The remains of Sawley Abbey can be found in the small village of Sawley in Lancashire, which is between Clitheroe and Skipton. There's a brown tourist sign on the A59 and once you're in the village you really can't miss it as its clearly visible from the road. The abbey doesn't have its own car park but I parked on the edge of the road just before the Spread Eagle Pub, and from there it was just a case of crossing the road.
My first impressions were that it was nothing spectacular. It certainly shouldn't be compared to some of the larger abbeys in the area like Bolton Abbey but it did house around 75 monks in its heyday. It was also pelting down with rain and sleet when I recently visited and that didn't help with my first impression. As I crossed over the road and entered the small gap in the wall I was however pleased to see that there was much more to this place than it first appeared from the road. At ground level the site stretches over quite a large area and almost all of the rectangular foundations are still visible giving a good picture of how the abbey was originally laid out. To help complete the picture there are also several information boards with artists impressions of how the various sections and rooms would have looked. You'll also notice that there is a large gatehouse much further up the road, almost opposite the Spread Eagle pub, which looks a bit out place but suggests that the site extended right up to there.
I'd naively assumed that this abbey would have been connected to Bolton Abbey, since that's only a few miles further up the road towards Skipton but in fact there's no connection at all. Bolton Abbey was founded by Augustinian Monks, whilst this one at Sawley was founded by Cistercian Monks, don't ask me to explain what that means but the monks that built Sawley Abbey came from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland, which had been founded 10 years prior to Sawley in 1137.
The abbey continued from 1147 right through to 1536 when all of the monasteries in England were ordered to be demolished by King Henry VIII. Shortly after that it fell into a state of disrepair and today only parts of the former church and refectory are still well preserved.
There's no denying that this abbey is in a very tranquil setting and I'd imagine it's a great place to bring a picnic in the summer. The grass is nicely mown and there's a few wooden benches to sit on but when I was here everything was very wet and soggy. Like all abbeys it stands at the side of a river, on flat land that would have been just far enough away to avoid regular flooding. In this case the river is the fast flowing River Ribble and add to that the backdrop of Pendle Hill. I hope to stop by again in the summer when the sun is shining and I'm sure if I do then I could quite easily fall in love with this place.
Sawley Abbey is now in the care of English Heritage but there's no charge to visit and its kept open at all times throughout the year. It's a Grade I listed building and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.
Tel - 01904 601 901