Have you ever thought about staying in a monastery?

Perhaps staying in a monastery is just what you need to get away from it all.

Views from Hilfield Friary
Views from Hilfield

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I agreed to spend a few nights at a Franciscan Friary.  Neither did many of my friends, it would appear, who asked me things like, “Will you have Wifi?” “Do you eat with the monks?” “Are you expected to pray for hours?”  To some people, it must have seemed like I was heading off to some sort of third world refugee camp, as they questioned whether I had to wash in a communal shower.

At the time, my answer to most of their questions was, “I honestly don’t know.” But I was pretty sure I’d be showering alone.

I am pleased to say that I was correct with regard to the showering arrangements and I can report that there was even Wifi access.  I had the option to dine with the brothers and other members of the community.  And I was welcome to join in any of their services but not expected.

I stayed in Juniper house, one of a number of accommodation options for guests.  The large old stone building with 7 bedrooms and an enormous communal space for dining and relaxing was self catering.  The house sat at the end of an avenue of elm trees where delicate pink and white Cyclamen flourished beneath the deciduous trees.  To the north, it had views over the plains around Glastonbury Tor, Somerset Levels and as far as the Mendips, a stunning vista which changed with the light and time of day.  There was no television, so relaxing meant chatting with fellow visitors, playing board games and reading.

Part of the Living Room at Juniper House
Part of the Living Room at Juniper House

The bedrooms in Juniper were all named after sacred places in Italy.  I was in ‘Todi’ which I discovered was a sustainable city and regarded by the Italian press as the world’s most liveable city.  I found my room very liveable with a panorama looking over the juniper tree in the adjacent field and a meadow of ancient woodland behind.  Opposite ‘Todi’ was ‘San Damiano’, which is a church with a monastery near the town of Assisi in Italy, the birthplace of St Francis who inspired the Franciscan order of men and women with whom I was staying.

lighting the wood burner
Even with Instructions, kindling, matches and paper, it took 4 attempts to light the wood burner

Undoubtedly, staying at a friary isn’t everyone’s idea of a great time; there are positives and negatives to staying in a friary.  But what I found at Hilfield Friary in Dorset was total relaxation, a chance to lose myself in a book and write until my hand hurt.  A sense of slowing down and engaging in the present and a feeling of getting away from it all without enduring the stress of crowded security lines at airports.  There were no flamboyant brochure-like descriptions of the rooms – they were simple, practical and uniform, containing a bed, a wardrobe, a wash hand basin and a desk.  There were no scams or pickpockets to watch out for as I wandered freely around the grounds, in fact I didn’t even have to lock my door.

A Typical Bedroom in Juniper House
A Typical Bedroom

Life at Hilfield is structured but not rigid.  A community meeting is held each morning from Tuesday to Saturday where matters like transport arrangements, new arrivals and departures and visits to the wonderfully named ‘Tinker’s Bubble’ are discussed.  It’s also the time when volunteers are sought to help with daily chores and announcements like. “We’ve been given a cow, a living Shetland cow called Molly,” are made to a quiet murmuring of excitement.

The arrival of Molly
The Arrival of Molly

If there’s a downside to Hilfield, then I found only one.  In order to appreciate such verdant valleys, rich vegetation and all the green foliage, trees and meadows around me, they have to be watered from somewhere, and so true to its geographical nick name of the South Wet of England, I was treated to a few days of rain. However, walking boots and waterproofs and a positive attitude soon puts paid to rain stopping play.

And you don’t need to just take my word for it.  On the 27th February 2016 one visitor commented in the guest book, “My brain has switched off….can you give me a kick start?  And in amongst a “faulty oven seal” and “a squeaky wardrobe door” was “Many thanks to the brothers and volunteers; a lovely room and a wonderful bath.”  I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Molly in her field
Molly in her field for the first time

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