Buckland Abbey

It was one of those days where you are not quite sure whether the sun will come out or it will pour with rain all day. Whilst having breakfast we watched the rain come down, but according to my phone weather app it was supposed to clear by 11 am. We took the opportunity to pop over to the famous Pannier Market in Tavistock and have a look around the stalls whilst waiting for the sun to emerge.

The Great Barn

It was our final day in the area so we decided (well I did) to visit the lovely Garden House only a short distance away near Yelverton and since it was only an extra 5 minutes away we drove down a very narrow road (due to road closures) to visit Buckland Abbey, once home to the infamous Sir Francis Drake.

The Abbey entrance

The dissolution of the Abbey in 1539 saw a new owner, Sir Richard Grenville, purchase the Abbey and some of the estate from the Crown for his son Roger. However Roger’s ownership was brief, and it was his son, also called Richard, who made many of the alterations that are still evident today. Grenville decided instead to convert the abbey church into a house, in the process creating a cosy and intimate home. He retained the church tower and inserted three floors in the church interior.

Richard decided to sell the Abbey in 1580 to Sir Francis Drake, privateer, who made it his home after returning to England after his three-year circumnavigation of the globe on The Golden Hind.  [source: NT Website]

Decorative lead water tank

I’m not a huge fan of NT houses, some of the history is fascinating, but there is only so much ostentatious wealth I can stomach. I much prefer the exteriors of the buildings and of course, the gardens.

Every English person over a certain age will have studied those enterprising explorers during ‘The Age of Exploration’, or ‘Age of Discovery’, including Sir Francis Drake, though his life has been somewhat sanitised (being depicted still as a ‘great British hero’) as he commanded a ship as part of a fleet bringing African slaves to the “New World”, making one of the first English slaving voyages.

The Drake Coat of Arms. The stars represent the northern and southern hemispheres that Drake had sailed and the wavy line the sea. Auxillo Divino means ‘hand of God’ and Sic Parvis Magna means ‘from small beginnings to great achievements’.

Inside the former abbey the Great Hall has the original magnificent Tudor floor and an elaborate plastered Elizabethan ceiling. The upper floor has the Long Gallery which is dominated by a huge statue of Sir Francis Drake. This long, open space was used in Tudor times for the inhabitants to get some indoor exercise and we found information about life on board the ships that Drake might have sailed and the lives of the Cistercian monks. Much of the display relates to the Armada’s defeat.

Plaster model of the bronze statues of Drake that can be found in Tavistock and Plymouth Hoe. It was made in the late 19th century.

In 1988 four stained glass windows were installed in the windows of the stairwell to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Commemorative Glass
The Drake stained-glass Sundial commemorates the four hundredth anniversary of his death in 1596. It represents a 16th century chart of the Atlantic Ocean on which the hours lines radiate from a decorative compass rose. Drake’s ship ‘The Golden Hind’ is seen sailing along the evening 8 o’clock line on course from Plymouth to Porto Bello where an encircled cross indicates the position of his burial. The heraldic shield displays Drake’s coat of arms. It was designed by Christopher Daniel.

Back on the ground floor are the Tudor kitchens, laid out with 18th century cooking utensils and foods as if preparing for the dinner party upstairs.

The Great Barn

There is an impressive great barn which was used by the monks for the storage and winnowing of corn. Now used for apple pressing.

The Elizabethan Garden

And outside are Herb Gardens and an Elizabethan garden in front of the abbey. Not the most interesting of NT gardens I have to say. I was disappointed with the planting of both the herb garden and the Elizabethan garden. Being the first of June I expected both to be quite floriferous.

Since we were heading off to visit the nearby Garden House we opted not to do any of the walks in the grounds or visit the café.

Published by


I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

22 thoughts on “Buckland Abbey”

  1. I don’t really know much about Drake, not being a fan of fighting men. I seem to remember he and Liz 1 had a bit of a thing going on? Nice place he found himself, anyway. I like the lead tank. Happy Sunday!

  2. Despite the disappointing garden (you have high standards!) this looks an interesting place to visit. You had a good week!

  3. An interesting place to visit, shame about the weather….. The number of ruins I have visited in flat light 😢

  4. Whatever Drake did wrong, as least he was instrumental (along with awful weather at the time) in saving the country from invasion by Spain. Then again, we might have had siestas…and tapas… 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete. x

    1. Haha… yes. Although the invasion of the Normans didn’t bring us croissants and a love of wine! Lots of castles!

    1. I’d have liked it more if it had been a ruined abbey with the church remaining as a church. As a house it seemed odd.

  5. I’m of a similar mind to you on NT houses. I dislike the ostentation of the interiors – all those ridiculously expensive furnishings are not to my taste at all. But the buildings themselves can be interesting, especially if they have quirky details. The gardens are predictably the most interesting part for me. Excellent ‘tour’ – I enjoyed seeing the buildings and gardens.

    1. There are more gardens around the place and longer estate walks, but we wanted to get to the Garden House and given the lack of planting around the house we decided that it would probably not be any better.

  6. What an interesting history and that first picture sure shows how imposing it is. When I visit England I am always in awe of such history and love seeing the castles and gardens…it is too bad these ones were disappointing… but I agree the insides sometimes bog me down somewhat. Now churches I could visit for days 🙂

  7. I understand your desire to see the gardens but the buildings are impressive. Imagine building something that size all with stone!! It certainly wouldn’t go up as quickly as modern homes. 🙂 While I agree that history is often sanitized to some extent or even a lot, I try to remember that all these people were products of their times and that none of the people now trying to erase them are necessarily any better, just on a smaller scale. Most people are a combination of good and bad and I think of the Biblical exhortation: “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.” Pretty sure there’d be no more stoning. 🙂 And we need to learn from the bad parts of history as well.

    1. I’d have liked it better as a ruined abbey rather than a converted church, but Drake is such a big part of this part of the country we thought we’d have a look at his house whilst in the area. I think every English child must have learned about the Spanish Armada and how Drake (and the weather) saved us from a Spanish invasion. Now that part of the house (the museum) I did enjoy.

Comments are closed.