Raise a glass to Buckfast Abbey

Buckfast Abbey
Buckfast Abbey
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TRISH TAKES FIVE: By Trish Burgess

Having a son at university in Exeter has opened up a whole new area of the country for us to explore. Rory is always agreeable to a mid-term visit from Mum and Dad. I’d like to think he is as excited as we are when a parental stay is looming but I suspect it’s because he is taken out for meals and can keep his wallet safely tucked away.

Over the last few years we have bundled him into the car to go fossil hunting in Lyme Regis, shopping in Dartmouth and fish’n’chip chomping in Torquay. Last weekend I suggested Buckfast Abbey.

Dougie was a little dubious as his overriding image of Buckfast is the fortified, high-caffeine wine which has unfortunately become associated with anti-social behaviour, particularly in his native Scotland. Taking our boy to get stocked up on ‘Buckie’ didn’t seem like a sensible idea.

He soon changed his mind. The abbey is located in an idyllic setting on the River Dart. With pretty gardens, a bookshop and a smart cafe and conference facilities, this was a world away from what he was expecting.

The original Buckfast Abbey 
was founded in 1018 and work is currently under 
way to prepare for the 1000-year anniversary.

Henry VIII dissolved the monastery in 1539, and all its gold and silver was sent to the Tower of London. The abbey was eventually destroyed. It took over 300 years before Buckfast became a monastery again.

In 1882 a group of monks, who had been exiled from France, took shelter in England. They leased the property and began restorations under the leadership of the new abbot, Boniface Natter. Natter died in a shipwreck but his successor, Anscar Vonier, who survived, made it his mission to rebuild the abbey church from scratch.

Vonier sent one of the brothers to France to learn about masonry. For the next 32 years the abbey was slowly constructed, with a maximum of six monks working on it.

The interior of the abbey was the focus of more work in the following years with one monk, Dom Charles Norris, who had trained at the Royal College of Art, primarily responsible for the beautiful stained glass windows.

Buckfast wine, created in the 1890s using a French recipe, is an important source of income for the monastery. Millions have been reinvested in the local economy and hydro-electric power has been recently introduced, keeping the interior of this striking church warm and welcoming.

Of course we had to visit the monastic shop to see what other treats were on offer. There are products from many monasteries across Europe and beyond so we had the choice of jam, honey, wine and several varieties of beer.

We did buy a bottle of buckie. I’ve been told it makes a fabulous alternative to Pimms, mixed with lemonade in the summer. Now that sounds very civilised. Who needs Bucks Fizz when you can start the day with a Buckfast? All it needs is a little marketing makeover.

• You can read Trish’s blog at www.mumsgoneto.co.uk