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Abbotsbury, Dorset - Home of the Swannery and Tropical Gardens

The coastline within Abbotsbury parish includes a section of Chesil Beach, an 18 mile barrier beach which is part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site.
Abbotsbury is known for its swannery, subtropical gardens and surviving abbey buildings, including St Catherine's Chapel, a 14th-century pilgrimage chapel that stands on a hill between the village and the coast.
Abbotsbury, Dorset

The visitor's first impression of Abbotsbury is of a picturesque, rural village nestled between a backdrop of rolling hills, however, there is far more to Abbotsbury than meets the eye!


To fully appreciate Abbotsbury's awe-inspiring setting it is best to approach the village from the west. If you have a car (it is a steep climb on foot!) pull off the road into one of the convenient lay-bys at the summit of Abbotsbury Hill to enjoy a quite spectacular panoramic view of the village and surrounding countryside.

The vista which stretches eastwards along the Chesil Bank to the Island of Portland is stunning. Down to your right, behind a screen of trees lie Abbotsbury Sub-Tropical Gardens and just beyond them the Fleet (the stretch of water between the Chesil Bank and the mainland) broadens out in a sheltered lagoon to form The Swannery. 

As the eye moves inland, the 14th Century St. Catherine's Chapel stands solitary upon a hill which dominates the village, its terraced slopes leading the eye downwards towards the church and village. 


The hills that range inland easterly and to the north of the village are known as the Ridgeway. This line of hills serves to protect Abbotsbury from the worst of the weather. In winter the hills are often shrouded in mists whilst Abbotsbury basks in unseasonable sunshine. Storms approaching from the Atlantic habitually break upon the Ridgeway leaving this coastal stretch with its sea-breezes virtually frost-free.


To the north-west of the village, almost seeming a continuation of the Ridgeway, lies the Iron Age fort or earthwork known as Abbotsbury Castle. The existence of this Celtic fortification quite possibly led to the development of a settlement which later evolved into Abbotsbury Village, the villagers being secure in the knowledge that they could always retreat to the safety of the fortifications if danger threatened.


Abbotsbury Castle is certainly worth a climb (stroll being an inappropriate word!) around the ramparts. If you cross over the road at this point and take the little turning marked "Ashley Chase " just up the road on the right-hand side, the hill fort lies upon the brow of Wears Hill to the left of that road. The double ramparts of Abbotsbury Castle enclose 4 acres although the total site extends to some 10 acres. The Castle is very unusual in that it is triangular in shape with the entrance on the north-east angle. Inside are the outlines of a group of circular huts once entered along narrow passages that face away from the prevailing south-west winds. The two mounds on the sea-ward side were probably look-out points.

Local Attractions

Abbotsbury Swannery

This is the only place in the world where you are able to walk through the heart of a colony of nesting Mute Swans. A visit to the Swannery is considered one of the best things to do in Dorset.

The Swannery was established by Benedictine Monks who built a monastery at Abbotsbury during the 1040′s. The monks farmed the swans to produce food for their lavish Dorset banquets. St Peter’s monastery was destroyed in 1539 during the dissolution. Some of the ruins are still visible around St Nicholas’ Church in the village. Since that time the Swannery has been under the stewardship of the Ilchester Estates.

Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset, near Lyme Holidays Cottages, has become one of the most popular things to do for the family visiting Dorset. Located on the dramatic Dorset Coast, this unique natural wildlife habitat is also popular with film makers and has been used as a location for Harry Potter filming.

So if you are looking for unusual things to do on holiday in Dorset, come to the Swannery and help hand feed 600 swans at 12.00 noon and 4.00pm daily, or get lost in the giant maze (the largest willow maze in Dorset), swing on the swinging nests play area, at the Kennels café or browse our quality gift shop. Parking is free!

Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens

Established in 1765 by the first Countess of Ilchester as a kitchen garden for her nearby castle. Developed since then into a magnificent 30 acre garden filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Many of these plants were first introductions to this country, discovered by the plant hunting descendants of the Countess.

After the great storm of 1990, a major restoration project has been underway. Many new exotic and unusual flowers have been introduced to this fabulous Dorset Garden.

The Garden is a mixture of formal and informal flowers, world famous for it’s Camellia groves and magnolias. Noted in Dorset for its Rhododendron and Hydrangea collections and the charming Victorian Garden.Facilities include the Colonial Restaurant, a quality gift shop and a fantastic plant centre where many of the flowers grown in the Garden can be purchased. 

Regular events take place at the Garden including the floodlighting of the Garden in October. Hallowe’en is a major feature during the floodlighting when thousands of visitors dress in Hallowe’en costumes and the Restaurant becomes a centre for Hallowe’en celebrations.

Don’t miss stunning views of the Dorset Jurassic Coast from the viewpoint at the top of the Magnolia Walk.

Abbotsbury Sub Tropical Gardens
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