A gem-hunter’s guide to Shap Abbey

Shap Abbey's west tower
The west tower of Shap Abbey, which was built around 1500

If you enjoy seeing the remains of once grand historic buildings and imagining what might once have been, you’ll definitely want to stop off at Shap Abbey by the side of the River Lowther near Shap, approximately 10 miles south of Penrith.

Where else would you go on a gorgeous sunny day apart from the only place in Cumbria to be covered in cloud?! Somehow that’s exactly what we managed to do, but whilst we were unlucky with the weather, we did find a truly historic Lake District gem to share with you on the blog!

A visit to Shap Abbey won’t fill a day out in itself, but this ruin is well worth seeing if you incorporate it into your day as part of a wider tour of the area. The site is managed by English Heritage and is free to visit, and it represents a fascinating piece of this landscape’s history.

According to English Heritage, Shap Abbey was founded in around 1200, and was one of 32 religious houses in Britain belonging to the Premonstratensian order of canons, which was itself  founded in northern France in 1120.

The abbey’s community was small, with around 12 canons governed by an abbot, but it was also rich, with land donated by wealthy northern family names such as the Cliffords (Brougham Castle) and Vieuxponts.

The abbey’s history came to an end in 1540 during the reign of Henry VIII and the Suppression of the Monasteries, after which some of the buildings became part of a farm, and the rest were gradually taken apart and the materials reused.

It’s quite extraordinary to stand inside the stone remains of the monastery buildings and to think just how old this site is. There are interpretation panels to give you an idea of what stood here and how the site was used, really bringing it all alive in your imagination.

A door in one corner of the west tower at Shap Abbey
A door in one corner of the west tower
Looking out from inside the west tower at Shap Abbey
Looking out from inside the west tower

The remains of Shap Abbey, looking towards the cellarer's range

The Cellarer's range at Shap Abbey
The cellarer’s range, a storage area used by the canon who oversaw food and drink
The remains of columns at Shap Abbey
The remains of columns

The west tower at Shap AbbeyStone seating at Shap Abbey

The west tower from the Presbytery in the Abbey Church at Shap Abbey
The west tower from the remains of the Presbytery in the Abbey Church

Finding Shap Abbey is relatively easy. Simply follow the brown signs from the A6 at the north end of Shap village, which lead you onto minor roads. After a short while you then follow a long single track road which heads quite steeply downhill (as the English Heritage website warns, this probably isn’t a good idea in icy weather). There’s a small free car park near to the Abbey, and you cross a footbridge and walk across thick grass along the length of a stone wall to get to the Abbey itself.

The bridge from the car park at Shap Abbey Walking on grass towards Shap AbbeyThe next time you’re in the area, why not drop by and see something a little bit different? I certainly wasn’t disappointed – just don’t forget to book the sunshine first!

Have you been to Shap Abbey or explored any of the other nearby English Heritage sites in the Lake District? If so, do share your own experiences and tips on what else to visit in the area by leaving a comment below!


  1. There are many smaller curiosities around the Lake District that are well worth seeing, and the best bit is that many of them are also free to visit!

  2. Hi
    Found your blog on Force Crag mine very interesting; although having lived in the Eden Valley for 30 years I’ve never visited this site. If you like Shap Abbey you should visit Brough Castle (also free English Heritage), with the benefit of a farm ice cream parlour next to it.

    • Thank you Andy – I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I hadn’t come across Brough Castle before, but it looks from the English Heritage profile like it’s in a fantastic setting. And an ice cream parlour too! Many thanks for recommending.

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