I’ve always known that Ampleforth Abbey was there of course, but assumed that it was, by its very nature, an other-worldly sort of place that did not encourage – if not actually forbid – visitors. Quite wrong! The Abbey welcomes visitors and makes an interesting day out.
The Abbey is located just outside Ampleforth village, follow the sign posts into the estate and down a long winding drive to the (free) visitors car park.
The first building you encounter on leaving the car park is the Visitor Centre, where a friendly monk will welcome you and chat, or answer questions, or just leave you alone if that is what you prefer. There are two display rooms covering the history of the Benedictine order and the establishment of the Abbey. This is not a historic site rejuvenated: the land was given to the Benedictines in the late 1700s, and the buildings you see today are fairly recent.
Strolling on from the Visitor Centre, you come to the linchpin of the operation, the Abbey Church, which is always open to visitors: guided tours, if you prefer, are available every Thursday afternoon at 2:15pm. Designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and completed in 1961, it looks and feels older. The inside is plain except for single arch over the altar, in contrast to the more exuberant outside, but hallowed by atmosphere of calm. There is a detailed discussion of the architecture here.
There is a shop, of course, which has a wide range of goods, not all of them religious: some interesting craft items, as well as Ampleforth’s own apple juice, cider and beer. All profits from the shop go towards supporting the Abbey and the work of the monastic community. And then you can collapse in the cafe where a cheerful waitress will serve you hot or cold drinks, snacks, or a variety of hot meals. For the trencherperson, there’s a set afternoon tea for two for £22.00: reports would be welcome! The shop and cafe are open every day except for certain religious holidays, check the web site for times and menus.
If you have the strength, before or after eating, there are two lovely walks around the Abbey grounds, one circular route of six miles and the other a mere one and a half miles each way out and back. The whole estate covers over 2000 acres and encompasses grassland, farmland, and woodland, with beautiful panoramic views. A leaflet from the Visitor Centre details the walk routes.
If you want a more serious meal, Ampleforth village, just down the road, boasts not one but two pleasant pubs, the White Horse and the White Swan.
Have you had a day out from Kirkby that you think others might enjoy? We’d love to hear about it. Ed