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Cleeve Abbey

Visited May 2018

Location Washford, Somerset
Entrance Fee Yes
Railway Station Nearby Yes- Heritage Line
Parking Yes
Facilities Toilets, Shop


Cleeve Abbey at Washford is one of the most complete example of a Cistercian abbey in the country today.  A good number of the buildings were converted into domestic houses after it was dissolved, so have been maintained down through the centuries and are still intact today.


It can be reached via the West Somerset Railway which has a stop at Washford, so you can arrive by steam train if you so desire!






The first building you will see on arrival is the beautiful gatehouse with its attractive wooden ceiling. In contrast to a castle gatehouse it had no fortifications, the abbey was a place of  peace and refuge for the local community, and one of the rooms in the gatehouse was for people to come to and request alms if they were in desperate need of money.  The abbey itself was never particularly wealthy, despite having the Right to Wreck, which meant the right to claim wrecks on the shores of the nearby Somerset coast.


It did begin to prosper in the fourteenth century, and this is when the tiled floor of the abbey was re-laid with expensive floor tiles, the best example of those which survived were in the refectory. These were discovered in 1876 but reburied to protect them until 1951 when they were uncovered again. Subsequent weathering has meant that a wooden structure has been built over the tiled floor to prevent any more deterioration. The floor can be viewed today and is impressive in both the quantity and quality of the tiles uncovered.






There is also the remains of the cloisters and the chapter house where the monks would have gathered to discuss issues. The interior rooms are very well preserved here, especially the ornate timber ceilings in the refectory range.  The monks living quarters are in a good state of repair and there are remains of monks personalisation of their individual space, in the form of wall paintings and tiled recesses.


In common with most of the abbey buildings we have visited, there are also the remains of the monastic latrines, which to this day seem to be a source of fascination to young visitors.


When it was in use as a monastery the site would had been surrounded by monastic gardens, fish ponds , and orchards. These have all gone now but the site is still very beautiful and its siting by the River Washford in a peaceful valley makes it a lovely day out. 


There is a room in the abbey with colouring and tile stamping activities for children, along with some monastic dressing up outfits. The monks at Cleeve took a vow of silence on entering the abbey, you may be tempted to challenge your children to see how long they could keep that up! If they can't manage it then they could try looking at the story bag telling the tale of Brother Cedric and the missing sheep, with props for young children to handle. There are toilets and a gift shop, but no cafe facilities on site. We decamped to the pub up the road, The White Horse, for some great lunchtime food. There is a children's play area in the garden and it has a pleasant ambience.






After visiting the abbey you may want to also go to nearby Dunster Castle, or do as we did and take a trip to Kilve Beach for some fossil hunting. It is a pebble beach with some beautiful rock formation which contains hundreds of fossils. We did not want to spoil the beach for others so we photographed all our finds but did not take any away with us. 


There are some lovely coastal walks in the area, including one up to a WWII pillbox up on the cliff top. Be warned- there are no toilets at Kilve beach, so keep that in mind when planning your trip.






More info:  English Heritage Cleeve Abbey

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