Abbotsbury is a charming village located towards the western end of Chesil Beach and The Fleet Lagoon Nature Reserve. It was once a small fishing village and was built on the site of a Benedictine Abbey founded in the 11th century. The village takes its name from the old abbey – all that remains of it today is the Great Abbey Barn. Important wildlife sites are plentiful in the area including The Fleet where swans feed on local plant life. Walks around Abbotsbury lead down to the great sweeping Chesil Beach. As you drive east from Bridport there are some spectacular views to be had of Chesil Beach and across to the Isle of Portland. Pull over into the lay-bay on Abbotsbury Hill for some fantastic pictures before heading on down into Abbotsbury village.
The 250 foot Great Abbey tithe barn was built to store the wool, grain and produce required by the abbey and is one of the largest and best preserved barns of this type in the country. It was originally 270 feet long and dates from around 1400. It now houses a children’s play area forming part of the wider Abbotsbury Children’s Farm. You can still see some of the ruins of the abbey in the grounds of St Nicholas’ Church. Abbotsbury is sheltered by the surrounding hills of the Ridgeway. North west of the village is the triangular Abbotsbury Castle Iron Age hillfort with two ramparts believed to have been built by the Durotriges Celtic tribe. There’s a nice circular walk from Abbotsbury that takes you up Wears Hill to the hillfort and then down to Chesil Beach.
Abbotsbury is most famous for its swannery. It was established by the Benedictine Monks to rear swans for grand banquets. Today it is run as a sanctuary for a huge flock of mute swans. If you want to time your visit to see the cygnets any time from mid-May to June is when they’ll be hatching, often near the paths within the swannery. The free flying flock here can number as many as 1000 swans, and there are twice daily feeding sessions where a few visitors are picked out to help. A gift shop and tearooms housed in a former Georgian kennels are also onsite. The swannery is environmentally friendly, using reed filtration beds to clean the waste water from the site. Abbotsbury Swannery has regularly featured on TV, including in the BBCs Springwatch series.
Abbotsbury Children’s Farm is excellent for a fun packed day out for all the family. The farm has a range of attractions including a fantastic children’s play area in the ancient tithe barn along with a mock-up of a 1775 invasion by smugglers and villagers. Outside there are aviaries and pens where you can get up close to ponies, donkeys and other farmyard animals. One of the highlights is the goat racing. After races children can feed the goats or take them for a walk. The Children’s Farm also organise events in conjunction with other Abbotsbury attractions through the year.
Sub Tropical Gardens
The Gardens were established by the first Countess of Ilchester in 1765 as a kitchen garden for the castle. It has since grown into a twenty acre garden full of rare and exotic plants from all over the world. It’s particularly noted for its camellia groves and magnolias, rhododendron and hydrangea. The gardens have undergone restoration over the years and now contains both formal and informal garden areas as well as walled garden walks with wooded valley views. A viewpoint within the gardens also overlooks the coast. You can buy plants, garden related goods and gifts in the shop on the site.