Last Photographed: Wednesday 4th June 2014
Originally known as Vallis Florinda ('flowering valley'), Cleeve was founded as a Cistercian abbey in 1158AD.
Cleeve was never one of the grander Cistercian houses, reaching a peak of 28 monks in 1297AD. Despite a late period of prosperity leading up to the dissolution, it was home to only 12 monks by the time it was surrendered to the crown in 1536AD.
Many of the abbey buildings survived as part of a manor house until the 17th century, by which time the estate had turned into a farm. In 1870AD, the site was acquired by the Luttrell estate of Dunster castle and turned into an early tourist attraction. It eventually passed back to the nation in 1949AD.
Although the abbey church only survives as an outline, there are a number of other surviving buildings that make Cleeve fairly unique. Of particular note is the refectory, with a mediaeval roof that can still be appreciated in all it's glory, complete with elaborate wooden carvings decorating the ceiling. The monks' dormitory is also complete, and offers a real sense of what monastic life must have been like. Also worth a mention are the 15th century wall paintings and a stunning section of unearthed thirteenth century floor tiles (enclosed and protected in recent years).
Cleeve Abbey is slightly off the beaten track, and in common with many other Cistercian houses, you can't help but admire the monks' choice of location. It's easy to underestimate the magic of the place, since there's nothing here on a grand scale. Nevertheless, the tranquil setting and the impressive surviving buildings make this an evocative and atmospheric site to visit.