Sawley Abbey

This Cistercian monastery was founded in 1147 by monks from Newminster Abbey in Northumberland. It survived for almost 400 years until Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1536.

For centuries after the dissolution the abbey provided a handy supply of stone for local farms and buildings. Little now remains other than its foundations and a few structures such as the night stairs used by monks to walk between the first floor dormitory and the church for evening services. Its setting is however fabulous and offers great views of Pendle Hill.

The site is maintained by English Heritage and admission is free. Information boards provide details of its history and images of how may have looked when complete.

Sawley Abbey is situated in the village of Sawley, on the edge of the Forest of Bowland and around 3 miles northeast of Clitheroe.

The Spread Eagle Inn is just a couple of hundred yards down the road, next to the River Ribble, and offers a restaurant, bar, and accommodation.

To drive to the abbey from Clitheroe, take the A671 out of the town and when it joins the A59 turn left (signposted for Skipton). After driving for 2½ miles turn left at the brown tourist sign marked ‘Sawley Abbey’. Sawley Abbey and the village are ½ mile down the road. Visitors with satellite navigation systems can use the postcode BB7 4NH to find it. There is no official car park for the abbey but there are plenty of free spaces to park on the roadside verge.

To get to Sawley Abbey by bus catch the C2 service from Clitheroe town centre. The journey takes around 30 minutes. The nearest train station to Sawley Abbey is Clitheroe.


Map showing location of Sawley Abbey.

Map showing location of Sawley Abbey


Sawley Abbey

Address and postcode
United Kingdom

Visit Sawley Abbey Website

Reviews and Additional Information

  1. I spent my childhood in this area and remember that the archway used to straddle the (then) main road, prior to the construction of the new bypass. I believe that there were probably two such arches, but it is possible that my 80+ year old memory is playing tricks on me.
    Are there any maps available showing the location of the original monastery and the arches, presumably these being at the entrance to the Abbey grounds.

  2. The Abbey at Sawley is beautiful and striking and although it has obviously suffered from the pillage of its stones and its treasures that continued long after the Reformation. It is a grand ruin and stands as testimony to the suffering of the people of Lancashire and Yorkshire at a time when the monastic houses and the parish church were the life blood and spiritual heart of many local communities. The landscape that the abbey is set in is magnificent and the back drop gives for some wonderful and dramatic photography. It is fitting that the monastic ruins and its lands are the heart of the community still and are open to all free of charge. It is striking to see the abbey being visited by pilgrims and historians and tourists and by the local children who enjoy its open spaces as somewhere to relax and have some fun, without causing harm to the buildings around them. It is a joy to see it being respected, but enjoyed by all at the same time.
    Although little remains, enough is still present to give a sense of the place and to remind the visitor why the abbey is a ruin. It is a ruin because of the fact that ordinary men, women and children rose up in protest of the symbols of their ancient faith being taken from them by a monarch and first minister who were greedy for what little wealth it had. Sawley was not a large monastic house, nor was it particularly wealthy, but it had lead on the roof and stone and that was good enough reason to take its small treasures and to close it. Then because it was unfortunate to become the centre of the Pilgrimage of Grace, the abbot that they put in charge, Abbot Telford, from a well known local family, was singled out in 1537 to be hung drawn and quartered at Lancaster together with two of the monks. It is clear by the extent of the destruction, that Sawley suffered particularly afterwards and was a target for destruction. The stones were then used to build local walls. But the extent of the original damage is horrifying and I was stunned. I have visited several monastic houses, some that suffered as a result of some resistance, and this is the worst destruction I have seen. There is also an eery quiet, that makes the place seem as if it is mourning the loss of the worship and the work that took place there, and the monks and abbot so cruelly killed, for defending what they held dear.
    The beauty of the abbey is still striking, but it is a pity that it is not still a lively and active abbey, with singing, prayers, worship, help to the community and the small glimpse of heaven these abbeys and churches once were.
    However, it is also fitting that it be left as a ruin, to remind us of what we have lost, and the tragic reasons why!

  3. The abbey and its grounds are very beautiful. Well worth a visit.

  4. Sawley Abbey is open 7 days 10 am to 6 pm (4 pm winter). Admission is free.


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