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Ambient Travel Blog

Nearly everyone knows the story of how, in 1588, Sir Francis Drake famously completed his game of bowls on Plymouth Hoe before engaging the Spanish Armada, but his connection with Devon goes back much further.

He was born in the county, near Tavistock, in around 1544 and it was from Plymouth that he sailed on the 13 December 1577 on a three year voyage to circumnavigate the world. During his journey he amassed great treasures for Queen Elizabeth I and she rewarded him with a knighthood and with gifts that made him extremely wealthy. This enabled him to buy a large house befitting his new found status. His choice was Buckland Abbey, near Yelverton around 11 miles from Plymouth.

Buckland Abbey was originally a Cistercian Abbey that had been founded in 1278. During the Dissolution of the Monasteries, it became the property of King Henry VIII who sold it to Sir Richard Grenville in 1541.

He and his son Roger converted the Abbey into a family residence. On the death of Roger, the property was left to his son, named Richard after his grandfather, who reluctantly sold it to his great rival Drake in 1581.

In September 1581, Drake became the Mayor of Plymouth, and was a Member of Parliament in 1581 and again in 1584. He lived at Buckland for fifteen years until his final voyage, during which he died, in 1596. As he had requested before his death, he was dressed in his full armour and buried at sea in a lead coffin off the coast of Portobelo, Panama.

Sir Francis Drake had no children,  Buckland Abbey  passed to a nephew and remained in the Drake family for several generations. In 1946, it was sold to a local landowner, Arthur Rodd, who presented it to The National Trust two years later.

Today the Abbey is operated by The National Trust with the assistance of the City of Plymouth and part of the collection from Plymouth Museum and Art Museum is housed in the building. It boasts a combination of furnished rooms and interactive galleries which tell the story of how the Grenville’s and Drake changed the shape of the house and the fate of the country.

Amongst the many mementoes of Sir Francis Drake are the two Royal Standards that flew on the Golden Hind on the day that he was knighted and the 16th century side drum, known as Drake’s Drum, which is believed to have been used during his last expedition.

Visitors can also enjoy the extensive grounds of the Buckland estate, the meadows, the orchards and the peace and tranquillity of the Tavy Valley with far-reaching views. The Abbey is one of the venues visited during the Tudor Adventurers & Explorers Tour developed by Ambient Tours.

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