“ Address: Shropshire / TF13 6HS / England „
Wenlock Priory is a medieval priory on the outskirts of the small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. It is an English Heritage property. Some of the property is now a private residence since the priory (which was actually an abbey) fell into disuse after Henry VIII's dissolution. Much of the remaining ruins are available to tour.
Included in your reasonable admission price is an audio tour. This lasted probably about 35 minutes (which was more than enough as it was early January!) and was 'narrated' by an actor playing the part of one of the monks that formerly lived there. The audio tour was very professional with sound effects and choral music in the background and they did their best to recreate the priory's heydey on a snowy January, over 500 year in the future. The tour isn't just about the history of the priory but about the surrounds and the topiary garden featuring large topiary pigs and squirrels amongst other creatures. I found the tour very informative but I have to admit I was glad when it finished as it was so cold. As the priory is in ruins there is no shelter from the elements, and I was grateful when the tour took me to stand in a spot in the sun, rather than the shade. There are very few footpaths, just the one leading into the grounds and through the topiaries to the Cloisters area, after this point you are wandering through the grounds at will, so cutting across the grass. The grounds are beautifully kept but if it rains you could could get your shoes muddy. I think the weather needs to be a consideration in planning a visit, so you can ensure you are warm and dry. Fortunately it was dry when we were there, just very cold.
The priory has been a religious site for over 1300 years, but it was only at the start of the previous millennium that monks moved in and the priory took form, it was the Cluniac order who started it, and were led by monks in Cluny, France. All major decisions had to be referred to the abbot in Cluny. This, of course, caused conflict, plus the priory was quite wealthy which angered King Henry VIII. Much of the site dates from the 12th and 13th Century. Points of note for me include the lavabo, where the monks washed; the high, decorated walls of the chapter house and the topiary. There was a lot of emphasis in the audio tour of the actual church itself, which was apparently rather magnificent 800 years ago. However, now there are just a few stones where the columns used to be, so you may need some imagination at this point.
There are toilets at the site, but I didn't use them so cannot comment on their conditions, and the paths and level grass make it suitable for wheelchair access in the appropriate weather. There is a free car park just opposite the entrance. You can buy snacks and drinks in the shop as well as medieval themed gifts, postcards and a guidebook. Apparently there is a lot more info in the guide book than in the audio tour. The book cost £2.99 which I think is quite good value. I found the staff member that served us very helpful. We didn't visit the town of Much Wenlock itself, but I noticed that there were a number of pubs serving food if you wanted to stop.
I do recommend visiting the site of you are in the area. Admission is £3.80 (2010 prices) for adults and includes an audio tour. Admission is free if you are an English Heritage member. The handsets for the audio tour are the size of a mobile phone, a bit fatter, but quite light. It has numerical buttons that you push to correspond with the numbers marked on posts around the site, along with play/stop and volume controls etc. They are simple to use and the assistant will help you if you think you are unsure, plus they give you instructions on the handset also. I did see a few people walking without the handsets but as there is no other information or signage within the priory ruins, you really won't get much out of it. I would take the weather into consideration, I imagine the site is much prettier in the Spring, when the flowers start to bloom.