Pluscarden Abbey is the only medieval monastery that is still in use today in the UK. A three-hour train journey from Leuchars, it is a great retreat spot for anyone looking to get away from their studies without travelling too far. The abbey itself is striking, but not ostentatious. Founded in the 13th century, much of the building has been refurbished. However, some of the original stonework and stained glass windows remain.
The monastery accepts guests, accommodating for men and women in separated residences. St Benedict is located within the walls of the abbey and offers rooms to men wishing to stay there. They share their meals, apart from breakfast, with the Benedictine monks in the refectory, which can be prepared in the small kitchen provided. For women, there is St Scholastica’s Retreat, which is situated in about a five-minute walking distance from the abbey itself. There are twelve individual rooms with small washbasins, two kitchens and a large living room/dining area. Though it is self-catered, the monks provide bread, milk and eggs.
Guests are under no obligation to attend the Divine Office (a set of daily prayers consisting of Psalms, hymns and readings), however it would be encouraged if only to hear the beautiful sound of the monks chanting. This is especially moving when witnessed at 4:45am, when nothing but the vibrant colours of the stained-glass windows can be viewed from the path; the bells tolling in the background to usher in the morning.
There is a small shop that sells various books, as well as CDs of the monk’s chants. A soothing balm, made by the monks themselves, is sold, along with handmade honey. Some of the brothers are quite talented, with exceptional paintings and drawings also on sale. The nearest cash point is in Elgin, but the abbey shop does accept credit and debit cards.
There are wonderful country walks not far from the abbey. Heldon wood for example is only a ten-minute walk away. Following it, takes you to Elgin, but it is just as nice to wander around Heldon hill. At the top, there is a quarry which is still in use, along with a view that makes the steep ascent well worth the effort. For miles, nothing but countryside can be seen. Especially on a sunny spring day, the various shades of green are highlighted with such radiance that the landscape looks picturesque. Nothing but the wind and the odd pheasant can be heard, making it an ideal place to ‘retreat’ from the outside world.
There is no fee payable to staying at Pluscarden, although a donation is welcomed. With no internet, laptop or mobile (there is very little signal, but a payphone is available), one is able to truly relax and take a break from everyday life. Whether you choose to write, paint, or go on walks, Pluscarden Abbey is the place to recapture the tranquillity that many of us lack in our daily routines.
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