Hailes Abbey is set in the depths of rural Gloucestershire and well off the tourist beat, in the Severn Valley at the foot of the Cotswolds. It was founded in 1236 by the Earl of Cornwall, younger brother of Henry III in thanksgiving for surviving a shipwreck. This was one of the great Medieval Cistercian Abbeys with farms, orchards and fish ponds.
In the Middle Ages it was a major site of pilgrimage as had “The Holy Blood of Hailes”, allegedly a phial of Christ’s blood. Pilgrim donations helped finance the building of a magnificent abbey. At the Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII’s commissioners declared the relic to be a fake, the blood of a duck regularly renewed.
Now all that remains are the cloister arches and some bumps in the ground and foundations of other buildings. There are information boards around the site to help visualise what it must have been like.
Outside the ticket office is an enclosed square, designed to look like cloisters. This has information about building the abbey and the stone used.
The ticket office has a small shop and also sells ice creams. There is a small exhibition of stone work from the abbey, including three beautifully painted bosses from the abbey church. Two have flower designs. The third is Sampson grappling with an iron. Seen close to, the bosses are BIG. There are more bosses from the cloister displayed along the back wall with coats of arms.
There is information about tile making and examples of medieval tiles from the abbey. There are displays of carved masonry as well as small finds from round the site including keys and bits of clay pipes.
The Cistercians certainly knew how to pick their sites. Hailes Abbey is lovely with the ruins set in grassland with mature horse chestnut trees. There are plenty of seats and it is a good place to drop out on a sunny day.
There are no refreshments at the abbey but Hailes Fruit Farm just beyond the abbey has a farm shop and tea room.
There is parking by the church which is opposite the abbey entrance. This is probably as close as the disabled parking. The Visitor Centre and exhibitions are fully accessible, as are the abbey ruins, although there may be mobility issues using a wheelchair after heavy rain.