The half-abbey habit

Who needs a whole abbey anyway? That at least was the pragmatic approach taken by the people of Malmesbury when the tower and spire of their abbey, taller than Salisbury cathedral, collapsed 500 years ago and took the entire east end of the building with it. They consolidated, built internal walls to block up the suddenly inconveniently open bits, and carried on as before. Now the building is a fully functional church with ruined bits at each end …


The big arch on the left is where the tower used to be, and there was about the same amount of abbey to the left of that, once.

The long stay carpark is at the foot of the hill with the abbey at the top, next to a tributary of the Avon. Then you get this sheer hill with steps leading up it. It’s the kind of place that you can tell has been manipulated by the hand of man since centuries past, to the extent that the artificial enhancements of yore are essentially the geology of today. A fantasy writer’s dream. Once you’re up the hill you get a lovely little town, probably infuriating to drive in but full of character and secondhand shops that we proceeded to plunder. Living there would be nice as long as you had a proper native Malmesbury home and not one of the McResidences springing up around the edge. A home like this one, say …

… an old water tower, reachable only by walking down a narrow lane, with a penthouse at the top.

Anyway, the abbey. Despite being old it’s clearly a warm and friendly community, with comfortable chairs and plenty of outreach into the town. A proper community as these things should be. At the top of one of the pillars is what looks like a private box …


… which apparently was where the sick monks were allowed to sit and watch the service.

There’s also a stained glass window in tribute to local hero¬†Eilmer the Flying Monk, who legend has it observed the flight of birds, made his own gliding apparatus and got permission to test it. He flew 200 metres, or at least fell that distance with style, and attributed his subsequent crash and lifelong crippling to not having included a tail. Sadly he didn’t get further permission from the abbot to continue his researches. But, 10/10 not only for effort but also for scientific powers of observation and reasoning.


It’s now possible we’ve officially Done every abbey within a day trip of Abingdon, or at least every one of the free entry ones. But there’s still a couple of cathedrals we can think of.