Abbotsbury, Dorset

Abbotsbury village is situated in West Dorset, 10 miles north-west of Weymouth. It is known for its swannery, subtropical gardens, Abbey and abbey barn, castle and the nearby Chesil Beach

You walk through the village en route from Chesil Beach to the Dorset Ridgway as part of the Dorset Jurassic Coastal Path and Ridgway Independent walking holiday

Just over a mile outside the village at the top of the limestone hill is a triangular hill fort, Abbotsbury Castle.

In the 11th century King Canute rewarded the services of Orca, his steward, with land in Abbotsbury. There may have already been a religious community in Abbotsbury, and Orca and his wealthy wife Tola built an Abbey. The Abbey dominated life in Abbotsbury for 500 years, becoming a local centre of power, controlling 8 manor houses and villages. During the 14th century the Black Death killed the abbot and many of the villagers. In 1538 Henry VIII dissolved the Monasteries and Abbotsbury Abbey was ruined as a condition of its sale so that its stone could be reused. The Great Barn, which at 272 ft by 31 ft is the largest thatched building in the world, and St Catherine’s Chapel were spared. The 14th century chapel may have served as a beacon for sailors, warning of the nearby Isle of Portland. Both are Scheduled Ancient Monuments.

Until the dissolution, Abbotsbury would have been one of the most important villages in the county.

In 1664, during the Civil War, Cavaliers besieged the Roundheads in the church tower of St Nicholas Church, which still bears the marks of musket fire.

The bird sanctuary at Abbotsbury is over 600 years old, and is located on The Fleet, a natural haven for birds. Chesil Beach protects the Fleet and land behind it from storms, erosion and coastal flooding. There is a large colony of Mute Swans at the sanctuary, which is managed but open to the public. The site is an important nesting and breeding ground for the swans. Abbotsbury Swannery is the only managed colony of nesting mute swans in the world. The colony can number over 600 swans with around 150 pairs. Written records of the swannery’s existence go back to 1393 but it probably existed well before that.

From mid May to late June hundreds of fluffy cygnets hatch from eggs in nests on or near the pathways. Visitors can help hand feed 600 swans at 12.00 noon and 4.00pm daily and photograph cygnets cracking out of their eggs.  Abbotsbury Swannery is open all week from 17th March to 4th November, 10.00am to 5.00/6.00pm.

The sub-tropical gardens at Abbotsbury were founded in 1765 by the Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for the nearby castle. The gardens have developed into a 20 acre site filled with exotic plants, many of which were newly-discovered species when they were first introduced. There are formal and informal gardens, with woodland walks and walled gardens. In 1990 violent storms damaged many of the rare specimens, which have since been replaced by younger plants. The Garden in Abbotsbury is world famous for its Camellia groves and magnolias and noted for its Rhododendron and Hydrangea collections and the charming Victorian Garden. The gardens are open every day except 22nd December to 1st January inclusive, 10am to 5/6pm or 4pm during the winter.


Abbotsbury St Catherine's Chapel

St Catherine's Chapel

Swannery abbotsbury cygnets dorset

Swans and cygnets at the swannery at Abbotsbury

sub tropical gardens abbotsbury

Sub-tropical gardens at Abbotsbury