Unexpected Treasures

Sometimes ambling without a plan can lead you to a place you never dreamed of. Abbotsbury is like that. The charm of the hillsides and the ocean below will take you by surprise. But then, as you begin to explore, you find there are so many things to see and admire. The village has been here since before it’s mention in the Domesday Book of 1086.


You find the Great Tithe Barn. It is the largest thatched building in the world and only about 1/2 of it remains. It is dated to the 1390s. It is now a children’s farm where you can interact with the animals.

Abbotsbury Tithe Barn by Anne Flint

Moving along, you find the ruins of the once great, powerful, and wealthy Abbey, which needed that big barn. Atop a hill is St. Catherine’s Chapel. The monk’s used it as a retreat and place of pilgrimage. The Sainte is patron of spinsters. Local tradition says that those desperate to find a husband prayed to her and said that, “Anyone is better than never a one.”

Below the village, along the coast, is Chesil Beach – the most amazing natural phenomenon of rolled pebbles that go down in size as you travel to the west.

Swan by Anne Flint

As you travel between the ancient cottages to the west you will find the Swannery. It is the only one in the world that is managed and contains between 500 and 700 swans. They are free to come and go, as they please, but choose to mate and raise their young in the sheltered salt water lagoon behind Chesil Bank. It was founded by the monks in the 11th Century. The reeds that grow here are still used for thatching.

Following the coast to the west is the Sub-Tropical Garden, founded in 1765. Beautiful, exotic plants can survive in the microclimate here. Believe it or not, they have palm trees.

In the 18th Century, the village had a terrible reputation. The London Journal reported, “All the people of Abbotsbury, including the Vicar, are thieves, smugglers and plunderers of wrecks.” Even as far back as 14th Century it was reported that the Abbot, “hath an abominable rule with keeping of women, not with one, two, or three, but with many more and, also keeps no religion.”

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