The water gardens at Studley Royal are a striking example of the elegance of Georgian garden design. Here, in the style that was popular at the time, it is not flowers that steal the show, but water features and statuary. But what extensive water features these are!
The gardens were created for politician John Aislabie’s country estate next to Fountains Abbey. They incorporated many of the features popular at the time, not only water and statues but also follies and artificial but realistic landscaping. A folly is usually a purposely constructed ruin. But at Studley Royal Aislabie had as neighbour the extensive real ruins of Fountains Abbey. When I read how the garden design was partly shaped around views of the abbey I was reminded of the Japanese style known as ‘borrowed scenery’ or Shakkei, such as I had seen at Tenryu-ji in Arashiyama, Kyoto. Later, as a bonus, John Aislabie’s son William was later able to purchase the abbey ruins. The grand ‘folly’ was no longer borrowed scenery, it was part of the gardens themselves.
William also added wilder woodland walks to fringe his father’s water gardens. Together with the surrounding parkland, home to herds of deer, the estate today is under the protection of the National Trust and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
A walk round Studley Royal
I left you a few weeks ago as we walked away from Fountains Abbey to explore the gardens beyond. For this week’s Monday Walk with Jo let me show you what we found there.
Our path along the River Skell led us to the first of the water features, the Upper Canal.
Beyond this lay the Crescent Ponds and Moon Pond. There was a lot of algae in the ponds, perhaps due to low water levels as a result of the summer’s drought. Classical statues dotted the lawns around them.
We climbed a path up through the well-named and rather dark Serpentine Tunnel. It led us to a viewpoint above, near the Octagon Tower. From here you get a much better view of the distinctive shapes of the ponds below.
Returning down the path we followed the Lower Canal to the ‘Cascade’, which I put in quotation marks because it definitely wasn’t cascading! But the structure itself was attractive in its own right, as was the large Studley Lake beyond, where ducks and swans swam among more algae.
Here we paused for lunch at the café at one end of the Cascade, watched by some expectant young crows.
The deer park
After our meal we climbed the low hill beyond the lake to explore some of the parkland.
This brought us to a long avenue that runs between two of the park gates. At one end we could se distant views of Ripon Cathedral, while at the other was the much closer St Mary’s Church which sits inside the park.
The path led us towards the church, hoping to spot some of the park’s heard of red, sika and fallow deer as we walked. Nearly at the end we found them, off to our right among the trees. We crept a little closer to take photos (but not too close, these are wild animals!)
I was interested to see that the Choristers’ House nearby had a carving of a deer above the door, while more deer appear on the shield.
St Mary’s Church
We finished our time in the park with a visit to the church, St Mary’s. This is a Victorian Gothic Revival church designed by William Burges, whose most notable work was probably Cardiff Castle. It was commissioned as a memorial to Frederick Vyner who was murdered by Greek bandits in 1870, by his mother and sister. Nikolaus Pevsner described the church as ‘a Victorian shrine, a dream of Early English glory’. Not knowing what to expect of a church in this location I was struck especially by the extensive and rather beautiful stained glass.
From the church we made our way back down a wooded lane which connected with the access road and the car park. Before leaving however we made sure to return to the visitor centre complex where we rewarded ourselves with an ice cream!
I visited Studley Royal in August 2022