Cloaked in white, the Cistercian monks of Rushen Abbey on the Isle of Man lived a quiet life of solitude away from civilization during medieval times – from the 12th century up until the 16th century when it was one of the last monasteries to be dissolved under Henry VIII’s rule.
They would rise from bed at 2am and commit most of their time to attending services; eight each day in fact. In order to maintain the abbey, the monks traded sheep wool – the same material used to make their simple robes and blankets – and tended to the land in order to grow their own produce and concoct natural herbal medicines.
Today, the abbey ruins in the quaint village of Ballasalla in the south of the island, are open to the public, alongside an intriguing museum providing an insight into the mysterious lives of these monks.
“By the great good they do, the Cistercians shine out in the world like lamps burning in a dark place. They toil with their own hands and produce their own food and clothing.” Orderic Vitalis
The self-tour exhibition finishes in the beautifully kept grounds where it’s possible to wander amid the ruins and admire the pretty displays of flowers and plants, including an abundance of lavender adding a sweet scent to the air.
In the early 20th century, tourists would flock to Rushen Abbey to enjoy strawberries and cream in the gardens, along with music, dancing and seasonal fetes.
It fell into disrepair after the First World War and wasn’t transformed into the visitor attraction it is today until Manx National Heritage took over and carried out restorations.
The museum exhibition is really interesting and has family-friendly interactive features such as a dress-up section where you can try on traditional monks’ clothing.
It’s still possible to enjoy strawberries and cream, along with a choice of other delectable delights at The Abbey Restaurant located on site.
Just a short stroll from Rushen Abbey brings you to the Monks Bridge – one of the few surviving pack-horse bridges left in the British Isles.
Built in the 14th century to allow the monks to cross the Silverburn River, this historic stone bridge makes for a picturesque scene. The nearby Silverdale Glen is another option for a scenic walk. There’s a boating pond brimming with ducks, along with a cafe, a short distance into this route.
Visiting Rushen Abbey
- The museum and abbey ruins are open from March through to August.
- Entry was £4.50 for adults and £2.25 for children on the date this article was published (free for heritage pass holders).
- It takes around an hour to get around the main exhibition.
- For lunch, visit the Whitestone Inn – a traditional pub serving delicious local food and drink. It’s only a short walk away.
- Alternatively, visit the on-site restaurant or take a picnic and make the most of the gorgeous grounds.
- If you have time, don’t miss Monks Bridge and Silverdale Glen for some tranquil walking spots.
- There are a number of ways to get to Ballasalla. It’s on the island’s bus network, but we opted to take the steam train here, as the village is one of the stops on the Douglas to Port Erin line.