It is a sight that has inspired generations of artists – and it’s not hard to see why.
While there’s not much left of St Benet’s Abbey, I found it easy to imagine it as once was – a thriving monastery that would have dominated this now tranquil area of the Norfolk Broads.
On a beautiful, if a little cold, spring day, I loaded Freya and my parents into the car and we set off to visit the remains of the site, which is now under the care of the Norfolk Archeological Trust.
As you can see, the Benedictine monastery has mostly been destroyed but the ruins of the 14th century gatehouse and a later addition of a mill are still more than worth the visit.
While it is not known exactly when the monastery was created, according to the Domesday Book, the abbey was already “well endowed” by the time of the Norman conquest and was once “one of the richest in England”.
Apparently it was the only “religious house not closed down by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries”. You can find out more about its history here and here, if you’re interested (at the time of writing the dedicated website is down). There are also great information boards at the site which really bring the history to life. On certain days between May and September guided tours are offered.
St Benet’s was abandoned in the 1530s and demolition was complete by 1579 but the Bishop of Norwich remains Abbot, even though there have been no monks on site for many hundreds of years, and conducts an annual open air service there.
It’s in such a beautiful area, close to the meeting point of the rivers Bure and Ant, although I imagine for the monks who called it home, winter would have been particularly harsh.
And while it felt peaceful and calm during our visit, there is apparently the chance of seeing a ghostly monk rowing along the Broad with his faithful dog. While that doesn’t sound too frightening, on the night of May 25th each year it is alleged you can also hear the terrified screams of a traitorous monk killed at the site. I think I’ll pass on that one.
You can reach St Benet’s on foot, by car or by boat, which is said to be the best way – although I think I would have walked from Ludham if there wasn’t a pair of three-year-old legs along for the journey.
While Freya and my parents enjoyed the visit it was very much for my benefit so on the way home we stopped off at Wroxham Barns for some lunch, shopping, playtime and even some lamb feeding too.