This is a guilt-drive heritage post. I have driven past Cymer Abbey, near Dolgellau, numerous times but never visited (due to bad weather, dedication to planned destination, being tail-gated at the wrong moment etc).
Recently, I was further shamed about my failure to visit by the recent Wales Online story promoting 15 Welsh abbeys and priories that are outstanding. This made it clear to me that I still have some medieval monastic ruins to visit in the principality! Cymer brings me up to 11/15, but I confess I still haven’t visited 4 on the list (among others): Caldey, Cwmhir, Llanthony or St Mary’s Priory Abergavenny.
Anyway, recently I visited Cymer Abbey for the first time during a southerly detour en route back home from Porthmadog and Criccieth. With low cloud covering the surrounding hills but otherwise in good weather, it was an eerie, isolated and peaceful location. Its Coflein record is here and the Cadw site here: the site is under Cadw custodianship.
Cymer was the granddaughter of the first Welsh Cistercian house of Whitland. It was founded in 1198 with monks from Cwymhir Abbey and it was dissolved in 1536. Like all Cistercian houses, it drew its income from farming (notably sheep and horses) and industry, although Cymer remained small and was never wealthy. Still, the 19th-century discovery of its silver gilt chalice and paten nearby, presumably hidden at the Dissolution, now take pride of place in the National Museum of Wales. The ruins constitute the abbey church and the footprint of the monastic cloister is now visible.
The nearby farmhouse must be built over the abbey guest house and is most certainly built from stone robbed from the abbey ruins. The tranquil setting, adjacent to the Afon Mawddach, is deceptive. This riverine location with easy access from the sea made it strategically located to control resources and access routes of transportation.
For me, the best feature of Cymer was not the ruins but the indications of Cistercian hydraulics. This is the leat that would have fed water to the monastic complex and led sewerage away. Cleared and made into a feature of the ruins, I was surprised it receives no mention in the details about the site because this is something you don’t get to see at every Cistercian monastic site.
Heritage interventions are minimal but informative and clear. The lack of an entrance fee and fixed entry hours is also welcome. Overall, a very stark and tranquil set of ruins.