievaulx, near Helmsley.

Originally we planned to visit Fountains Abbey, but in the middle of the school holidays, at the height of the tourist season, I guessed it might be too busy on a day when some peace and relaxation was required. Last time we attempted to visit Fountains Abbey, we left again quickly, overwhelmed by the number of people and coaches around the visitor centre.

Rievaulx though was just perfect. And near its interesting exhibition building - which contained displays on the history of the abbey - was this small enclosed garden.

Garden area and Rievaulx Abbey ruins

There were marigolds to provide bright colour, and then herbs in different greens. The green was the perfect background to the zingy yellow and orange, so it all seemed perfect and balanced, lively but not too busy or brash for such a setting. The planting was set out in formal symmetrical beds, including raised areas edged with rough stone. All immaculately edged and tidy. The colours seemed so well chosen, and harmonised with the abbey ruins behind.

The English Heritage website has more information on Rievaulx Abbey. Including the words of the abbey's third abbot St Aelred, written over 800 years ago: 'Everywhere peace, everywhere serenity, and a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world.'

Still true today, thankfully.

After taking these photos I walked around the abbey itself. I was concentrating hard on getting some good photos, but turning a corner round the side of the abbey the sunlight met me, falling through the window spaces onto the green grass. For a moment, no one else around. Above, birds gather and nest in the ruins. Perfect peace.

Photos: 18 July 2006.

Bolton Percy churchyard garden

Wild flowers too: campanula growing in the abbey ruins