North York Moors residents 'startled' by plans to open glamping site beside 12th-century Byland Abbey ruins submitted by English Heritage tenant

A proposal to create a glamping destination on the site of a designated scheduled monument of one of England’s greatest monasteries has sparked disbelief, including from a prominent conservationist.

Byland Abbey in the North York Moors
Byland Abbey in the North York Moors

Former regional chairman of the National Trust Sir Nigel Forbes Adam has written to the North York Moors National Park Authority to “object in the strongest terms” to a campsite being launched on the former monastic Outer Court of Grade I-listed Byland Abbey, near Ampleforth.

His comments come ahead of the authority considering the plan to offer 'high-end staycations' in 12 bell tents in the garden of the Grade II-listed Byland Abbey Inn beside the popular visitor attraction, which is run by English Heritage and inspired the design of church buildings throughout the North, including York Minster’s rose window.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Jake Hunt, who took over the running of the tearooms, bar, restaurant and bed and breakfast, from English Heritage in October, has stated the campsite would produce “a substantial positive impact” on the long-term viability of his family’s business.

In documents submitted with the application he said: “We believe this proposal speaks to the strategic aims of North York Moors National Park and offers huge positives to the area and a critical lifeline for a small business that has been severely impacted by the pandemic.”

Mr Hunt added the campsite would have “minimal to zero impact” on the 12th-century Cistercian abbey as it would be limited to a discreet area of an underutilised garden for seven months a year.

Despite his assurances, the proposals have startled the area’s residents, particularly as the application has been made by a tenant of conservation charity English Heritage.

In a letter of objection, Sir Nigel, who ran the 7,000-acre Escrick Park Estate, near York, for 32 years before handing it on to his son Charlie, wrote: “A few days ago, my wife and I took advantage of a pleasant evening to walk along the streams bank to the area marked for camping. Our reaction was one of despair at the thought of several small tents and their occupants. The question that all concerned should ask themselves is why? Confronted by a pleasant grass field you do not have to do anything.”

The former director and president of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, the body which runs the Great Yorkshire Show, said the noise from cars arriving and leaving the campsite would cause “consternation”, adding: “The traffic is increasing year by year and the whole idea is compromising one of the most beautiful abbeys in the British Isles and turning it into a noisy inappropriate environment. The presence of the abbey must be preserved.”

In a further letter of objection, Sir Nigel’s art historian wife Lady Malise wrote: “This is a national park and a campsite would totally change the character of this beautiful and unspoilt area. It is inappropriate and out of keeping - can you imagine putting a campsite near Fountains Abbey or Rievaulx Abbey?”

Residents have also claimed the campsite would aggravate car parking and road safety issues, spoil views to and from the abbey and said its “basic accommodation can only attract sleepover camping for party groups” impacting on the abbey’s tranquility.

However, while both Historic England and the park authority’s conservation officer have concluded the campsite would not impact on the abbey’s setting, roads bosses have dismissed concerns over parking.

Recommending the campsite be approved, planning officers said it would provide an additional form of accommodation in a tourism hotspot.

They concluded: “With the decline of many public houses in current times, it is considered that ensuring the long-term viability of such a business is extremely important.”