Hailes Abbey, near Winchcombe in the county of Gloucestershire, is a serene site, from 1246. What remains of its walls and arches, are studded into lush grass; tucked away from modern life. Just 15 minutes beyond the Cotswold village of Broadway, it is surrounded by mature trees with rambling fields beyond and a thick hedge. Many of the trees are horse chestnuts, which in September when I visited, had dropped their prickly prize all over the site.
In 2015 I visited with a friend, to wander the stone arches, crumbling walls and delicate outlines of various rooms. It was a modest site, at most housing 80 monks, often half that. On entrance, a small parish and sleek, modern museum of glass and wooden beam greet you. Through the gap in the hedge, the Cistercian abbey sits nestled into the landscape. Blue skies and a bright sun made a beautiful contrast to the pale stone and the space itself, felt welcoming and calm.
Where large wooden beams had once formed the structure of rooms or supported the movement of gates, these square holes now worked well to peek through – framing views. Tiny flowers and mushrooms peeked up through the longer grass around the edges of the site, as we wandered. Built from Cotswold stone, the abbey glowed in the Autumn sunshine; the mellow stone warm to the touch and patched, here and there, with tufted grass.
There are details of the monastic life on plaques, around the site. Their quiet, rural life comprised of rising early, periodic prayers and light meals. Tending a small flock of sheep and the vegetable patch, which provided wool and food, leaving enough to create a modest income. They made mead from honey, read and wrote. It was a simple existence; reminiscent of cottagecore with a monastic element to it’s rhythms and rituals.
Raised embankments around the edges and tall trees provided shelter from the wind. The archways formed deep shadows with the light, kissing the creamy stone of the back walls until they dazzled in the low sun. Though the site is religious in nature, as a place it is hushed, welcoming and peaceful for all.
Sat near the vegetable patch, on a bench, hearing the wind rustling through the trees, I began to form an idea of a monk living his days out here. And of a mouse, that had found it’s way into the chambers and halls. It was here that inspired The Monk & The Mouse, featured in my children’s collection of stories – Star & Bark.
If you’re ever out that way, I encourage you to take a wander. The victorian-style tea room Tisane’s, in the village of Broadway, does amazing scones and teas that you can buy loose from the cafe. The locals run a co-operative deli, that has amazing fresh seasonal food and homemade treats.