The Abbey was sited in a wooded valley by the River Rye, sheltered by hills. In order to have sufficient flat land to build on, a small part of the river actually had to be diverted to a point several metres west of where it originally flowed. It is still possible, today, to trace the line left by the old river in the Abbey's grounds. This is one illustration of the technical ingenuity of the monks, who over time built up a very profitable business rearing sheep and selling wool to buyers from all over Europe. By the Middle Ages Rievaulx Abbey had become one of the largest and richest in the country, with 140 monks and many more lay brothers.
The Abbey was dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1538. He ordered the buildings to be rendered uninhabitable and stripped of any valuables such as lead. However, its remains were left standing and are still impressive today. They are now in the care of English Heritage.