Michele and I have officially reached peak middle-aged-ness.
Not only do we spend most of our weekends wandering around Dartmoor, we have also recently become the proud owners of National Trust membership (although his card says "Ms Michele" hehehe - Italian name problems). Handily for us, a NT membership also works for the Italian version, FAI - the organisation responsible for the beautiful Villa Necchi Campiglio.
Last weekend, we jumped in the car and headed over to Buckland Abbey on the edge of Dartmoor.
We arrived on an incredible misty afternoon. After getting lost on the way there (if the last few weeks have taught me anything, it's that Google Maps is SO BAD at getting you to NT properties), we finally pulled into the car park to views of sunlight splitting through the mist. The house and its gardens, however, were shrouded in a more impenetrable fog that lent the place an air of mystery and ghostliness.
Inside, the 700-year-old building was the perfect picture of Christmas.
We arrived just in time to join a tour around the upper floors of the old Abbey.
Buckland Abbey served as a Cistercian abbey from the 1200s until the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII. It was then handed over to the Grenville family who started converting the Abbey into a family residence.
It was in the Grenville family for 40 years before being sold to some sneaky people who were secretly working for an enemy of the Grenville family - Sir Francis Drake!
Amazingly, the property remained in the hands of Drake's family from the time it was sold in 1581 until its handover to the last private owner before it was given to the National Trust in 1946!
Now the Abbey is part house and part museum with rooms largely presented as they would have been centuries ago. Unfortunately, a lot of the original furniture was disbanded with the sale of the house from the Drake family but Sir Francis' drum is still on public display in one of the museum exhibits. An original portrait of Sir Francis Drake is also currently on loan in the house (no photos allowed!) and a self-portrait of Rembrandt's was famously discovered in the house and confirmed as authentic, with a value of £30m!
We learnt so many interesting things on the tour, including which parts of the house were original and which were reconstructed after a fire devastated one wing of the house. The fire itself started in what is now the main museum exhibition room, most likely in the dressing room of a guest suite. It tore through that part of the house, destroying staircases and ornate ceilings, the designs for which had sadly not survived for future reconstruction efforts.
After spending some more time in the cosy, festive main hall area, we headed back outside into the heavy mist. We decided to leave the rest of the estate to another, clearer day!
As we made our way back to the car, a choir sang carols in the old barn. It was absolutely lovely to hear the music radiating from the barn and disappearing into the fog, slowly fading into birdsong and the calls of farm animals as we made our way back up the path. I've never visited NT properties in the run up to Christmas (many of them close for the Winter season) but after the few trips we've made in the past few weeks, I'm planning on making them part of my Christmas countdown tradition for years to come!
We managed to get lost again on the way home, which turned out to be a very good thing when we reached the plains of Dartmoor and were treated to this marvellous sunset.
We pulled over into the next parking area, practically breaking the car on the biggest pothole I have ever seen! But the views as we scrambled across the moorland were kind of worth it..
We pulled ourselves away from the light show and tried to gently navigate the pothole from hell (without success) for a second time, before driving home past valleys filled with pink-tinged mist and herds of Dartmoor ponies.
Life in Devon at this time of year is really rather wonderful.