The sign to Mount Grace Priory sits at the side of the A19 near Northallerton in North Yorkshire and a narrow road leads down to the best preserved Carthusian Monastery in Britain nestled at the foot of the Cleveland Hills.

Mount Grace Priory was built in 1398. One of nine Carthusian monasteries established in England. Founded initially by St Bruno in 1084 the Carthusian community lived as hermits as Christ had in the wilderness.

Before the Carthusians, all monasteries in Europe were planned for communal living where monks lived, prayed and ate together. Here the buildings reflect the solitary life of a Carthusian Monk, each living in individual cells. They were brought food via a small hatch by the front door and only came together for religious services.

One of these cells has been reconstructed and you get a better idea of the solitary confinement in which the monks would live. Each cell had a garden, bedroom and workspace as well as its own water supply and latrine linked to the advanced plumbing system around the site.

The monastery came to an abrupt end in 1539 during the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII and was sold to various private owners over the years who left many of the religious buildings and modest priory church in ruins.

Sir Lowthian Bell bought the property in 1898 and converted the old guesthouse into a fashionable country house in the Arts and Crafts style of which he was a patron. The Bell family gifted the site to the nation in 1953 and the land is now owned by the National Trust and cared for by English Heritage. The terraced gardens at the front of the house have been redesigned to the designs of celebrity gardener Chris Beardshaw. When wandering around these terraces one may wonder if Sir Bell’s famous granddaughter the scholar, historian, archaeologist, explorer, poet and gardener Gertude Bell would approve.

English Heritage also have a holiday cottage on site which sleeps 5 and perhaps from here once all other visitors leave you might be lucky enough to spot an elusive wild stoat!

Article contributed by Michele Thompson, Blue Badge Tourist Guide –