St Catherines Chapel with Chesil beach beyond
St Catherine’s Chapel with Chesil beach beyond. Photo: Mark Simons

This very old village, settled amongst the hills behind the great Chesil Bank, is one of Dorset’s finest, and has a history going back some 6,000 years. It has been influenced by man from the Neolithic Age and is overlooked by an Iron Age hill fort. High above the village on a lonely hill stands the 14th century St Catherine’s Chapel, built as a place of pilgrimage and retreat by the monks of the former Abbotsbury Abbey. From here there are superb views of Chesil Beach below.

Abbotsbury today features thatched cottages built from local stone, some dating from the 16th century, and has become world famous for its swannery. The bird sanctuary is 600 years old and home to over 600 flying swans. It is the only place in the world where you can literally walk among the breeding, nesting and hatching birds.

Nearby are Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, which were founded in 1765 and have developed into a 20-acre site filled with exotic plants. There are formal and informal gardens, woodland walks and walled gardens. Abbotsbury’s central position along Chesil Beach also makes it a great base to explore the rich wildlife of the Fleet lagoon.

Abbotsbury's famous swannery
Abbotsbury’s famous swannery. Photo: Mark Simons

Getting There

  • The Jurassic Coaster bus service runs through Abbotsbury.
  • The nearest railway station is at Weymouth, nine miles away.
  • By road, Abbotsbury is on the B3157 coastal road, halfway between Weymouth and Bridport.

Need to Know

Besides St Catherine’s Chapel, the only surviving building from Abbotsbury Abbey is the tithe barn. At 83 metres long by 9.5 metres wide, it is the largest thatched tithe barn in the world, and is now home to Abbotsbury Children’s Farm.