IT STARTED in an informal way as a few people took a chance to get up close and personal with the deer at Studley Royal in North Yorkshire.
That was more than 20 years ago; now the On the Hoof events have become a staple attraction.
Hundreds of people attend to get a rare chance to see these majestic animals at close quarters.
Aimee Rawson, communications officer at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal, said: “It’s usually held for a few dates over the winter and the numbers of people attending has grown over the years.
“No one’s quite sure when it began. It’s at least 20 years and people love the chance to see the animals and hear about them from the deer ranger.
“It’s an opportunity for families to come and see the herd in close proximity and to meet John, our deer ranger, and his volunteers.
“Kids love to spot the difference between the deer and visitors are interested to hear about our work as deer management is part of what we do in our care of this place.”
Among the regular visitors to On the Hoof are members of Open Country, a Harrogate-based organisation that seeks to enable anyone with any disability to access the countryside.
There are three species of deer, Red, Fallow and Sika, and they number about 500.
The Deer Park is a much-loved part of the estate. It once contained the Tudor manor house known as Studley Royal House – but this was largely destroyed by fire in 1716 and so was rebuilt about 50 years later in the grand Palladian style.
Sadly, this house too was damaged by fire in 1946. The building was entirely demolished shortly afterwards.
Today all that remains to remind us of the house is the impressive stable block, built between 1728 and 1732, which is now a private residence.
The Deer Park also contains a large variety of ancient trees – many are over 300 years old.
The lime tree avenue leads the eye down through the deer park to the original entrance to the estate, and all the way to Ripon Cathedral.
The Studley Royal Park, run by the National Trust, includes the ruins of Fountains Abbey is a designated World Heritage Site. The site, which has an area of 800 acres and features an 18th-century landscaped garden, some of the largest Cistercian ruins in Europe, a Jacobean mansion and a Victorian church designed by William Burges.
There are Red, Fallow and Sika deer at Studley Royal. The best ways to tell the differences are in the shape of their antlers and the pattern of the pale patches on their rump.
The Red deer are the largest and are the native breed. They were introduced to the park in the early 20th century by the Marquis of Ripon. The stags are larger than the hinds and have impressive pointed antlers.
Sika deer are smaller than Red deer, about the same size as the Fallow. Originating in China, they were introduced in the 1970s by a former deer warden.
The stags’ pointed antlers are not as impressive as the Reds’, usually only having up to eight points.
Fallow deer, introduced in this country by the Romans, have been kept at Studley for at least 500 years.
The next On the Hoof event is on Saturday, December 20, from 10.30am to 12.45pm.