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Sunday, 24 March 2019

Fountains Abbey

I'm going to intersperse this post with photos of the day, that are totally irrelevant to the text but show how lovely it was and hopefully show what accessibility is like (in case it helps someone else decide to go there). There, you've been warned...

At the beginning of the year, we joined the National Trust and decided to try to visit one venue each month. Of course, the likelihood is, we'll visit some more than once and find favourites that just work for us. Yesterday, we visited Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens. I vaguely remember going there once before, when the boys were little but it was so long ago and my focus would have been on them.

Photo showing the wide compressed gravel path from West Gate to the Abbey

One of the things I'm enjoying about finding National Trust days out, is that their website contains really helpful accessibility information. Here is what it says about Fountains Abbey:

  • Designated mobility parking at visitor centre and West Gate. West Gate car park is reserved for mobility parking only on bank holidays and busy days. Access vehicle to all admission points
  • No wheelchair access from visitor centre to abbey; use West Gate car park or access vehicle from visitor centre
  • Level access into abbey and mill. NB some access over lawn. Many steps with handrails to Fountains Hall. Ramp into St Mary's Church
  • Adapted toilets at visitor centre, tea-room, near Fountains Hall and Studley Royal car park
  • Partly accessible grounds, steep slopes, some cobbles. Map of accessible route. Main areas on level ground. Upper footpaths restricted preventing full circular tour. Six wheelchairs - booking essential
  • Five mobility scooters available on a first come first served basis, booking essential. Call the estate office on 01765 608888.
  • Sighted guides are available to pre-book. Please call 01765 608888
When I first looked, I almost dismissed this place as not accessible for me and my needs, but then I read it again and decided it was probably mostly accessible, provided I take my mountain trike.

The paths were actually better than I expected and if I'd had my normal chair, I could have probably still done most of the walk unaided. However the abbey area definitely needed my trike. Getting to it, we had to go over grass. Grass is often my nemesis! Not with my trike though! In some ways, getting into the ruins of the abbey and looking around, was easier than getting into many church buildings. They have done their best to make it possible, with nice duck-boardy type ramps over some of the rugged doorways. Sometimes we had to detach Liggy's lead arm, as most doorways are too narrow for us to go through together but otherwise, it was great!

Photo showing wide gravel path with slight descent that approaches the water gardens

I have mixed views about religious sites. I have mixed views about the commonly held belief that church is not about the building, but rather, the people. I get that. People are what makes a church... well, people and God... but having lived in the North of Finland, where temperatures get as low as -40C, buildings (for church or anything else) are pretty important. Also, when accessibility issues make church either accessible or not, the building makes the difference between whether you can do church or not. So although I know what it means, it's not strictly true.

Photo showing narrow wooden footbridge, with no railings, over the lake

About religious sites then - places like Fountains Abbey, though in ruins now, must have been immense, highly ornamented places of worship. Somewhat like the Jewish temple, somebody decided to devote a lot of time and resources to building something that they felt reflected God's glory. When I look around places like this, there is a definite sense of God's presence, and a wonder about the people - monks in this case - who loved God so much and were so devoted that they suffered in their daily life but also persecution. Actually, in many places, that is still the story of Christians.

Photo showing cobbled path in front of the Temple of Piety

On the other hand, there are things, right through history, that the church has got so wrong. All the fighting between denominations - killing and destroying buildings - why??? How did they think that was ever okay? And that makes me think, what is this generation of Christians doing, that they are convinced is okay, but really isn't? There must be things. It would be arrogant to assume that just because it's 2019, we've got everything right.

Photo showing one of many entry points to the abbey, over grass

So, anyway, we had a fabulous day out! The only thing, access-wise, that I would say (in case anyone fancies a day there) is that the accessible toilets near West Gate, which are really nice, spacious toilets, with a half-way changing places attempt, are up a seriously steep hill, that for most independent wheelchair users, would be sufficiently challenging to make you either hold it or just wet yourself! Fortunately, Neil was on hand to help push me up said slope, but otherwise, I'd have struggled, especially after the walk, when my muscles were more like jelly!

Photo showing the inside of the cellar area, with dust floor

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