Abbotsbury:swanning around the Dorset coast
Abbotsbury lies some 40 miles south west of Poole and will take you about an hour to get there by car.
On entering the village you will reach s sharp right hand bend.Turn left here, the route to the swannery is signposted. You will pass a children's farm which, as I did not have the nephews with me on the day of my visit, I entered not.
Go past here for about half a mile and you will reach the swannery.There is ample parking and just a short walk to the ticket office.I recommend you purchase a "passport" ticket which for £15 will get you in the Swannery the sub tropical gardens and the children's farm cheaper than buying three individual tickets.
Once through the ticket office it's a 200 metre walk past some very tame sheep to the entrance proper.There is a small thatched building on the left as you go in which gives you some history of the place.
A monastery was established here in the 11th century .The monks found that the local habitat was attractive to swans for breeding and feeding,so they were kept for their meat.
After the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII ,the King sold the land to the Strangways family who retain ownership to this day.
A further short walk brings you down the lagoon which is created by the presence of Chesil Beach on the ocean side.The area has an abundance of reed suitable for nest building.As well there is freshwater present,for whilst the adult swans can drink salt water the signets must have freshwater.
The swans are use to humans being around so you can get quite close,but don't get too close or they might bite.Best time to go is noon or 4pm when feeding takes place.Watch as up to 600 swans gather round with a few ducks gate crashing the event too.
Swan shed many feathers which have numerous uses: as quills,for example LLoyds of London enter the names of sunken ships in their Doom Book using a quill.They are also used in the head dress of the Queen's bodyguard,the Gentlemen at Arms.
After feeding time is over head back to the cafe near the ticket office.This sells the excellent Marshfield Farm Organic Ice Cream,no gluten, no eggs, love it.
Heading back into the village,follow the road towards Bridport and look out for a sign for the subtropical gardens on the left.About 500 metres down this road is the garden started by the First Countess of Ilchester and has developed into a 20 acre site.
Use the passport ticket your bought at the Swannery to get in.I recommend you turn left just passed to huge wing nut tree and follow the path through an archway.This side of the garden is much more interesting than the other.It has several ponds that are just brimming with fish and beautiful lilies.Part of the gardens has been given over to sculptures by both local and national artists.The art can be bought if you feel so inclined.
There is the usual gift shop and restaurant once your tour is complete.
Heading back into Abbotsbury I can't help but notice the number of arts and crafts shops.Please check the Dansel Gallery which is on the right as you come into the village.Here the work of many woodworkers are on display.In particular there are some fantastic clocks for sale.For games look out for the solitaire and cribbage boards.If you want to sit down they now serve coffee.
As you go out of the village on the left be sure to visit the Richard Wilson Pottery.As well as making pieces he offers pottery course throughout the year.
Finally I recommend the Swan(of course) Inn on the left as you enter the village.It has a large garden for eating out but best of all it serves Theakstons beer,is there another beer finer?Well possibly Timothy Taylors.
Having had your thirst quenched, head up the hill to the very obvious St Catherine's Chapel.It's height gives good views of both the village and Chesil beach.The Chapel was built around 1400 as a pilgrim chapel for Abbotsbury Chapel.Inside there are no pews or alter,though informal services are held at various times throughout the year.Bit of a climb even for the most faithful methinks.
A village well worth a visit.
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