I took my elderly Mum to visit Buckland Abbey in Devon as she's the best kind of Travel Blog Advisor you can possibly have. At 88 she's what they would call 'sprightly' but there are some things she can't do and if someone not catering for that that means she doesn't get to see all the sights, she's going to complain loudly and clearly.
There were complaints...
But let's look at the positives first. There's plenty to see with lovely, well-laid-out gardens including a walled kitchen garden; it is well maintained by the National Trust and they have buggies to transport elderly folk from the car park to the Abbey itself (not that Mum would have any of that. "I'm perfectly capable of walking, thank you!").
It looks surprisingly modern given that it started life as a thirteenth century Cistercian monastery—in fact the last one to be built in the UK. However, there was a fairly drastic fire in 1938 so it's what they call "extensively restored" in quite a few places. However, I like that kind of castle; it's like Castle Drogo where you can really imagine what it was like to live there before it got so colossally old.
The monastery was dissolved by Henry VIII (you weren't a proper monk if Our 'Enery didn't grind you down) and became the property of Sir Richard Grenville and his son Roger (who was the captain of the ill-fated Mary Rose). After Roger's death, Sir Richard sold it on and was probably horrified to find that he'd sold it to intermediaries who were working for Sir Francis Drake, whom he loathed.
It stayed in the Drake family until the fire in 1938 and came to the National Trust in 1951.
But enough of the history! Are there any decent shops? And can you get a good cream tea? (Mum's vital criterion for a day out in Devon is a good cream tea*).
The shops are good. They're in what's known as the Ox Yard and haves ome interesting stuff including plants from the gardens for sale, a second-hand bookshop and artisans working on-site including in a shop featuring felt-work which was enchanting. And there's the usual excellent National Trust shop. The cafe is good with home-grown produce (although, Buckland folk, please note that you really do need to offer more than one little pot of strawberry jam as it runs a bit thin on the second half of the scone).
So what's not to like? Two simple little things. When we arrived, we were told that the entrance to the house was shut for some valid reason and we had to walk around the big old barn to get in. The gentleman said, "You can walk round either way; it doesn't matter."
Oh yes it did. Because we walked round The Wrong Way and arrived at a door that clearly went into the house but didn't say anything about entrance or exit. We went in and had a good look round what was there but couldn't find several of the things in the guide, specifically, the Rembrandt exhibition which was featured in the guide. (They've got a painting that has been identified as a genuine Rembrandt. It's a self-portrait. They're very excited about it. Understandably).
Anyway, we saw the ladies who were working in Elizabethan costume in the kitchen and we climbed some stairs to see some more costumes. But the real exhibition, which shows what it was like inside The Golden Hind and has all sorts of very interesting stuff including Drake's Drum, which we both really wanted to see was on the top floor.
Actually, it isn't Drake's Drum. It's a replica. I suppose that's good enough but... Well, no, it isn't really, is it? It's only the real drum which, if it is played, will Call Him Back To Save England Again In A National Emergency. Enough with the replicas! The Rembrandt's real for goodness' sake. r
The real point, however, is, that the top floor was by far the most interesting one. And it was too far and too steep for my Mum to get there. That wasn't fair. And she said so.
We went back to the Ox Yard to have our tea and I asked at the entrance about the Rembrandt, only to be told that we had gone The Wrong Way around the barn and not found the main entrance. This was a little annoying. I went to find it the Right Way. The exhibition was certainly interesting but by then Mum was too tired to venture round to see it. A suggestion that she went in a buggy did not go down well.
So, in all, a slightly odd place. Almost very good but not quite. You'll enjoy it very much as long as you Go Round The Right Way and sneak in some extra strawberry jam.
On the way back, we stopped to look at St. Michael's Brentor (from the car). It's a tiny old church right on the top of a granite outcrop and Mum had a picture of it on a calendar and wanted to see it for real. It was covered in plastic over scaffolding. Mum sniffed. It had turned out to be that kind of a day.
* Mum's best ever cream tea (so far) was at Church House, South Tawton on any Sunday afternoon in the summer.
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