Castle Acre Priory

When William de Warenne, the castellan of Castle Acre, and his wife Gundrada visited the French monastery of Cluny in 1077, they were struck by the beauty of its buildings and the holiness of its monks.

Soon after their return to England, de Warenne offered to establish a Cluniac monastery in England and granted land close to his castle at Lewis, where St Pancreas Priory became the first Cluniac house in England. In 1089 - after his wife Gundrada had died in childbirth - de Warenne established a second Cluniac priory at Castle Acre, which soon grew into an important local institution.

Ruined after being suppressed in 1537, what is left of the priory today still allows us a glimpse into its long history.

On its foundation (and throughout its history) the priory received grants of land and money not just from William de Warenne, but from other nobles and merchants who hoped to ensure their salvation. So building works for a church and other monastic buildings were soon under way. The Cluniac order considered beauty a form of worship and that belief can be detected even in the priory's ruins.

Decorated doorway at Castle Acre Priory ChurchDecorated Doorway at Castle Acre Priory Church

The church, built in the 12th century, had been planned to resemble the church of the mother house in Cluny. Only the west front now remains, but the great gateway and the tiers of intersecting arches show that austerity had no part in this church.

During the early Middle Ages, the priory grew wealthy. Royal grants from both King Henry I and his grandson Henry II exempted it from tolls, which was a very valuable benefit for a monastery with extensive lands.

Gatehouse of Castle Acre PrioryGatehouse of Castle Acre Priory

Nobles, merchants and even royalty - such as King Henry III and King Edward I and his Queen Eleanor - stayed at Castle Acre Priory while on their way to the shrine at Walsingham.

And most of these visitors would have walked through the late medieval gatehouse towards the prior's lodgings.

Timber-framed and decorated with flint, it stands guard over the priory's remains. Inside, the prior's lodgings still show traces of wall paintings and the huge fireplaces seem to hint at home comforts and cosy evenings.

Accommodating about 35-40 monks during its heyday, the Black Death, a sheep epidemic and quarrels with the priory in Lewis all affected Castle Acre's fortunes.

In the aftermath of the Black Death people seemed less drawn to the religious life and many monasteries struggled to find a sufficient number of monks to perform the daily offices and administer the large estates they had accumulated. Castle Acre Priory was no different and when the priory was dissolved in 1537 only the prior and 10 monks are recorded as living here.

Fortunately for us, parts of the Cluniac house have survived the dissolution and the ravages of time. What is left of Castle Acre Priory is now being cared for by English Heritage. Check out this page for opening times and events.

Wander around the ruins and marvel at the beautifully decorated stonework. Or try out the audio tour, which tells the story of the priory through the ages.

And if you always wanted to know what a medieval monastery herb garden would have looked like - here's your chance to find out.

Decorated stonework at Castle Acre Priory ChurchDecorated Stonework at Castle Acre Priory Church

Castle Acre and its priory make a wonderful day out on your Norfolk holiday. But if you want to explore the area in more detail, then that's easy to do, too. The whole area boasts holiday cottages galore, from small, romantic hideaways for two to large Victorian town houses!

Are You Planning a Holiday in Norfolk?

Where You Could Stay

Norfolk has no shortage of fabulous holiday accommodation whether you want to spend time on the beach, love boating or want to explore inland. You may covet a tiny fisherman's cottage like the one in Blakeney we kept returning to. You may like something larger and more modern like a loft overlooking the Norfolk Broads, or the right place for you may be a chic city apartment perfectly placed to explore Norwich...

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: The Coach House, Dereham |

The Coach House
Sleeps 5

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: The Clocktower, Snettisham |

The Clocktower
Sleeps 2

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: Little Cottage, Horning |

Little Cottage
Sleeps 2

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: Poet's Corner, Holt |

Poet's Corner
Sleeps 6

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: The Dingle, Cromer  |

The Dingle
Sleeps 9

Holiday Cottages in Norfolk: The Granary, Hingham |

The Granary
Sleeps 4

To see other holiday cottages in Norfolk click here. Or check out holiday cottages in other parts of England by clicking here.

What You Could See and Do

It's next to impossible to be bored in Norfolk, there's just so much to do and see. The list below includes some of our favourite places

  • Explore Norwich with its shops and two cathedrals and pay a visit to Norwich Castle and its teapot museum.
  • Visit Admiral Lord Nelson's birthplace at Burham Thorpe and read the report of the Battle of Trafalgar in a copy of The Times from 1805
  • Spend a day at Sandringham and Castle Rising Castle
  • Take a ride on the Holt to Sheringham Railway and explore the beautiful little town of Holt and the seaside town of Sheringham
  • Explore the ruins of Castle Acre  and Castle Acre Priory
  • Shop in Burnham Market
  • Wander around the small town of Blakeney, explore the church and harbour before making an attempt to reach the seals at Blakeney Point
  • Admire the famous windmill and go birdwatching in Cley-next-the-Sea
  • Be wowed by the rhododendrons in Sheringham Park
  • Visit Anne Boleyn's family home, Blickling Hall, or explore Oxburgh Hall, a fabulous manor house with a moat.
  • Or even fish for crabs and wander along the famous pier at Cromer.

For more holiday ideas return from Castle Acre Priory to the Norfolk page.

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