Abbotsbury is 9 miles from Weymouth on the B3157, making it a very doable day trip.
This stunning walk takes you high above the coastline along the South Dorset Ridgeway. You will be rewarded tenfold for your effort as the views are spectacular with far-reaching sweeping views of Chesil Beach and the picturesque village Abbotsbury. At the pinnacle of the walk is the remains of Abbotsbury Castle – a Iron Age hillfort.
The Jurassic Bus Coastline X53 runs every two hours between Bridport and Weymouth and stops in Abbotsbury; if arriving by bus the walk can be started from the village.
- Start/Finish: Buller’s Way Carpark – DT3 4LA
- Distance: Approx 6 miles
- Terrain: Generally flat with one long climb, can be muddy
- Difficulty: Challenging
Dogs: Please remember to keep dogs on leads where there are farm animals
From the Buller’s Way car park entrance turn left to walk to the shingle bank of Chesil Beach, turning left again to follow the South West Coast Path behind it, in the direction signed to Abbotsbury. After a short walkover the shingle head to the left going inland along a grassy track.
Chesil Beach is a natural wonder – a huge bank of 180 billion pebbles stretching from the Isle of Portland for 18 miles along the Dorset Coast and it is part of England’s only natural World Heritage Site. The pebbles were created after the ice age. Larger pebbles are moved faster by waves than smaller ones and this has helped to give Chesil Beach the appearance that all the pebbles are sorted by size. The smallest pebbles are found at the western end, at West Bay, and the largest are found at Portland at the eastern end. It is said that smugglers and fishermen landing on the beach in fog or at night used to know exactly whereabouts they were by the size of the pebbles.
Turn right on the footpath signed to the Swannery, staying on the Coast Path alongside the right-hand hedge.
You will see a pillbox half covered by a weathered hedge.This part of the English coastline was earmarked by Hitler for his invasion plans which led to pillboxes being built in abundance along this route -if you have children with you why not see how many they can count on this walk.
Carry on across the next field to come out to the right of the trees in Chapel Coppice
The Swannery was established in the eleventh century by the monks of St Peter’s Abbey, who farmed the birds for their lavish banquets. It was used by the monks until 1539 when the monastery was dissolved by King Henry VIII. Today the colony can number over 600 swans with around 150 pairs, and it is the only place in the world where you can walk through a colony of nesting Mute Swans. It is popular with film-makers and was featured in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/swannery/
The Fleet, besides which the swannery sits, is the largest lagoon in Europe, and runs for about 13 km (8.1 mi) along the Dorset coast. It is brackish and tidal, but sheltered by Chesil Beach, and is a RAMSAR site of international importance and an Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Follow the Coast Path as it heads due north, away from the sea, and then when it doubles back on itself towards the Swannery, leave it, to carry on northwards, into Abbotsbury village.
There was a wooden church on the site of St Peter’s Abbey from around 410 AD. This church was destroyed by Saxon raiders and the area became a settlement for Saxon pirates with the Fleet providing a safe anchorage for their boats. Later, the Vikings raided and took control. Early in the eleventh century King Canute’s steward, Orc, founded a Benedictine monastery at St Peter’s Abbey, on the site of the old church, and Edward the Confessor granted him ownership of the seashore bordering the abbey grounds, and the rights to all ships wrecked off the coast. On their deaths, Orc and his wife Thola left their estate to the church, establishing Abbotsbury as a prosperous settlement.
The Black Death entered England in 1348 via Weymouth Port. It was not long before it reached Abbotsbury. The Abbot of Abbotsbury fell victim and, before his successor was appointed, the Vicar also died.
Good fortune befell Abbotsbury when Nichola de Montshore was granted the estate ‘by service of counting the King’s chessmen and putting them in a box when he had finished playing with them’. With the upturn in prosperity a lot of building took place, including the tithe barn and St Catherine’s Chapel.
The abbey suffered under Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. Overseeing the decommissioning of the abbey was Sir Giles Strangways, whose family had moved here from Yorkshire during the previous century. Four years later Sir Giles bought the abbey himself for £1906/10s, on condition that the building was demolished. Stone from the abbey was used in the construction of many buildings in the village. The tithe barn was left intact because of its usefulness, and St Catherine’s Chapel on the hill above was kept because it was a good landmark for seafarers. Today the Tithe barn is part of Abbotsbury Animal Farm – well worth a Visit if you have young ones with you – http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/childrens_farm/prices-opening-times/
Five hundred years later the family still owns the land: an estate of some 61 square kilometres (15,000 acres) covering Chesil Beach and Abbotsbury
During the English Civil War Abbotsbury was a Royalist stronghold In April 1643 the Strangeway’s family house was occupied by a detachment of Parliamentary troops. When Sir John’s wife, Grace, refused to co-operate, the house was ransacked. A year later a larger parliamentary force under Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper marched from Dorchester to rid the village of its royalist garrison which was then commanded by Sir John’s son, Colonel James Strangways. The parliamentarians stormed and took the church where some of the garrison had fled, then asked Strangways to surrender the house which he refused to do. A furious battle followed. Sir Ashley’s men burnt down the small gatehouse to reach the house then set fire to the entrance porch whilst keeping up a constant barrage of musket fire that forced the garrison to stay upstairs. A second parliamentary force used grenades, fireballs and scaling ladders to reach the 2nd floor window at the rear. They tossed in bundles of faggots, setting the entire house ablaze and forcing the garrison to surrender. The Roundheads began ransacking the house despite warnings that some barrels of powder might explode any minute. When the house blew up, 60 Parliamentarians went with it.
After the battle, Colonel James Strangways escaped to France but his father and elder brother, Giles were captured after the siege of Sherborne in 1645 and imprisoned in the Tower. Sir John was released 3 years later and Giles held to ransom until the family paid a £10,000 fine. The family’s total support for the crown cost them £35,000 (about 20 million in today’s money).
A hundred years later The London Journal claimed that “all the people of Abbotsbury, including the vicar, are thieves, smugglers and plunderers of wrecks” – this was a popular means of supplementing a livelihood of either farming or fishing.
By Chapel Lane Stores turn right along the main road in Abbotsbury and cross the road to take the next left, up Back Street. Turn left onto Blind Lane, signed to the Hillfort and the Hardy Monument, and follow the footpath uphill to the gate at the top.
Blind Lane is an old “hollow way”,, worn hollow by the passage of feet and hooves over thousands of years.
Fork left and take the right-hand path, climbing steeply uphill and then bear left onto the inland alternative route of the South West Coast Path, running along the South Dorset Ridgeway.
Ignoring the paths dropping to left and right as the path approaches the road, carry on ahead, crossing the minor road to ascend the ramparts of the Iron Age hillfort of Abbotsbury Castle.
The ramparts occupy a dominant position overlooking Chesil Beach and Portland but also have fine views in-land. There is evidence of occupation in the presence of circular hollows in the south-east area of the hill-fort which may have been platforms for circular huts but, although there have been various interpretations of the monument including the idea that some of the features in the south-west section which cut into the Iron Age ramparts may have been a Roman signal station, none has yet been proved by excavation and to date interpretation of the site is based on comparison and excavations of other hill-forts. Bronze Age burial mounds which pre-date the massive earthworks are still visible today.
Cross the main road and continue along the Coast Path a short distance, turning left on the path dropping directly downhill to Labour in Vain Farm.
Here the path turns left to travel behind East Bexington Farm, crossing the drive to carry on along the left-hand hedge downhill and then dropping straight down to the Coast Path on Burton Road.
Turn left on Burton Road to return to the car park.
The path signed to Buller’s Cliff, just before the car park, leads to all that remains of the summer residence built around 1765 by Elizabeth Strangways Horner, the first Countess of Ilchester. In 1808, Henry Stephen Fox-Strangways and his half-brother William enclosed the grounds and established an extensive collection of subtropical and Mediterranean plants. The gardens were expanded during the 1890s, and further work throughout the twentieth century culminated in the Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, now 20 acres of rare and exotic plants from all over the world and open to the public. http://abbotsbury-tourism.co.uk/gardens/