Yorkshire Guide - main picture
My site, my views. Unofficial, unfunded and occasionally unorthodox. Enjoy!

Mount Grace Priory -  a short walk from Osmotherly

Walk Summary
Distance:About two½ miles (4k)
Difficulty:Easy - with a fairly steep climb on the way back
Start:Osmotherly (SE 455 975)
Time:1½ - two hours, plus lots of time to do the abbey

For years I avoided going to Mount Grace Priory. It was just another dot on the map, just another ruined abbey where you can look at the remains of the cloisters and die of boredom. Yet I was wrong. Mount Grace is probably the second best monastic ruin in the North after Fountains Abbey, and is worth an afternoon of anyone's time.

Mount Grace Priory on a stormy day I went to see it on a short walk from Osmotherly. The walk is just over two miles, and with great good fortune starts and ends at a pub. In fact there are three pubs in Osmotherly, all of which are nice slightly upmarket country inns doing good food and beer. Osmotherly itself is famed as the start of the Lyke Wake Walk, but you're unlikely to notice that as the walkers all tend to leave in the wee small hours. It's also on the Cleveland Way and has a youth hostel, village store and post office. Who could ask for more?

Anyway, park wherever you can and then follow the main street to near the top of the hill and turn left onto the Cleveland Way. This is nice gentle countryside and about half a mile later you come to Chapel Hill Farm. Go left here and follow the footpath diagonally downhill and then straight downhill to the woods. It has little yellow waymarkers so is easy enough to find.

Once you enter the woods the there is only one track and it's unmistakeable. The woods are strange, very dark and foreboding. They haven't been managed too well and the conifers have conspired to block out the sun, leading to all the other trees becoming very tall and straggly to try and catch up.

About halfway down through the woods I spotted a rabbit crossing the path. Then I put my glasses on and it wasn't a rabbit at all, it was a stoat carrying a still kicking baby rabbit. I'd never seen a stoat in the wild before, let alone one carrying a kill. The stoat stopped in the undergrowth and watched us for a while, then left the rabbit and disappeared. We checked on the way home and saw the rabbit had gone, so the stoat can't have been too far away.

I didn't know it at the time, but these woods are famous for stoats; they've had David Attenborough here to make a documentary, and in the Priory shop they'll even sell you a cuddly stoat. The stoats can often be seen in the Priory grounds as well, as they use the mediaeval drainage system to sneak up on unsuspecting rabbits. A unique feature about Stoats is that the females are born fertile. When just a few days old, even before their eyes are open, a male may well enter the den and impregnate the new-born females. Eleven months later they drop a litter and it starts all over again

Mount Grace Priory manor house Emerging from the wood, the priory is just across a field. It's managed by English Heritage. and in true  fashion there's a complete ban on dogs in the house or the garden. Apparently the garden is too sensitive and dogs might damage it. Nothing at all to do with the staff worrying they might have to clear up after an irresponsible owner, so that's all right then. And there's no hitching post for dogs and no water left out, so what English Heritage suggest you do with your dog I have no idea. Perhaps they assume all visitors come by car, or perhaps they just don't give a toss.

Anyway, despite the custodians the Abbey itself is well worth a visit. There's a grand manor house which was converted from the Guest House after the dissolution, and some nicely laid out formal gardens. The manor house is now used as the entrance to the abbey proper (four quid and you don't even get a guide leaflet), and the upstairs part is devoted to the usual  rather uninspired exhibition. Only this time, look round it with care as this is a Carthusian Chapterhouse and is radically different from all the other abbeys in Yorkshire. 

Carthusian monks lived in cells and even had their meals delivered to their cells. Now when I read that I thought so what, until I realised that a cell is actually a four roomed house with its own walled garden and conservatory. Not a bad job if you can get it.

A row of cells at Mount Grace Priory The monks lived in these "cells" around the outskirts of the abbey, and one of them has been re-created. It was done in late Victorian times and I imagine it's fairly accurate. Downstairs are three rooms, plus a corridor with glass windows overlooking the garden and another roofed but open corridor leading around the outside of the courtyard to the privy. Upstairs was one big room where the monk could work. That's luxury compared to the rubbish people are paying a couple of hundred grand for nowadays just to live in the middle of some poxy city. I took a long hard look at this re-creation, and the privacy of the garden, and the meals delivered, and I thought "I could fancy doing that". Considering how crap life must have been in the Middle Ages for most poor folk, this must have been an idyllic existence. The praying might have been a bit irritating, but you can't have everything can you. The monks also has a lot of property all over the UK, stretching as far down as the Isle of Wight. Now, they may have been semi-hermits, but somebody must have had to go round and manage the properties mustn't they. A job best done in midsummer methinks.

After a good look round the priory, the walk home is nice and simple. Retrace your steps back up through the woods, and after leaving the wood about half-way up the hill is a footpath on the right. Take the footpath and follow it all the way back to Osmotherly to deal with the awful quandry of which watering hole to best quaff in.

You might also like
Comments (8)
Interesting, if more time had been spent in the uninspiring exhibition, perhaps a more accurate account of the history of Mount Grace could have been given, rather than basing it on the authors assumptions. The reason dogs are not allowed? Because the sensitive element of the garden relates to wildlife, including stoats.
posted by Rebecca Wright 12/09/2009 15:44:07
I enjoyed reading this article and found the 'stoat' wildlife along the walk intriguing. I quite like my history served up like this with a bit of earthly humour rather than dry as dust facts and figures that bore the pants off you. i take Rebecca's points also and at least she gave a considered response to the author's work which is much better than nothing at all. My interest in Mount Grace Priory goes back over fifty years to when as a small boy I was given a keepsake by an old uncle. Unfortunately this item was foolishly taken to school by me and waved about so I no longer possess it but I never forgot it. The keepsake was even then very old and was made of polished walnut. It was approximately four inches long and appeared to be a hollow cigarette holder. if you squinted down the narrow barrel, holding the tube up to the daylight you looked into a magnifying glass and low and behold you saw a beautiful colour painting in miniature of Mount Grace Abbey Ruins. The name Mount Grace Abbey was printed beneath the image. I would be very interested to know if anyone has ever encountered such a keepsake before and who and when mights someone have made or sold such an item.
posted by Harry Riley 21/11/2009 16:27:59
Harry Riley This sounds very much like a Stanhope viewer, an optical device which enables the viewing of microphotographs. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanhope_(optical_bijou)
posted by Janet Ford 06/01/2010 14:52:00
I really do appreciate the refreshing frankness of your report on Mount Grace. My grandfather George Stanger(1869-1943), according to all reports, was employed as a gardener at Mount Grace prior to the immigration of the family to Australia in 1908. The family at that time lived at East Harlsey about 3 walking miles from the Priory. George, while gardening, happened to unearth the skeletons two nuns buried in habits of the order with foetuses clearly evident. This event was decisive in finally convincing my grandmother Helen Burns that religion henceforth would play no part in the life of the Stangers and so be it ...and to this day with virtually all of their descendents. P.S. Dogs on a leach don't normally kill stoats
posted by Douglas Rees Laing 12/01/2010 13:48:07
I have visited the priory many times and always find the custodians friendly and engaging. The 'No dogs' thing is English Heritage and nothing to do with "staff worrying they might have to clear up after an irresponsible owner". In fact the custodian has approached English Heritage in an effort to make the site dog friendly. I enjoyed Mick's little story but he spoilt it for me by trying to score cheap points.
posted by Steve White 02/06/2010 16:48:39
My husband and I visited the priory today and quite enjoyed the experience. The work in progress renovating rooms in the house was extremely interesting. Regarding the dog issue, I am glad to go somewhere that dogs aren't allowed as their owners, often misguidedly, think that everybody finds them as engaging as they do.
posted by Debra 16/08/2010 22:29:44
I really think the Stangers have completely mistaken what they claim gardener George found. The indisputable fact is that there were never any nuns at Mount Grace. MIt was however common for rich people to pay money or give land to religious orders and to seek permission to be buried in the grounds of a monastery - and in monastic garb. Also, a large proportion of women died in childbirth during the Middle Ages. The finding of these sleletons may well be evidence of an act of piety, even charity. The motive for the act is not dependent upon the beliefs of George or Helen Stanger, but upon the good that people at that time thought they were doing. Charity was a watchword to monks, being one of their fundamental obligations. Perhaps the Stangers might benefit from a small dose. And if they had the slightest inkling of what really happened when the monasteries were shut down, they would know that the people of the north rose in arms to defend them against depredations of Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell. These ordinary northern people were slaughtered in huge numbers by their King. One or two of the monks who survived actually continued to live as hermits at or near the site, which was a dangerous path to tread, and in Mary's reign, some even rejoined the Order when it was once more allowed to function - though not for long as Mary died only five years after succeeding to the throne. Please don't blindly judge all men by the standards of our own blighted times. Being alone with your conscience, if you have one, is not an easy ride
posted by Keith Burton 16/11/2010 12:55:37
Obviously none of us can now be sure as to whether the skeletons were of women from a religious order although they were still remnants of religious habits evident. According to our family history my grandfather George Stanger recovered the shallow graves of the two skeletons to avoid problems with the administration. My only guide is the word of my grandmother Helen who was in all her long life a most wonderful person, intelligent, decent, warm hearted and hard working mother of 10 who made sure that we were hence forth mostly either agnostics o athiests. I am most grateful to her since as I look at the mayhem we have in the world, religion is often at the centre of our conflicts on this very small globe. I would rather not be associated with the root cause of so much human misery created by our religious differences.
posted by Douglas Laing 23/05/2011 14:17:39
  8 people have added comments Click here to add yours