A COUNTY minister will take unpaid leave through the summer – to establish a spiritual retreat house in France.

The Rev Joanne Evans-Boiten, minister at Athelstaneford, linked with Whitekirk and Tyninghame, will swap her home at Athelstaneford Manse for Montcuq, in the south-west of France, at the end of June.

The minister, who was appointed in August 2009, will then return to East Lothian at the end of September.

She said: “The retreat house is a spiritual retreat house.

"It is a place where people can come to stay for a few days or a week to reflect, to spend time with God, as it were. They can walk around and read and have some quiet time on their own.”

The house is on the pilgrim route from le Puy en Velay, south-west of St Etienne, to Compostela, on the north-western tip of Spain.

The minister, 58, will take unpaid leave while she is in France from June 27 to September 27.

She added: “It has been something I have been keen to do for a long while.

“I thought I could wait until I’m retired [to establish the house] but I came to the conclusion, when I sadly lost several of my close friends, that I could maybe start now.”

The 58-year-old replaced the Rev Kenneth Walker, who retired from his post after 32 years in the role, which had made him the longest-serving minister in East Lothian, at the helm of the three parishes.

Born in the Netherlands, she has become a popular figure in the county, having helped re-establish the popular pilgrimage walk from Haddington to Whitekirk.

She told the Courier the retreat house was unlikely to be up and running until the summer of 2018, with plans to go across this summer in a bid to start getting things in place for it opening.

She will be on leave for three months, with a review in autumn.

Mrs Evans-Boiten will be joined on the trip to France by husband Ian.

She added: “I am very lucky with my congregations and my parishes.

“I knew East Lothian when we used to live in Edinburgh.

“We had family trips to East Lothian – that was what we did on a Sunday.”

While Mrs Evans-Boiten is in France, Dr Robin Hill, minister of Gladsmuir linked with Longniddry, will serve as interim moderator during her absence.

The Very Rev Dr John Cairns will serve as locum during the same period.