A short drive from the bustling city centre of Guildford in Surrey is the 900-year-old ruins of Waverley Abbey. It was the first Cistercian monastery to be built in England.
Waverley Abbey was one of Britain’s most important religious sites. It stands majestically in a meadow beside the flowing River Wey in Farnham, Surrey.
The ruins are maintained by English Heritage and are free to enter. Visitors can wander through the site and imagine, with the help of information boards, just what the abbey would have looked like in its heyday.
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The History of Waverley Abbey
Waverley Abbey was founded in 1128 by William Giffard, the bishop of Winchester, from 1107 to 1129. It was home to a Cistercian community for more than 400 years until the dissolution of the monasteries by King Henry Vlll.
In its time, up to 70 monks and 120 lay brothers (workers) lived and worshipped at Waverley Abbey. The ruins that remain today were part of a group of buildings. They stood within a much larger area of around 60 acres enclosed by a stone boundary wall.
In 1536 Henry Vlll ordered the abbey to be suppressed, and the monks were sent away. The king then granted the site to his treasurer Sir William Fitzherbert, who later became the earl of Southampton. Fitzherbert built his country house here, incorporating parts of the monastic ruins.
Much like the ruins of Bayham Old Abbey in Kent, nature has reclaimed some of the stonework. In the former churchyard, a yew tree with giant roots said to be 700 years old has grown over parts of the ruins. On a sunny day, as the rays peek through the canopy, this is a lovely place to sit and look back at the abbey.
This magnificent yew tree is the winner of the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year Award 2022. The award highlights the importance of trees to our landscapes and our well-being.
Waverley Abbey in the 18th century
From the 16th century to the 18th century, the land and ruins were owned by several prominent families. In the 18th century, a new house was built in the nearby meadow, and Waverley Abbey ruins were incorporated into the landscape design.
Waverley Abbey House has had many uses over the years. It was used as a hospital in the First World War and is now owned by a charitable organisation and used as a magnificent function venue and education centre.
On my visit to Waverley Abbey, we were the only people at the ruins, apart from the herd of cows in the neighbouring field who were intent on watching our every move.
I found it a very calming and spiritual place and appreciated the tranquil surroundings of this religious sanctuary.
Useful Information About Waverley Abbey
How to find the ruins
Address: Waverley Lane, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 8EP
The site is 2 miles South-East of Farnham, off B3001, off Junction 10 of M25. Access to the ruins is via a small turning with minimal signage, so keep your eyes peeled.
The ruins are open 24 hours daily and free to enter, with a small car park on-site.
From the car park, a pathway takes you alongside the river, past ducks and geese, and across open fields to a kissing gate – where you will see the ruins of Waverley Abbey.
Tip: Wear sturdy walking boots on wet days, as the area can become boggy due to flooding from the River Wey.
English Heritage member allows free access and parking to historical sites around the UK. You can join English Heritage here.
In the Area
If you love walking, the North Downs Way starts at the train station in Farnham and runs 153 miles to Dover in Kent.
Of course, you don’t need to tackle the whole route, but you may like to wander through some of Surrey’s most beautiful countryside after a visit to Waverley Abbey and follow in the footsteps of the ancient pilgrim route.
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