abbey walks

Prior Richard Way

abbey monk  In 1078, St. Stephen prior of Benedictine Whitby Abbey and a band of monks left this abbey due to a disagreement with Abbot William de Percy. This band moved to the village of Lastingham, North Yorkshire which was originally home to a small 7th century monastery founded by King Ethelwald of Deira (651-c.655) for his own burial. It was originally a simple wooden structure later to be replaced by a stone church, but by the time St Stephen arrived it was sadly lying in ruins. A start was made on rebuilding the monastery but the monks were persistently harassed by bandits. After only eight years, in 1086 they re-located to York and founded St. Mary's Abbey near St Olave’s church which was soon to become the richest abbey in the North of England. St.Mary's Abbey is situated in what is now the Yorkshire Museum Gardens close to the River Ouse, to the west of York Minster.


During the abbacy of Geoffrey, 1131-2, Benedictine rule had become somewhat slack and some of the brethren of St. Mary's Abbey were pining for a more rigid rule, such as the way of Cistercian monastic life. Prior Richard, the sub-prior and few other monks were among the number not happy with the monastic ways of the St. Mary's. Abbot Geoffrey tried to put an end to this disillusionment but the malcontents appealed to Archbishop Thurstan who sympathised with them. Following a dispute and riot in 1132, a party of thirteen reform-minded monks, led by Prior Richard, left St.Mary's Abbey and were given refuge by Archbishop Thurston in Ripon. On 26th December 1132 these monks were taken by the Archbishop to the Valley of the Skell, where the Cistercian Abbey of Fountains would soon be established. Richard was chosen as its first abbot. 


The Prior Richard Way is a modern dedication to the 51 km / 31.5 mile journey taken by these monks from St Mary’s Abbey, York to Fountains Abbey, near Ripon. The route is broken into two manageable stages close to where accommodation is currently offered ie Green Hammerton and Whixley. From Whixley there is the option of taking a direct route to Fountains Abbey or by adding one extra mile to Ripon Cathedral and then on to Fountains Abbey. The stage from Ripon Cathedral follows a Pilgrim route that is currently taken every year on Boxing Day to commemorate that very important and historically significant first journey.


The Prior Richard Way tries to follow what may have been part of the original route, the Roman road of Dere Street. Unfortunately due to modern day urbanisation and traffic requirements that original road no longer exists but modern roads follow a similar line. 


The Prior Richard Way leaves York along the banks of the River Ouse and continues along part of what was Dere street, now Boroughbridge Road.  It then winds through gentle rolling North Yorkshire countryside, through medieval villages and along river and canal banks. Each stage description provides more detail of the names of these medieval villages, and in some cases their original names and derivatives. 


Click on a stage name to get details and see map information.


Stage Number / Name Distance ( km ) Distance ( miles ) Time ( hours )

Stage 1: St Mary's Abbey York to Whixley



5 - 5.5

Stage 2a: Whixley to Fountains Abbey via Ripon Cathedral



7 - 7.5

Stage 2b: Whixley to Fountains Abbey (direct)



7 - 7.5


Route Overview:



Interactive Google Map:



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