YOU could hear the singing as we approached.

The unmistakable tune of Ding Dong Merrily on High, the words carrying across the wooded valley to our vantage point higher up.

We had come to Fountains Abbey, where a choir gathered to sing carols in the magnificent setting of the cellarium, its columns and vaulted ceiling illuminated in a rainbow of coloured lights.

To hear the uplifting sounds echo around the ruined monastery - parts of which were also strikingly lit up - is a magical experience. I’ve visited the attraction, near Ripon, many times, but never seen it like this.

Among the largest and best-preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England, the Grade l- listed abbey is an awe-inspiring sight in itself, but in the dying light of the late afternoon, the illuminated columns and tower of the south aisle are captivating.

Carol singing takes place on a number of dates, each involving a different choir. We watched Woodhouse Grove School, from Apperley Bridge, perform in the atmospheric setting, and very good they were too.

Today Harrogate Ladies College Chapel Choir take centre stage, while those appearing between now and Christmas include the Royal British Legion, Archbishop Holgates Chamber Choir and Ripon Choral Society.

Tomorrow, from 3.30pm to 4.15pm, a special event, Carols by Candlelight takes place. Around 1,000 candles light up the cellarium. Visitors can grab a mulled wine or a hot chocolate, and a mince pie, and have a singalong.

There is plenty going on this month at the UNESCO World Heritage Site including festive lunches, abbey tours and, at St Mary’s Church in the adjacent Studley Royal Deer Park, there’s the chance to watch deer enjoying their winter feed.

For children there’s Christmas story telling and, of course, a Father Christmas grotto.

Youngsters may enjoy exploring. My own children used to love the Serpentine Tunnel, designed to give visitors a gentle fright as it curves upwards. Be warned, it’s very dark in the middle. The tunnel leads up to the Octagonal Tower, where wonderful views of the Georgian water gardens can be seen.

A footpath hugs the valley side, offering more occasional views through gaps in the trees, towards the abbey.

We visited the attraction on a grim day with more or less constant drizzle, yet with umbrellas at the ready, we barely noticed it. We walked from one end of this beautiful site to the other, spurred on by the promise of tea and scones at Studley Royal café.

It may have been poor weather, but strolling back to the ruins past the misty ponds and alongside the River Skell, to see the tower emerge through the gloom, was magical.

On our walk we came across various wooden sculptures, including the three wise men, angels and donkeys. The carvings formed part of a trail, each work depicting a scene from the nativity.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal worked with Otley-based artist Shane Green to create the trail - which is in place until January 7 - to bring the story to life. The sculptures were carved from fallen oak trees using a chainsaw, an unusual technique that Shane learned in North America. A series of carved wooden stars hanging from trees indicate where each is positioned.

It was almost dark when we returned to the abbey, finding ourselves alone in the deserted cellarium, where recorded carols were playing. What a great photo opportunity.

We stood for a while in the ruin, admiring its grandeur and small points of interest - I love the patterned floor tiles.

As we walked back up the valley side an owl hooted not far above us.

If you visit on a dry day, youngsters will have a whale of a time in the abbey’s play area including a mini wooden abbey - resembling Fountains Abbey itself. Young daredevils can clamber and climb on a rope bridge and whizz along a zipwire. There’s scramble nets and posts, swings, fireman’s poles, a slide and a wobbly bridge too.

Nearby, the large visitor centre has a shop stocked with seasonal goodies and a spacious restaurant serving meals and snacks.

Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal is the perfect place to blow away the cobwebs after a week at work, with walks of varying length, both in and outside the abbey grounds. Despite the weather, our visit was certainly worth it.

*Fountains Abbey, Ripon HG4 3DY

*For more information on opening times and times of Christmas events visit: Telephone: 01765 608888

During the winter period Fountains Abbey is closed on Fridays, but Studley tea room and car park is still open 10am to 4pm. Last admission to the abbey is 4pm. Choirs sing between 2pm and 3pm.