Mount Grace Priory, North Yorkshire

Just a few hundred yards from the busy A19 lie the tranquil ruins of this late 14th century Carthusian monastery. With the magnificent Cleveland Hills providing the perfect backdrop to this sheltered and secluded charterhouse, it is almost impossible to imagine that heavy, 21st century traffic trundles along relentlessly, just the other side of the site boundary.

There were only ten Carthusian charterhouses founded in England, and Mount Grace Priory (founded in 1398) is now the only accessible, and best preserved, of those monasteries. Life for the Carthusian monks was very different to that of the other orders. Whereas the Cistercians, Augustinians, Premonstratensian, Benedictine and Cluniac monks lived and prayed as a community, the Carthusian monks at Mount Grace Priory lived virtually as hermits. Each occupied a 'two-up, two-down' cell. complete with small garden, where they lived, worked and prayed. Although not much remains above foundation level, the 23 cells are clearly defined, with 15 of them located around the edge of the great cloister. During the early 20th century one of the cells was reconstructed, and has since been furnished to replicate how it would have looked during monastic occupation.

The remaining walls of the small church stand to a good height, and the perpendicular crossing tower survives almost in tact. As far as other monastic buildings go, very little exists, apart from a much altered guest house which was converted to a grand manor house in the mid 17th century. An unusual and interesting feature of Mount Grace Priory is the complex water system used by the Carthusian monks. The base of the water tower is just visible in the centre of the cloister, but there is much evidence of the latrine channels and drainage around the site. Fresh water was obtained from a spring in the hillside, and despite the original spring houses being demolished, they were restored and reconstructed in the early 1960s.

Apart from its obvious historical interest, Mount Grace Priory for me represents an indulgent haven of peace and beauty, a real feeling of being 'at one' with nature. In spring, the priory grounds are alive with their dense clumps of sunny daffodils, the trees displaying their fresh, delicate tree blossoms, and the well tended flower beds are filled with a vivid assortment of plants. Sharing this idyllic location with the medieval ruins are many species of bird life - including a family of geese and ducks. A most pleasant and unforgettable way of spending a couple of hours in a totally stress-free environment.

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