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Pints & Parkruns: Fountains Abbey

Medieval splendour in stunning North Yorkshire

By Andy PottsPublished 2 years ago 3 min read

World Heritage Parkruns. Is that a thing? If not, it should be. We certainly have contenders, from Durham where views of Cathedral give runners a lift through the final kilometre, to Conwy, a North Wales route in the shadow of the historic castle Then there’s Fountains Abbey, a beautiful course around the ruins of a medieval monastery in the North Yorkshire countryside.

The site, now maintained by the National Trust, dates back to 1132. In its time, it was one of the richest abbeys in the country until Henry VIII came along and decided to dissolve the monasteries in order to divorce his first wife. One of the advantages of being king was that the cost of the divorce settlement could be dumped on someone – arguably everyone – else. Henry got to marry his gouty way through the royal families of Europe; the Cistercians of Fountains Abbey were chased away, their church left in ruins.

That turbulent history is somewhat at odds with the peace and quiet of an early Saturday morning run. Parkrun starts before the National Trust opens the door for regular visitors, so runners have the place to themselves. Admittedly, with 300+ joining in one of the most scenic routes on the circuit and Parkrun tourists eager to tick it off the list, this is hardly going to be an exercise in solo endurance. On the contrary, there are always friendly faces around and a sense of encouragement that helps you up the hills.

Hills? Apparently so. Childhood family holidays included regular trips to Fountains, and with a child of my own I’ve reprised those memories. But I had remembered it as a visitor centre on top of a hill, then a descent to an abbey in a flat valley alongside the River Skell. Memory plays tricks: the short climb from the start is no great challenge (although second time around it packs more of a punch), but the back leg of the first lap features a steeper incline than expected. Reassuringly, it’s just after the finish point. However, it’s all too easy to overlook a gentle climb to that finish first time around, which can start to feel like a painful climb for runners who forgot to leave something in reserve for the second attempt.

Ready for a big finish?

Overall, though, the course is not so tough. It undulates a bit, but doesn’t have the kind of extended climbs that can make the likes of Blackhill, Jubilee or Chopwell Woods such a challenge. Better still, it boasts some of the best scenery I’ve seen on a Parkrun. Starting with a trot past the abbey, the route also includes a woodland walkway, a tour through a manicured 18th-century water garden (complete with folly) and tantalising glimpses of the monastery’s tower on the return leg.

Regular Parkrunners might spot one oddity. At the end of the run, the scanning station is quite a walk from the finish line. It’s a simple practical consideration: the finish line is on a narrow path so rather than impede other runners it makes sense to carry the tokens back towards the exit for scanning where there is more space. Not difficult, but possibly disconcerting the first time.

The pint

Fountains is a short drive from Masham, the North Yorkshire home of both Theakston and Black Sheep. Both of these are something of a departure from my usual recommendation of little-known microbreweries. However, Theakston holds a special place in my heart from my early days of drinking. It was one of the breweries that served the campus at my university, and pints of Old Peculier and XB were part of my introduction to real ale.

Today, both beers are still going strong and can be sampled at source at the brewery’s visitor centre. Theakston, in particular, is seeking to move with the times: a ‘Barista’ craft stout dips a toe into the market for flavoured beers, while there is even a range of spirits distilled from their brews. All can be sampled on site at the Black Bull in Paradise in Masham, a short walk from Black Sheep’s own brewery tap on the other side of the village.

First run: Aug. 2022. PB 25:05.

Thanks for reading. For more Pints & Parkruns stories, please visit my website.


About the Creator

Andy Potts

Community focused sports fan from Northeast England. Tends to root for the little guy. Look out for Talking Northeast, my new project coming soon.

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    Andy PottsWritten by Andy Potts

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