Abbotsbury is a long village of yellow-stone, thatched or slated cottages, set in a sheltered green valley close to the Dorset coast. Less than a mile away is the northern end of Chesil Beach, a massive shingle spit, piled up over the centuries by strong tides and stretching for seventeen miles from Bridport to Portland. Trapped by Chesil Beach, is a brackish lagoon called the Fleet, which is the home of the famous Swannery. It has existed for over six hundred years and was created by the monks from the Abbey. A colony of over five hundred swans nest here and feed on a rare grass (zostera marina) which grows in the area.
Little remains of the Abbey, which gave the village its name, except for the enormous fourteenth century thatched tithe barn. It measures 272 feet by 31 feet and is probably the largest tithe barn in England. In medieval times, the villagers from a wide area around, had to give a tenth (or tithe) of everything they grew or raised on their farms, to be stored here.
This imposing building was used by John Schlesinger as the setting for his 1967 film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s novel, ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’. Here, the combined harvest supper and wedding feast of Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) and Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) was filmed. The great doors of the barn feature in this memorable scene, as the storm destroys ‘eight naked and unprotected ricks, massive and heavy with the rich produce of one half the farm for that year’. It is now used as the centre of Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, where there are many activities for young children to enjoy.
A panoramic view of Abbotsbury can be gained from St. Catherine’s Chapel, set on the summit of Chapel Hill. The Chapel dates from the fifteenth century and has thick stone walls and a heavy fine barrel-vaulted stone ceiling. The hill itself displays grass terraces, produced by the Anglo-Saxon strip cultivation system.
Close to Chesil Beach, are the magnificent Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens. These have been developed since 1765, into a twenty acre garden, filled with rare and exotic plants from all over the world. Many of these plants were first introduced to this country by descendants of the founder of the Gardens, the first Countess of Ilchester.