Cleeve Abbey, Somerset



Blog by Lynne Pearl

April 24

Photos by Catherine Campbell

It had poured with rain most of the day, but there was a gap in the clouds and the sun came out, so we made a dash for it.  We left behind Halsway House, the National Centre for the Folk Arts, which is on the road from Bishops Lydeard (Home of the West Somerset Heritage Railway, and Taunton, direct to Minehead.  Somewhere on that road we knew there was an abbey and we wanted to find it.  Just a few miles outside of Minehead we found the signs to Cleeve Abbey at Washford. 

We parked the car where it was dry and approached the area on foot.  The first building we came to was a gatehouse and there was a notice there from the ‘Almoner’ to say that this was where food was given to the poor.  In other words, the monks helped the local people when they were in trouble, needed food.  Then beyond the gatehouse there is nothing until one reaches a building that looks like a later farm house. A drainage ditch or water supply leads from the gatehouse to the main buildings or the ruins of them that are left. 

Although Henry the eighth would have shut this monastery down three hundred years ago, there is still the most complete cloister intact inside the grounds.  The four sides of the cloister exist and the upper storey, which is much more than in many more famous abbey ruins.  At Glastonbury the cloister does not exist but one can see breadth and depth of it by the markings of foundations in the grass where it once stood. 

There isn’t the size or grandeur of Tintern Abbey and the poetry attached to it or the fame of King Arthur’s burial place at Glastonbury but maybe that is why so much of the cloister is left at Cleeve.  The abbey is situated in an out of the way place, a farming community on the edge of Exmoor.  Probably it was left alone and forgotten.

Outside the abbey grounds the local river was running high with red brown mud from the rain.  We drove on towards magnificent Dunster Castle that overlooks the ancient Yarn Market and central square.  

Beyond that were the mysterious beaches of Minehead where Exmoor meets the sea like a Swiss mountain running down to the black rocks of the sea and the funicular railway that sits at Lynmouth, rising to Lynton above.

Painting of tor

Art by Cath Whitehead