A Lesser Known Abbey in South Wales

In normal times, we regularly receive visits from our friends in Yorkshire, hosting them in our home for a long weekend. This summer, because of covid restrictions on mixing in houses, we decided to meet up in a hotel in Swansea. We had a wonderful day on the Gower Peninsula, swimming in Rhossili Bay and eating delicious ice creams at Verdi’s in Mumbles, but as I’ve blogged twice before on the Gower in both sunshine and rain (this occasion being decisively the former), this isn’t the subject of today’s reflections.

We had been planning a waterfall walk the following day, but although the forest would provide welcome shade, it was deemed too onerous a task to perform in a heatwave. Yes, being British, we like complaining about rain and cold weather, but as soon as the sun comes out, we find it too hot to do anything. My wife S came up with a plan b to go somewhere local that we’d never visited before. The destination was Neath Abbey.

Less known and visited than Tintern Abbey, Neath was also a Cistercian monastery and once the largest abbey in Wales. Founded in the 12th century by the Norman knight Sir Richard de Granville, it was first occupied by monks from Normandy in northern France. Within 150 years it had become one of the wealthiest abbeys in the country. It was home to 50 monks and a much larger contingent of lay brothers.

Like most monasteries, it is now in ruins. Having survived attacks by Owain Glyndwr’s Welsh rebels, it was closed in the reign of King Henry VIII. Subsequently, a Tudor mansion was built adjacent to the abbey, but it also fell into ruins when part of the site was used for copper smelting in the 18th century. Archaeologists took over in the 20th century to uncover the ruins of the abbey.

Lay Brothers’ Quarters

We began our exploration in the lay brothers quarters, after a faulty sat nav had led us to a nearby industrial estate. The information boards advised us that the 2 largest rooms in this section are the refectory and common room. There would have been a floor above these, but the building is now open to the skies. We then came to the cloisters, which in mediaeval times would have been enclosed by the lay brothers quarters, monks quarters and the abbey. Now this is an open grassed area with some welcome public seats, which enabled us to have a well earned rest in the incessant heat.

Cloisters and Abbey

Although in ruins, the abbey itself is quite imposing and we certainly got an impression of its former grandeur. The North and South Transepts, together with the Presbytery and the Nave, give the building a clear cross shape if looking from above. The Monks’ Choir (Quire) is located in the centre of the abbey.

The monks’ quarters are now engulfed by the Tudor mansion, so the ruins are more substantial but quite different from those on the rest of the site. We wandered around this now peaceful but imposing ruin, which we would have had all to ourselves, but for a photographer transporting her tripod around the site to take pictures from almost every angle. I’m sure her photos were better than mine.

After our visit, we retired to a nearby pub to quench our thirst. I concluded that there is certainly something majestic in the ruins of Neath Abbey.

Tudor Manor and former monks’ quarters
The Abbey

Factfile:

Location

Neath Abbey is about 1 mile from the centre of Neath, Wales, UK, just off the A465 Head of the Valleys road.

Information

It is managed by Cadw and admission is free

Transport

The abbey is just over a mile from either Neath or Skewen railway stations. Drivers should exit the M4 motorway at J43 onto the A465 and take a left turn after approximately 2 miles. There is a small car park at the abbey

Food, drink and accommodation

There are no refreshment facilities onsite. Pubs, restaurants and hotels can be found in Neath or nearby Swansea

4 thoughts on “A Lesser Known Abbey in South Wales

  1. You’re right the place does look peaceful and a nice place to contemplate. Such a pity when beautiful and historical structures like this are ruined. I’d be interested to see the Tudor mansion as well 🙂

    Ah lucky you guys, you get to go to beautiful places like this during this time. We initially plan on going to the UK this December but we’ve pulled out our plans. Hopefully next year.

    Liked by 1 person

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