Author Archives: scribblenpaint

To ‘The Monk’s Hood’ Tavern

I arrived at Thomas’ stables with forty minutes to spare. I had to knock on Thomas’ door and he came out looking rather bemused.
‘Can I hire Maria again, please?’
‘What, now!?’
‘Yes, please. I have to be at The Monk’s Hood Tavern by twelve, and I have no idea how to get there.’
‘I’d best get ‘er sorted then!’ He went into the stable and came out ten minutes later with Maria all saddled and kitted-out.
‘Where the ‘ell are yer goin’ at this time o’ night?’
‘I’m joining a group trekking to the Grotto of the Enchantress. It was a last minute decision, which is why I didn’t get here sooner. The instructions were very clear about being there before twelve. Thank you so much for accommodating me at such short notice.’
‘Well, there’s nowt s’ funny as folk, an’ that’s for sure. ‘Ow long yer gonna need ‘er for?’
‘I honestly have no idea. Is that a problem?’
‘Nay, lass. Yer looked after ‘er proper last time yer ‘ired ‘er. We’ll settle up when yer get back.’
‘Thank you so much. Now, can you tell me how to get to The Monk’s Hood Tavern?’
‘Yer’ve not far t’ go. Down to the end o’ the street and turn right. Tek the second turnin’ on the left an’ yer can’t miss it.’ I left him shaking his head and muttering to himself.

I followed his directions and easily found the tavern with ten minutes to spare. Maria, bless her, only seems to have one pace, but it was fast enough. There was quite a group gathered for the trek.

Back to Lenore

Oh, my ears and granny whiskers! The ship will be leaving port again soon to continue on the next part of the cruise. Rather than lounge about onboard I’ve decided to join a group heading for the Grotto of the Enchantress, on Lenore. I have to be there when the clock strikes twelve – which is exactly an hour and fifteen minutes away.

I will throw a few basics into my backpack and then walnut-shell it to Thomas’ Donkey Hire establishment and see if I can hire Maria again. We got on famously the last time. She may be ready for another adventure; I know I am.

If I don’t make it before the clock strikes twelve, I wonder if I’ll turn into a pumpkin? Anything’s possible on this journey.

scribblenpaint

Farewell to Lenore

What a glorious last morning I spent on Lenore. I was up before dawn and made my way to the top of the promontory to greet the sun. As the sky lightened it was bedecked in swathes of orange and cerise, like Indian saris drying in the breeze. I sat and made a list of the things I wished to do before I left.

1. Thank the Abbess and the nuns for their kindness.
2. Buy two bottles of the Liquid Velvet liqueur so that I can enjoy little tipple from time to time. I’m not a drinker, but a tiny drop of the liqueur is most uplifting.
3. Have a last look at the Abbey’s artworks.
4. Collect a few blooms from the Abbey garden and press them in my book.
5. Send postcards to my friends and family.
6. Carefully pack my bag – I will carry my little ‘art’ basket in my hand as I’ve decided to travel by walnut shell. Very handy for getting back from places, but to use it on the outward journey would entail being able to visualize your destination. Not always possible.

I wandered back to the Abbey and showered and dressed, and then went down to breakfast. All the gang was there. Brenda and her cohorts were planning a big day which involved donkeys and donkey carts. I had eggs, bacon, mushrooms, tomatoes and two slices of toast and butter. Once again it struck me how flavoursome all the food was. I had two cups of tea and then headed to the Abbey shop.

I purchased two bottles of Liquid Velvet and bought some postcards and stamps. I also bought a jar of ‘Ecclesiastical Honey’ – good for eating and for medicinal purposes. I sat in the huge entrance hall and wrote my cards. The nun in charge of the shop showed me where I could post them in a small postbox, which was emptied daily. I also wrote out a ‘Thank You’ card, addressed it to the Abbess and left it on the hall stand.

Next I wandered out to the garden again and selected six flowers to press as keepsakes – a red salvia, a marigold, a white petunia, a small pink rose and a yellow snapdragon. The snapdragon made me smile. It brought back childhood memories of ‘talking’ snapdragons. I took the flowers back to my room; arranged them carefully between pieces of toilet tissue and placed them in my book. I then had to bind it tightly. Not the best method for pressing flowers, but it seemed to work when we were kids. It was only a temporary measure, anyway. I would find something hefty to squash them when I got back to the ship.

I carefully packed my bag, then stripped off my bedding and folded it ready for laundering, and I was ready for off. A last look at the artworks first though.

I visited the Lady Chapel to view both the stained-glass windows and the stunningly beautiful, embroidered altar piece. What hours of work must have gone into that. Lots of couched gold thread employed. Very rich and heavy. I also looked at all the tapestry hassocks, and saw that the inspiration for them had come from the garden. Every flower you could think of was represented.

I wandered along the corridors where oil paintings of church dignitaries and also beautiful landscapes of the island, were displayed. I finished my tour in the Library, where several, centuries-old illuminated manuscripts were displayed in glass cases. I imagined all the time and patience needed to create these – and the concentration! You wouldn’t want to do all that and then make a mistake at the end, and have to start again.

It was about 11.30 am by the time I got back to my room. I grabbed my bag and the tiny basket; checked I had my transport in my pocket, and went downstairs to hand in my key.

I shouted a ‘Cheerio!’ to friends who were gathering for lunch and headed out to the courtyard. This was going to be tricky – only two hands and three things to hold. I gripped my walnut shell tightly and hooked my arm through my bag handle and cradled the basket in my other hand. I closed my eyes and visualized my cabin on the Vulcania – whooooosh, thump! I was there!

It was nice to be back onboard the ship and I certainly appreciated the little luxuries after the austere atmosphere of the Abbey. Time to have some lunch and study the noticeboard to see what entertainments were available.

Sue (scribblenpaint)

A Donkey to the Lighthouse

On Thursday I had decided to venture to the far end of the island, and was advised to use some transport as the terrain was not the best for hiking.  I was given the name of a donkey wrangler in Gilead whose animals were reliable and gentle.

I loaded up my backpack with food and water and made sure I had my walnut shell.  I was unsure whether this would be of any use with a donkey.  I didn’t want to teleport myself and leave a donkey off in the sticks.  There might be a huge fine for that.  I didn’t know if the teleporting would include the donkey or not, but it wouldn’t hurt to take the shell with me anyway. I also packed a couple of apples and carrots as a treat for the animal, and set off for Gilead.

The donkey-man’s name was Thomas, and he brought out a pretty, little, light-grey donkey named Maria.  Seeing the look of consternation on my face, he assured me that she would carry me quite easily.  I’m no lightweight! Did I detect a look of panic in the beast’s eye??  I apologised profusely to Maria, and Thomas helped me aboard.  He threw a couple of panniers over her rump, containing feed and water; showed me how to steer, and I was on my way.

I must say that when I settled down and accepted that we were not going to travel at the speed of light, I quite enjoyed it.  I kept up a running commentary on the sights, sounds and smells for Maria, and I think we appreciated each other’s company.  She was very biddable and there was no power-struggle, making the journey very soothing.

We passed through several small settlements on our trip, and were greeted at each by groups of small children and an assortment of animals.  I didn’t have anything in mind but being able to say I’d seen the lighthouse at the westernmost point of the island.  Everything else – the people, the scenery, the sounds and the smells – was a bonus.  I was soaking it all up.  I sang a couple of songs about ‘Maria’, which made the donkey’s ears twitch and me giggle.  I don’t know if it was her name or my singing that caused the twitch.

We stopped in the late morning for something to eat and drink and I gave my trusty steed one of the apples and carrots, which she seemed to relish.  We rested for a while, so that the feeling could return to my nether regions, and then had to find a rock for me to climb onto to get back in the saddle.

We arrived at the lighthouse about an hour later and were welcomed by the keeper and his wife – Mr and Mrs Weatherspoon (Dave and Phyllis).  They invited me in for tea and sandwiches, so I tied Maria up in the shade of a tree and gave her feed and water, and went inside.

The cottage was built on the leeward side of the lighthouse to shelter it from the worst of the winter storms, and was delightfully cozy.  The furniture was of a simple design, but beautifully crafted from a light coloured, close-grained wood.  There were small carvings of flowers in the backs of the chairs.  ‘What beautiful furniture!’ I said.
‘My Dave made all this for me as a wedding gift. Almost thirty years ago, now.’
‘Aye, and’ Phyllis made all the cushions, too. And the rugs and the curtains.’ I could see that they were both immensely proud of each other, and with good cause.  Phyllis served sourdough bread with goat’s cheese and chutney – all homemade, Dave informed me – and we had a large pot of tea between us. Dave gave me instructions on the finer points of lighthouse keeping, and Phyllis advised me on goat herding and cheese making. I told them of my adventures onboard the ship and we all spent a very pleasant couple of hours together. Not many people venture out to the lighthouse, so company is always welcome.

I had a good ride in front of me, to get back to Gilead, so I climbed aboard Maria once more and thanked my hosts for a pleasant visit, and for their hospitality, and set off on my return journey. The same groups of children clapped and cheered when we reappeared in their villages. We had another small stop with the basket weavers, so that Maria could have a drink, and arrived back in Gilead at dusk. I’m sure Maria was looking forward to a good rest – I know I was.

There was no way I was going to get back to the Abbey for the evening meal, so I went to the little café that Woody and I had visited on our first night on the island. I had poached eggs on toast and a cup of their delicious coffee.

I took a very sedate stroll home – I was sure I had saddle-sores, and intended to soak in the bath for some time before retiring for the night.  I had been soaking for a few minutes before I remembered I could have saved myself the walk home by using my walnut shell.  I’m not too bright some days!

(Sue – a.k.a. Beryl scribblenpaint’s sabbatical)

Hamlets and Crafts

To the south the land slopes gently towards the sea, and is lightly wooded, with the occasional meadow clearing scattered with wild flowers – cowslips, primroses and a patch or two of tiny wild strawberries, sweet as honey.

Gilead is the town and the main trading centre, but there are several small hamlets dotted about the island too.  Each hamlet seems to be connected to a particular craft, and the crafts seem to be family concerns with the skills being passed from one generation to the next.

One of these I found by literally following my nose!  The scent of lavender and rose was on the air and it was my intention to pick flowers.  Instead, I happened upon a soap-making enterprise.  The perfume was coming from two large vats which were being stirred by two older women.  Younger women were shaking the set bars of soap from their moulds, and the children were wrapping the bars, in threes, in brightly coloured cotton squares.  They were secured with a blob of shiny, black wax and imprinted with a celtic knot – the family’s sigil.  The work was accompanied by chatter and laughter, and they were happy to show me how the soap was made.  One of the children took me to where there were boxes packed ready for the market and I bought a pack each of Lime Blossom, Rose Geranium and Sandalwood.

I hadn’t really intended to buy anything on my outing and the weight of the soap, although not very heavy, was added to the weight of my lunch and drink bottle.  I hadn’t gone very far beyond the village before I decided to lighten the load by eating my lunch and having a drink.  I hid the soaps in the fork of a tree where I could pick them up on the way back, and headed towards the beach for a paddle in the sea.

I collected one or two pretty shells and put them in my pocket – little mementoes of my visit.  Rounding a small headland I came across another track and decided to see where it went.  Another small hamlet of six cottages.  These were the basket weavers.  I had noticed the nuns using beautiful baskets for a variety of things.  This village must be where they came from.  Men and women were sitting companionably in a circle, engaged in their craft.  Dried rushes, willow canes and hazel wands were heaped inside the circle.  The men appeared to be making the utilitarian baskets, while the women were making smaller, more decorative ‘art’ baskets.  These were made from fine twigs and grasses and had small, brightly coloured bird feathers and beads woven into them.  Some looked very much like birds’ nests and were quite delicate.  I was amazed at how quickly they could produce a basket.  Their fingers were very nimble and also quite calloused.  They invited me to join them and try my hand at a small basket.  My attempts caused a great deal of good-natured merriment all round.  I ended up with something that looked as if it had been walked on, but it was a colourful disaster with the beads and the feathers.  I purchased a tiny ‘art’ basket woven with feathers of aqua and blue.  It sat neatly in the palm of my hand and weighed almost nothing. 

One of the men was loading a couple of donkeys with baskets for the marketplace and asked me if I would like to accompany him part of the way. He put my backpack onto one of the donkeys and we set off towards Gilead. I explained that I’d left my soaps in a tree and gave him a rough idea of where, and he pointed me down the right track when we got close.

I was quite tired by the time I reached the tree so I sat a while to get my strength back.  When I put the soaps into my bag I felt the walnut shell against my knuckles.  I’d heard some of the others talking about its teleporting abilities but had no idea how to operate it.  It didn’t come with a manual.  I re-examined the tiny items it enclosed but couldn’t make a connection.  I decided to hold it firmly in my hand and visualize where I wanted to be.  It worked, but it was the weirdest sensation.  I felt as if my stomach had fallen through the floor. There was a whooshing, whistling sound and again the lurch of the stomach as I stopped, but I was exactly where I had imagined I would be – back in my room at the abbey.  I can see me making interesting use of this in the future.

Hermitage Cells on Lenore

The last week has been spent in semi-solitude.  I have been roaming the island at will, only coming into contact with the other guests at breakfast and the evening meal.  Each day I have wandered in a different direction and have covered quite a bit of the island.

To the north of the abbey, where the rocks rise up almost vertically from the sea, I discovered hermitage cells carved into the rocks.  I don’t have a head for heights, so I only ventured as far as the topmost one.  I was not aware that the cells were there, but a paved path led gently down from the cliff-top and I dared myself to see where it went.  I was very careful to keep my eyes on the rock face and not look down while I negotiated the pathway.  There was a thick, rope handrail attached to the rock, to which I clung with both hands.  It was only a distance of a few yards, but I was sweating and weak-kneed by the time I reached the cell, and I had to sit down for a good ten minutes before attempting the return trip. The view out over the ocean was magnificent, and the cave was deep enough that I couldn’t see down, so I quite enjoyed it.

There was a metal plaque on the wall of the cell:

These cells, although no longer in use, were occupied at
various times by members of the order serving a self-imposed
penance of solitude and reflection. A single meal for each
penitent was delivered daily at sunset and left, with a pitcher
of pure spring water, at the top of the pathway.
Some penitents spent a few days here; others months and, one or
two, years.

I studied the tiny cave I was in. A slightly raised slab of stone was obviously the bed and there were three niches in the back wall and a kind of shelf hewn into the rock. A small crucifix made from a couple of pieces of bleached driftwood, and bound together with hair, hung in the centre niche. The others possibly held candles or maybe some ceremonial items. Very, very basic. I wondered if the occupants of the cell found the experience uplifting or depressing, and if that was part of the penance? Did they write or pursue some other craft during their stay? I really can’t imagine it.

I sat on the ‘bed’ until my knees regained some substance and then climbed back up the pathway, clinging to the rope and keeping my eyes firmly closed. At the top I sat down again and congratulated myself on conquering my fear long enough to see the cell. I’m still afraid of heights and feel quite sick at the thoughts of walking along that path.  I suppose it was really quite stupid of me.  I was alone.  What if I froze and couldn’t get back up to the top?  No-one knew where I had gone.  At my age you’d think I’d have more sense!  Proving once again that age and wisdom don’t necessarily go hand in hand.  Sometimes age travels alone!

Sue (aka Beryl)

Early Morning

It’s 5.30 am and I’m heading down to the garden.  This is my favourite time of the day – just me and the dawn chorus.  No people; no extraneous noise.  Peace and tranquility.

The gardens are beautiful.  Not regimented like the gardens of large buildings usually are, but rambling and cottage-like, and are obviously very well tended.  There are little grottos made of stone dotted about, and some delightful statuary, and not all of it religious in nature either.  There is a beautiful bronze mermaid laying languorously on a large rock, with her fingertips in the fishpond.  The fishpond is only small, and is home to a few goldfish and a frog or two.  It is surrounded by a variety of ferns.

Through a very ornate iron gate is the abbey’s walled kitchen garden.  Every variety of vegetable and herb is here, and all grown on sustainable, permaculture principles.  Every inch is used.  There are compost bins in one corner and I can hear the steady buzz of a beehive somewhere.  Espalier fruit trees – apples, pears and stone fruits – stretch their limbs across the faces of the walls.  This all accounts for the delicious flavour and quality of the meals served to us.

I’ve wandered around, sniffing the flowers and herbs and I’ve made myself a small posey to put in a glass in my room.

I can hear movement now, so I will go and wash and make my way to the refectory for breakfast.  I have no idea what the day will hold; I’m not sure if activities are organised or if you can wander at will, but I can ask someone.

Ah, there’s Woody and Sal, coming down the stairs.  ‘Morning, you two.  I’ll join you in the refectory in a few minutes.  I just have to have a wash.’
‘Did your bed soften up after you got in it?’ said Woody.
‘Yes, I had a wonderful night’s sleep.’
‘Well, we’ve discovered another bit of magic. We were having a wash in that ice-cold bathroom, and I said ‘I wish this were warm water’, and, just like that, it was!’
‘Oooh, thanks for telling me. I’ll be down in about five minutes.’ And I headed towards the bathroom. I think I might risk a bath after breakfast if I can have warm water.

Refectory Dinner & Tim Tam Straws

I left my room a few minutes before seven and, just outside my door bumped into Woody, a friend from the ship.  ‘I didn’t see you on the ferry,’ I said.
‘I was in the wheelhouse, chatting to Ishmael, and I didn’t get off until after the first carts had left. We have a friend in common and were having a good old natter.’
‘How’s your room?’
‘Cosy, seems an appropriate word.’ she said, ‘ Have you tried your bed?’
‘Mmm.’ I replied, ‘I don’t think I’ll be able to get out of it in the morning and if I do, I will be walking around like Quasimodo until at least lunchtime. My days of being able to sleep anywhere are long gone.’
‘I know, I like a soft mattress too. Maybe we’ll be able to get an overlay or something.’
‘Perhaps there’s a pea hidden underneath, to see if we are really princesses,’ I said, grinning.
‘I know this abbey’s order advocates austerity, but I didn’t think it would apply to the guests,’ said Woody, ‘We’ll probably get gruel for dinner!’ We got the giggles going down the stairs, but managed to get ourselves under control before entering the refectory.

On the right, as we entered the doors, was a wall of the most magnificent stained glass windows I’ve ever seen. They must have been about eighteen feet tall and were set off in all their glory by the setting sun. On the wall opposite were portraits of past Abbesses dating from about the mid fifteen-hundreds to the present day. The vaulted ceiling was high and made of stone, with gargoyles featured on the tops of the pillars. Along the short end wall opposite the door, was a huge and old wooden crucifix, and beneath it a long table spread with a white damask cloth and laden with a variety of foods and bottles of wine.

Several of the guests were already seated at the tables, and we joined them. All the nuns were seated together on one, very long table.  At 7.00 pm on the dot, the doors were closed and bolted. (Mental note) Tardiness for meals is obviously discouraged. The Abbess stood in front of the food table and asked us all to join hands for the benediction, which we did. Thanks were offered up in Latin, which is not in my repertoire, so I just waited and joined in with the ‘Amen’.

‘We would like to welcome you as our guests.’ she said, ‘While we observe vows of poverty and austerity, our guests are not expected to do the same. Please, help yourselves from the buffet. We take our meals in silence, and would ask you to respect this. We hope you will enjoy your stay and take advantage of all the island has to offer.’  Woody and I were elbowing each other like kids at school camp. ‘Please, don’t make me laugh,’ I whispered, and decided to avoid eye contact until the meal was over.

The fare was delicious and far from the gruel we were expecting. There were tender, spring lamb chops, steaks and shepherd’s pie and a wonderful range of vegetables. The bread and the wine were products of the abbey, and there was a bottle of the famous abbey liqueur Liquid Velvet for us to taste after the meal. Apparently it’s made from roses, blueberries, mead and spices and has been made by the abbey for four centuries. I was so hungry I was really looking forward to the meal until I glanced over at the nuns and saw that they each had a bowl of thin soup and a roll. This took the edge right off my appetite, and I just chose a couple of chops and a few veggies.
The wine was excellent – very smooth and fruity. When everyone had finished eating, the nuns served each of us a tiny glass of the liqueur. Oh, it was ambrosia! I’m definitely taking a few bottles of that back to the ship.

We approached the Abbess with our concerns about the firmness of the mattresses, but she told us not to worry, all would be well, and that we would sleep soundly. We left the refectory and looked at one another with raised eyebrows, saying nothing.  On the way back to our rooms, I asked Woody if she fancied a wander into the town of Gilead, which was situated a couple of miles inland from the abbey.  ‘Sounds like fun,’ she said, so we grabbed a couple of cardigans in case it turned chilly later.

The roadway meandered through the woods and down to a sheltered hollow containing the town.  No motorised vehicles are allowed on the island, but we saw a few bicycles and donkeys.  There were also several people on foot.  It was twilight by the time we reached the town and lights were beginning to appear.  We wandered around the streets and gazed into shop windows.  Lenore is noted for its artisans and there were some beautiful items on display.  The shops were all closed, of course, so we decided to shop for souvenirs the next day.

The strains of cheerful music and laughter wafted towards us on the gentle breeze, so we went to find where it was coming from.  It was a small cafe on the edge of the town square.  Obviously a popular place, as it was quite crowded.  We waited for a table and then sat down and ordered coffee.  ‘Do you have Tim Tams?’ I asked. ‘My friend here has never experienced the delights of Tim Tams.’
‘Certainly, ladies. Coffee and Tim Tams it is,’ and he returned a few minutes later with our coffees and half a dozen of the delicious biscuits.
‘Now, Woody, I am going to teach you the fine art of Tim Tam straws.’
I showed her how to bite of diagonally opposing corners of the chocolate covered biscuit and then suck her coffee through it. Oooh, decadence!! The hot coffee melts all the inside of the biscuit and makes it all soft; but you can only do two or three. Any more than that and you would be sick.

Woody was delighted to have mastered the art, and we sat laughing over the mess the warm chocolate made. We sat and talked for an hour about our various experiences on the cruise, and then took a leisurely walk back to the abbey.

I think I’m going to have to check out if there’s anything in my magic walnut shell that can have some influence on that mattress.

*Postscript – Having found nothing appropriate in the walnut shell, and having no other option, I lay down on the bed.  As I lifted up my feet and pulled them onto the mattress it suddenly became soft.  Yet another amazing happening.  That must have been what the Abbess meant when we spoke to her.  I hoped Woody’s was nice and comfortable, too.

To Lenore, Ishmael, and Don’t Spare the Horsepower!

I packed my little wheelie bag with a few essentials – toiletries, a few changes of casual clothes, hat, shoes and art materials – and went to catch the ferry. It was a boat about 18 metres long and painted a beautiful turquoise and white. It was called ‘The Lady Lenore’. I was quite surprised at how few people were making the trip, but I suppose it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I didn’t see any men at all waiting to board.

We were welcomed aboard by the captain, who was also the ticket collector. A  jolly, bearded fellow by the name of Ishmael. He had a ruddy complexion and eyes with the creases around them that bright sunlight will cause. In fact, he looked just how you’d imagine a seafarer to look, from his captain’s hat right down to his rubber boots.

When we were all seated, he told us that the trip to Lenore would take about an hour, depending on the wind and the current. He then gave us the safety talk and told us where the lifejackets were and what to do in an emergency. Then he cranked up the engine and we were off.

When we got out of the harbour there was a gentle swell, which caused the boat to roll somewhat. Two or three of the ladies paled considerably and were looking a little nauseous. The captain suggested that anyone feeling seasick should sit where they could see the island and keep their eyes on it. They all got up and went to the seats in front of the wheelhouse, but it didn’t work for all of them as I could hear the sound of vomiting, and was glad I couldn’t see it.

As we got nearer to the island, and our angle of approach changed, I could see the abbey perched high on a rocky promontory. It looked very old and weathered. I was going to enjoy my stay. It’s not often you get the opportunity to stay in such a place.

We pulled into a small circular harbour, built from local stone at the base of the abbey rocks. Ishmael wished us a pleasant stay and reminded us that the ferry only ran twice a week on Wednesdays and Fridays, and left at 10.00 am for White Owl Island on those two days.  We thanked him and wandered towards a cottage with the sign ‘Visitors Registration’.

Inside was a reception desk and a waiting area with chairs. The desk was unattended so we sat and waited. A few minutes later an elderly nun hurried in, all apologies and fluster. She got us all to sign the visitors book and gave each of us a weighty, numbered key to a cell. ‘The transport will be here in a moment,’ she said. I treated this as very good news. I’d already decided that if I had to hike up to the abbey dragging my bag, I’d give it a miss. I have learned the hard way that my body will not allow me to do many of the things that my ageless mind thinks I can.

Donkey carts lined up outside – room for two people and baggage. There were no drivers! We were assured that the donkeys knew the way and would deliver us safely to the abbey. It felt very strange just sitting there with a donkey in charge; but when you think about it, there are donkeys in charge of many aspects of life!

We pulled into the cobblestoned abbey forecourt where we were greeted by the Abbess. She welcomed us and showed us to our cells.  Spartan is the word that sprung immediately to mind. The room was tiny –  hence the name cell, I suppose. There was a single bed, a small chest of drawers and a bedside table and lamp. I dropped my bag on the bed and emptied the contents into the drawers. I then sat on the bed. It had about as much give as a slab of concrete. ‘This is going to be agony,’ I thought, ‘Payback for wanting to be a nun!’

We’d been given a little, laminated plan of the abbey and asked to be in the Refectory for dinner at 7.00 pm sharp. I went in search of the communal bathroom to freshen up. This was also an eye-opener. There were two toilet cubicles with toilets circa 1100 A.D.; a stone trough with two taps – cold and cold; and, behind a half-wall, there was a bath-sized stone trough and tap – again, cold water. ‘This should sort the men from the boys,’ I thought, and wondered how long I could go without using these facilities before I stunk. I like ‘hot’ to wash in! All part of life’s rich tapestry I supposed, and was beginning to wonder how basic the food would be?  None of this was mentioned in the brochure.  ‘Oh, well.  Today is Wednesday, I always have the option of the Friday ferry.’