Buckfast Abbey is located in 'Buckfast' South Devon. It's the home to a group of Benedictine monks who are probably best known for making tonic wine and honey. Buckfast is right on the edge of Buckfastleigh which is one of the 'gateways' to Dartmoor and the Abbey sits amidst picturesque scenery on the banks of the river Dart. I've been both a visitor and an employee ( Retail worker, not a monk :-) of Buckfast Abbey. It will cost you nothing to park and wander the grounds (which is a quite rare these days!) and makes for an idea stop before or after making a trip onto Dartmoor or one of the other local attractions. There's not much for Kids to do here, (spot the monk?). The Abbey does have an educational section from which you can (if interested) learn about the Bee's, Wine making etc , you can find information about all these things on the Buckfast Abbey website, you might need to organise these in advance.
The first Abbey was built here in 1018 (built of wood) and founded by Benedictine monks. In 1147 it was rebuilt in stone and became a Cistercian abbey. In 1539 King henry started a campaign to bring about the dissolution of all monasteries within England and subsequently for 343 years the abbey was left to fall apart until even the foundations became buried. In 1882 Benedictine monks returned from France and acquired the land In 1905 they started building the Abbey / Church on the old Cistercian abbey foundations.
The Abbey as it stands now is a 20th century construction which was started in 1902 and built over a 32 year period. Understandably some people are surprised by this and may feel a bit let down by the fact that this isn't a medieval structure. The present Abbey and Church was built (re-built) by the monks themselves (hence the 32 years!). There are some amazing photo's of the monks working at great heights on the Abbey wearing their habits with no hard hats or security ropes. (wonder if they wear pants :-) To my knowledge only one person fell during it's construction and he landed in a pile of sand.
*The Abbey Church
As already mentioned it's free to enter the grounds of the Abbey, there's no parking charge and the Abbey church is also free to enter. Towards the back of the Church you will find the 'Blessed Sacrament Chapel' in which you will find a very large (contemporary) 'modern' stain glass window, it's not everyone's cup of tea but again it's a testament to the skills and workmanship of the monks. Midday Prayer in the Church begins at 1pm (lasts 10mins) and at 12.05 each day Mass is taken in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. although still open to the public during this time it is requested that people be as quiet as possible, or else you will have to answer to the 'Monk Police' (na, only joking !)
Church opening times : 9am (Fridays 10am) to 6pm, Sundays Noon to 6pm.
There are a number of small gardens next to the Church, The 'Lavender' garden has 150 varies of the species, the Physic garden has been planted with many of the herbs you would find in the middle ages whilst the 'Sensory' garden combines plants with water features.
Audio Visual Information Hut
If you are visiting buck fast Abbey for the first time it is helpful to have some knowledge of the Abbey's history and I would suggest visiting the 'audio visual' hut next to the gift shop which will explain the not so simple history of the place. The presentation lasts about 20 minutes and provides an overview of the history of the Abbey and it's involvements, ie honey making / production of tonic wine, it also explains the monks lifestyles. The Audio Visual Information Hut is the first building on your right as you enter the car park.
The Shops : There are 3 shops, the gift shop, monastic shop and bookshop.
~The Gift Shop~
The gift shop is the next building along from the Audio Visual hut and is managed by a man who wears bright colored shirts. This is the shop I worked in, from here you can buy the infamous buckfast tonic wine and 'Buckfast Honey' (when in season). You will sometimes also find one of the monks working in the shop, although not usually in a habit. In this shop you can buy a range of items from 'buck fast Abbey' key rings to interesting items that are made by local crafts people. It's also a good place to buy local guide books and if you are thinking of going onto the moors you can buy OS maps from the shop.
Buckfast is famous for it's Tonic wine of which use to have quite a following in certain parts of Scotland, Rab C Nesbitt in the comedy of the same name frequently referred to it and one episode features his pilgrimage to Buckfast, which I personally found hilarious. The Tonic wine is made from a base wine which comes from France and the monks add various herbs to make the tonic. I've heard that some Scots who drink this will often never finish a bottle because they believe the last 'dregs' contain Monks toes nails. It's marketed as having medicinal properties, It is quite strong and an acquired taste, you either love it or hate it, I'm not that fond of it myself. Should you prefer you can also buy other locally produced wine, cider and fruit juice here.
You can buy buckfast honey from here (when in season) the yield of honey depends a lot on the weather. Whilst working here I met people who would travel great distances to buy the stuff only to find that it been a bad year and that there was no honey. They would get rather annoyed at this, unfortunately there's not alot you can do about that. I would suggest that anyone going to buckfast Abbey specially to buy the honey to check on it's availability before going. Even when there is honey it does sell out rather quickly, you can however order it by post and you would need to contact the shop (via main switch board)
Shop opening Times : weekdays 9am till 5.30, (5pm during winter). Sunday Noon - 5pm
~The Monastic Shop~
To the left from the car park there is a path which takes you to the monastic shop. It contains a wide selection of produce from various monasteries, including Europe. I use to love this shop, it's full of wines and beers that you normally find anywhere else. Some of these beers are quite strong. When working in the gift shop I would often wheel deliveries up to the monastic shop and one of the monks would thank me by giving me a bottle of monastic beer. There is also an on-line shop which can be accessed from the main Abbey web page.
Opening Times : weekdays 9am till 5.00, Sunday Noon - 5pm
The bookshop faces the Abbey and about 2 minutes walk from the gift shop. It sells posters, books, cards, music, Dvd's, gifts, jewelery and like the Monastic shop has an on-line shop which can again be accessed via the main Buckfast Abbey website.
Opening Times : 9am to 5.30pm (winter close 5pm), Sundays Noon to 5pm.
The Grange Restaurant
The Grange restaurant is the on-Site café/restaurant, it is a Licensed tea rooms, serving lunches, teas and light refreshments. The restaurant is well equipped for children's menu's and much more substantial fare, including cream teas. I've eaten here quite few times and I've always enjoyed it.
Opening times : weekdays 10am-4.30, Sunday 10am-4.30 (4pm winter)
~Car Parking and further Information~
Car parking is free and has spaces for approximately two hundred and fifty cars and eighteen coaches, which provides ample space throughout the year. Toilets are available, just off from the car park. Further toilets are available at the back of the 'grange Restaurant', failing that there's toilets inside the Grange restaurant itself and the Education centre. There is comprehensive information on all aspects of Buckfast Abbey on the Buckfast Abbey website I would recommend that in order to get the most out of your visit to read up on things before you get here. Detailed PDF files on all aspects of Buckfast Abbey are available to download from the main Abbey website. Website : www.buckfast.org.uk
Mediwest provide first Aid cover during opening times, the first Aid room is next to the Chapel. All shops contain First Aid kits.
All areas are accessible to disabled visitors there are also facilities for hearing impaired visitors and those with visual impaired visitors ( raised signs and braille map). There are a limited number of wheelchairs available on a first come first serve basis. Guide dogs are permitted and there are parking areas for disabled visitors (note that the disabled parking spaces in the car park are about 500 meters from the Church). There are also a limited number of Disabled parking spaces right next to the Church. There is level access to shops and grounds and no steps to negotiate. Toilets for disabled visitors can be found next to the car park, in the Grange restaurant, or next to the lavender gardens.
Getting to Buckfast
Buckfast Abbey is about half a mile from A38 at A384 Buckfastleigh turn off. The A38 itself runs between Exeter and Plymouth and the Buckfastleigh is about half way between those two Cities. Nearest Station : Totnes or Newton Abbot, about 20 minutes from either of these stations by bus to the Abbey. You will find further details at www.stagecoachbus.com
Buckfast Abbey Contact Information
Main switch board - tel : 01364 64550
Abbey website : www.buckfast.org.uk
~Other attractions in the area~
As mentioned at the beginning, Buckfast Abbey is a good place to rest before or after visiting the moors or one of the other local attractions. These are the most popular :
Butterfly farm & Otter sanctuary - www.ottersandbutterflies.co.uk
Pennywell farm and Wildlife centre - www.pennywellfarm.co.uk
The South Devon Railway Trust (Steam) - www.southdevonrailways.org
Dartmoor National Park Authority - www.dartmoor-npa.gov.uk
*For more Information on these try the www.buckfastleigh.gov.uk website*
In conclusion then. Buckfast Abbey is free to visit, it cost nothing to park and enter the grounds, costs nothing to visit the Church and is a great place to relax before or after a trip on the moors or one of the other local attractions.
Ask for a bottle of the tonic wine.
Remove the screw cap top.
Throw the top away.
Proceed to consume the wine without diluting it.
I then challenge you to not be boistrous and to act in a calm and sensible manner.
Seriously though, the place is beautiful, the Abbey is truely astonishing. The Buckfast Tonic Wine is an 'aquired' taste but by the time you get to the bottom of the bottle, you'll be wanting more!
A visit to Devon for a wedding on the weekend meant that I found myself a couple of miles away from Buckfast Abbey. As someone who loves history and all things old, I thought great! I read up on the Abbey in a local guidebook and although it told me that the current Abbey was a 19th century creation I still thought it might be worth a look.
Buckfast Abbey was originally founded in around 1018, as a Benedictine house. In the 1147 the Abbey joined the Cistercian order. The Cistercians rebuilt the Abbey in their style, and when the Abbey was rebuilt in the 19th century it was rebuilt in this style.
Along with the country's other abbeys, Buckfast lost its status after the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII. Buckfast was closed in 1539. The monks left and the treasures of the Abbey were taken to the Tower of London. The lead from the roof was melted down.
Some of the Abbey's land was sold off. By the early 19th century the Abbey still stood, albeit in ruins. It was finally demolished by Samuel Berry, who built a mansion on the site.
In 1882 the property was in the hands of a Dr James Gale, who decided to sell it but wanted it to go to a religious communtiy. It only took 6 weeks before monks were living on the site again.
The Abbey we see today was begun in 1907 and took 32 years to complete.
OPENING TIMES AND ACCESS:
Buckfast is fairly easy to get to. It is about 30 minutes south of Exeter on the A38. It is signposted. There are also buses from Newton Abbot, Totnes, Exeter and Plymouth.
The great thing about the Abbey is that its free, which is abviously a huge advantage!! We weren't going to go in if it cost more than a couple of pounds so we were pleasantly surprised.
There is a very big car park, but I would think it gets very full in the summer because the Abbey is a base for lots of walks around the area.
The Abbey's opening times are:
Monday-Thursday: 9am - 6pm
Friday: 10am - 6pm
Saturday: 9am - 6pm
Sunday: 12pm - 6pm
(sometimes services will interupt these)
Almost all areas are accessible for disabled.
There is a restaurant at the Abbey, although I didn't go in. There is also a shop, which I found very expensive, but understandably so as they don't charge admission and they have to maintain the Abbey somehow. The shop sells lots of things, I imagine it would be a nightmare in the summer if it was full, it was one of those shops where one wrong move could bring a shelf tumbling down!! In the shops they sell the famous Buckfast Bee honey as well as Buckfast Tonic Wine. They also sell various books, candles, pottery as well as the usual tourist fare of rubbers and pencil sharpeners.
We didn't spend too long at the Abbey as a 3 hour drive awaited me. We firstly went into a small video room which is located near the car park. This gave an outline of the Abbey and showed the monks in their daily lives. This was very interesting and gave a very good introduction to the visit. We then progressed to the church itself. As we went inside we heard the monks singing. It was a service so we did not move around for a while but it was very peaceful listening to the monk's service. When they had finished you could walk around in the church. The church was very peaceful. The interior is quite plain, with lots of bare stone. there were various side altars but none were garrish. I thought that the marble mosaic pavements inside the church were beautiful.
One part of the church which I really disliked was the Blessed Sacrament Chapel. It is meant to be an area for quiet prayer but how anyone can concentrate on prayer when they are confronted with the hideous window is beyond me. The chapel is very modern looking (or concrete looking to me) with its 'crowning glory' being an enormous stained glass window which depicts Christ. I found this garrish and loud and totally out of keeping with the Abbey as a whole.
Outside there are lots of areas to walk around. There are many gardens which contain different plants which the monks have used for centuries for cooking and medicine (although some of the plants looked a bit worse for wear to me!).
There are some medieval buildings left to look at, including the Abbot's Tower and the Guest Hall.
There is also the beehives (although I'm not actually sure how close to these you can get as I not the world's greatest bee fan...OK I'm petrified of the little b****rs!!). These are home to the famous Buckfast Bee, which has supposedly be specially bred to be hardworking and more friendly (well I don't care if they want to shake my hand, I'm not getting close!!).
Another part I didn't go to was the exibition on medieval monks but I wish I had seen this bit.
I enjoyed my visit but don't think I would go back to Buckfast. It was very interesting and there is lots to see there. If I was in the area in ten years time I may pop in but I wouldn't go there specially for a visit. I found the Blessed Sacrament chapel absolutely horrible but the rest of the church was very peaceful and I enjoyed that. With more time I think I would have explored the grounds more. It is definately a good base for walks around the Devon countryside and the location is beautiful. If you're in the area pop in - its free so at least if you don't like it then you don't feel like you need to get you monies worth! You will probably learn something, especially if you watch the introductory video. For me, I prefer older heritage sites but obviously I can't go and shout at old Henry VIII!! (That would be fun though....!) Enjoy!