The centrepiece of the complex is the magnificent Gothic church, whose remarkable tracery and intricate stonework remain intact. Around the church are the less substantial ruins of the monks’ domestic quarters and cloister, mostly reduced to one-storey rubble. The course of the abbey’s waste-disposal system can be seen in the Great Drain, an irregular channel that links kitchens, toilets and the infirmary with the nearby Wye. The Novices’ Hall lies handily close to the Warming House, which together with the kitchen and infirmary would have been the abbey’s only heated areas, suggesting that novices might have gained a falsely favourable impression of monastic life before taking their final vows.
Tintern Abbey has inspired writers and painters for more than two centuries – Wordsworth and Turner among them. Such is its popularity, however, that it’s best to go out of season or at either end of the day to avoid the crowds. The abbey was founded in 1131 by Cistercian monks from Normandy, though most of the remaining buildings date from the massive rebuilding and expansion of the fourteenth century, when Tintern was at its mightiest. Its survival after the Dissolution is largely due to its remoteness, as there were no nearby villages ready to use the abbey stone for rebuilding.