A visit to Waverley Abbey in historic Surrey will take you back 900 years, to a time when this meadow was the site for a bustling monk community. Today the abbey lays in ruins, but remains a popular attraction for history-lovers and families in Surrey.
After a day out at the Rural Life Centre in Farnham, we decided to stop off for a visit to Waverley Abbey. It is considered one of the most important religious sites in Britain, so I was keen to visit.
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A brief history of Waverley Abbey
Waverley Abbey was built for Catholic monks over 900 years ago and was the first Cistercian abbey in England. Its founder was the Bishop of Winchester, William Giffard. Nowadays, English Heritage manages Waverley Abbey and what’s even better, admission is free.
How to get to Waverley Abbey
From the car park, it is a very picturesque stroll to the abbey ruins. The walk is level and takes about 10 minutes. To your left, there are open fields with grazing cows and to your right is the picturesque River Wey.
The river is also very wet, as one of the kids discovered when he put his foot right in it! With lots of lily pads and a covering of green, he wondered if you could walk on it (very much edged on by his twin brother). It appears not, so he made his visit to Waverley Abbey with one very squidgy trainer!
At the end of the path is a kissing gate which leads into the meadow with ruins of Waverley Abbey.
The monastery was built in the 1130s and started as a simple building. At the time only twelve French monks lived there. Over time, the monk population grew significantly, reaching its heyday when 170 monks and lay-brothers lived there. However, flood damage from the River Wey ruined the original and in the 13th century a bigger, abbey was built.
Today’s the ruins at Waverley Abbey are from the newer, grander replacement building. As you approach Waverley Abbey, you’ll appreciate the significant size of the site.
There are no staff at Waverley Abbey and we were able to wander at leisure around the grounds. Information boards around the site provide information about the abbey and former use of the former use of the buildings. You can also download an audio guide from the Heritage Centre website if you want more details.
Although Waverley Abbey lays in ruins, it’s clear to see the footprint of the buildings as you wander round. Some areas are still in good condition and show how grand the buildings were at the time. The different areas of the abbey, such as the dormitory and eating areas, are clearly defined, so it’s easier to imagine original life here.
As well as Waverley Abbey, you’ll also observe the remains of a large church.
Dragon's Teeth at Waverley Abbey
After our visit to the ruins, we did a short walk to the River Wey and had a look at the river and the World War II defences (Dragon’s Teeth) that can be seen there. The kids also took the opportunity for some tree climbing.
The whole area has a very serene, calm atmosphere and on a sunny day is a pleasant visit. It is not a whole day’s activity, but worth stopping after a visit to one of Farnham’s many other attractions. I took twins and one enjoyed it and the other was less keen, so it’s not for everyone.
We were probably there about half an hour but could have spent longer if we’d taken a picnic. You can bring your dog, but must keep it on a a lead.
The Waverley Abbey Yew
Another good reason to visit the ruins of Waverley Abbey is to see its award-winning ancient yew tree.
The Waverley Abbey Yew has recently been awarded the Woodland Trust’s Tree of the Year Award 2022. The magnificent old tree, with its multiple trunks, has been on the site for over 500 years. It has probably been growing since the dissolution of the monasteries in 1536.
Getting to Waverley Abbey
Waverley Abbey is about 2 miles south-east of Farnham in Surrey in south-east England. It is not far from the Surrey’s county town, Guildford.
The easiest way to visit is by car. You can access it via the B3001 or junction 10 of M25. The postcode for Waverley Abbey is GU9 8EP. There is a a very small free car park. by the entrance to Waverley Abbey House.
Alternatively, if you are using public transport, the nearest train station to Waverley Abbey is Farnham.
Opening hours at Waverley Abbey
As there’s no ticket office, you can visit at any time during daylight hours.
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