Waverley Abbey – Farnham, England - Atlas Obscura

Waverley Abbey

The ruins of a 12th-century Cistercian monastery can be found alongside World War II tank traps and pillboxes. 


Founded in the early 12th century, Waverley Abbey was Britain’s first Cistercian monastery. The small monastic order prospered throughout the medieval period until the 1530s, when the abbey was shut down during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. After shuttering, it remained abandoned for centuries, though some of its stone was extracted and used in the construction of nearby homes. One such home, the Waverley Abbey House, was erected just a few hundred meters north of the abbey’s ruins and eventually converted into a hospital during World War I. Today it serves as a conference center.

During World War II, the early monastic settlement served as part of the General Headquarters Line (GHL), a ring of defensive structures designed to protect London in the event of a German attack. Today, relics of tank traps dot the River Wey, and a pillbox is perched by the parking lot. 

The site is currently owned by English Heritage, a charity that manages historical buildings and monuments across the country. Extensive relics of the abbey still remain, such as the lay brothers’ quarters, complete with arched windows and columns, as well as the walls of the 91-meter-long main church complex. The tank traps, pyramidal concrete blocks, are located in the southeast corner of the complex. The site has been featured in several films, including Elizabeth (1998), Hot Fuzz (2007) and The Mummy (2017), among others.

Know Before You Go

Waverley Abbey is free and open to the public every day. There's a small, free parking lot outside the gates of Waverley Abbey House, next to the World War II pillbox, about a five-to-ten minute walk from the abbey itself.

The nearest train station is Farnham, a 40-minute walk away through leafy Surrey suburbia.

Note that the abbey is in marshy terrain, surrounded by rivers and lakes on three sides, so the site can flood after periods of heavy rain. Bring sturdy shoes, as the ground can be rather muddy.

The site is accessed through two kissing gates and a small turnstile.

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