You can spend an enjoyable day in North Yorkshire pretending to be an eighteenth-century aristocrat lording it over the landscape.
In the grounds of Duncombe Park, stretching along Ryedale towards Rievaulx Abbey, are a series of artificial high-level terraces.
Duncombe Terrace is significant because it’s one of the first such features to ignore formal geometry and follow the contour.
It’s punctuated by two temples dating from around 1730, an Ionic rotunda which closely resembles Vanburgh’s Rotondo at Stowe (1721), and a circular Tuscan temple.
The terraces at Rievaulx are rather later, dating from about 1758. The pattern is the same, with a temple at either end, and the Rievaulx temples follow the same classical orders as their companions at Duncombe, but in this case a circular Doric Temple is paired with a rectangular Ionic Temple.
Both are spectacularly expensive ways of giving guests somewhere to stroll, and apart from the landmark temples, each provides dramatic vistas: the Duncombe terrace looks across to Helmsley Castle, while the walk at Rievaulx provides a whole series of views, cut through the trees, to the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the valley below.
The two sets of terraces are some three miles apart, and it’s probable that they were meant to connect by means of a scenic ride. Large worked stones found in the intervening river-bed could have been the basis for a viaduct.
Sir Nikolaus Pevsner’s comment [The Buildings of England: Yorkshire: The North Riding (Penguin 1966)] on Rievaulx Terrace sums up the breathtaking assurance of the eighteenth-century handling of natural and man-made beauty:
The whole composition…is a superlative example of large-scale landscape gardening and of that unquestioning sense of being on top of the world which the rich and the noble in England possessed throughout the Georgian period.
The 40-page, A4 handbook for the 2009 Country Houses of North-East Yorkshire tour, with text, photographs, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £7.50 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.