The grand church of Buckfast Abbey may look medieval, but it opened in the 20th century. Its Benedictine monks may be part of a centuries-old tradition, but the current order was established in 1882. But the timeless Dartmoor setting never changes. Enjoy a day out at Buckfast Abbey for a fascinating monastic history, spectacular architecture, and the famous Tonic Wine.
The Remarkable History Of Buckfast Abbey
At first it was the usual story. A monastery was established at Buckfast in 1018, originally for Benedictine monks, and later home to Cistercians. Its fortunes varied: at some times it was immensely wealthy due to sheep and fishing, and at others it fell into decline. The monastery was finally dissolved by Henry VIII in 1539.
Like other abbeys around the country, the buildings were gradually ruined. However, unlike other abbeys, Buckfast was revived when a group of displaced monks arrived in 1882. They set about rebuilding the abbey in the Early English style, using a plan of the ruins, and the layout of other English abbeys, as a blueprint for the design. The new Abbey Church was finally consecrated in 1932.
Exploring The Abbey Church
The church is quite spectacular, combining medieval design features with modern materials and building techniques. The interior is lavish, with arched aisles, patterned tiling on the floors, and intricate stone carvings.
Of particular note is the ceiling of the Lantern Tower, painted in the Byzantine fashion. And there is some magnificent stained glass, added in 1968, in the modern chapel at the eastern end of the church.
Monastic Remains, And The Abbey Gardens
Buckfast is a working monastery with extensive grounds, and there is plenty to see once you have looked around the church. You may already have spotted the remains of some of the original monastic buildings as you came in; you can also explore the almost complete 15th century guest hall. Close to the entrance is The Monastic Way (small admission fee), an interactive exhibition telling the story of the Abbey and of the Benedictine order.
Then there are the gardens. The spacious area around the church includes small formal gardens of a type that the monks might have enjoyed in the Middle Ages. In the sensory garden you can inhale the scent of aromatic plants and listen to the sound of a trickling fountain. From here you can visit the physic garden – with all manner of healing plants – and a lavender garden.
Bees, Honey And Tonic Wine
The Abbey is self sufficient, much of its income coming from selling produce from the monastery farm. Historically bees have been a major part of the economy, with hundreds of hives housing a type of bee specially bred for Buckfast. Today the emphasis is upon the education of beekeepers and the sale of bees as much as upon the production of honey.
Buckfast is also famous for its tonic wine, based on an old French monastic recipe. The Abbey Shop sells the wine and the honey, together with a wide range of other produce.
How To Spend A Day At Buckfast Abbey
- Buckfast Abbey is on the edge of Dartmoor, around 40 km from either Exeter or Plymouth. It has a large car park.
- It is possible to take the steam railway from Totnes to Buckfastleigh. The Abbey is about a half mile walk (partly uphill) from Buckfastleigh Station.
- There are picnic benches in the grounds if you want to bring your own lunch. Alternatively, the Grange Restaurant serves meals and snacks.
- Apart from the Abbey Shop, which sells produce from this monastery and others around the country, there is a bookshop and plant sales.
- The Abbey occasionally hosts musical and other events.