Walk - Abbotsbury from Sea Barn & West Fleet Farms
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2021. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- From the Sea Barn Farm campsite, turn left out of the campsite and walk up the drive. Cross Fleet Road and continue up the drive.
From the West Fleet campsite, leave the drive to walk past the Bar in the Barn, turning right onto the footpath beyond it, and then left to cross the stile into the field beyond. Turn left again and walk around the left-hand boundary of the field, past the farm, and turn right with it around the far end of the field, to the stile in the wall ahead of you once you've turned the corner.
- On the far side of the stile turn left. Walk down the edge of this field to the South West Coast Path at the bottom. Go through the gap in the wall and turn right to walk along the wall to the corner, where four paths meet.
- Carrying on along the Coast Path, signed to Abbotsbury. Follow it around the Fleet Lagoon. Ignore both the track heading uphill towards the coastguard cottages and the next path inland about half a mile later. Just after this, the Coast Path starts to head inland beside a stream. Walk along the edges of the fields to where another path is signed towards Langton Herring.
- Cross the stream and turn left with the Coast Path. Head towards Wyke Wood, passing another path to Langton Herring. Walk along the eastern edge of the wood to the top of the hill.
- Fork left and follow the path as it travels downhill, parallel to the northern boundary of Wyke Wood, until it comes to a road.
- Cross the road and continue roughly westwards, along the edge of Anstey's withy bed. Turn right over the stile at the bottom of Hodder's Coppice and head north beside the trees, up Merry Hill.
Withy beds are willow plantations which flourish in low-lying wetlands like the land around the Fleet Lagoon. Willows are particularly fast-growing, sometimes managing almost an inch a day. Once planted each base can keep producing about ten shoots a year for as long as twenty years. Willow shoots have been used for basket-making for thousands of years.
- Fork left towards the top of the hill and stay with the Coast Path as it travels along the edges of the fields, passing Clayhanger Farm.
- After the farm fork left again. Follow the path around the top of Linton Hill before dropping steeply downhill to the buildings at Horsepool Farm.
- Bear right onto the road here and follow it up to the Swannery car park.
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 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 has featured as a location for Harry Potter.
- At the Swannery the Coast Path drops off the road and onto a footpath beside it. This heads towards Abbotsbury.
Here the world is your oyster! Take a tour of the Swannery, or go for a quick circular stroll through the fields around it (see the information board outside the tearoom). Or how about a detour through the woods and up onto Chapel Hill, above you, to the fourteenth century St Catherine's Chapel? Just a few hundred yards uphill are the Abbey Barn, Abbey Farm, the Fish Ponds and St Peter's Abbey. Then there is the delightful village of Abbotsbury itself, with its quaint thatched cottages and its many craft shops, studios, galleries and tearooms.
It is thought that there was a wooden church on the site of St Peter's Abbey from around 410 AD, also dedicated to St Peter. He reputedly paid frequent 'visits' to its founder, a holy priest named Bertulfus. This church was ravaged by Saxon raiders before the century was out, and the area subsequently became a settlement for Saxon pirates.
Some 500 years later it was the Vikings who raided and took over the reins of Abbotsbury. Early in the eleventh century King Canute's steward, Orc, founded a Benedictine monastery on the site of the old church, at St Peter's Abbey. Edward the Confessor later granted him the seashore bordering the abbey grounds, as well as the rights to all ships wrecked off the coast here. On their deaths, Orc and his wife Thola, bequeathed their estate to the church, and Abbotsbury was established as a prosperous settlement.
The Black Death in the fourteenth century hit Abbotsbury hard, as did numerous raids from the sea. Fortune was restored hereabouts a short while later, when Nichola de Montshore was granted estates '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 much building was carried out, including the tithe barn and St Catherine's Chapel.
The abbey fell prey to Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries in 1538. The commissioner who oversaw the decommissioning of the abbey was Sir Giles Strangways, whose family had moved here from Yorkshire during the previous century. Four years after its demise, Sir Giles bought the abbey himself for £1906/10s, on condition that the abbey be demolished. The tithe barn was left intact because of its usefulness, and St Catherine's Chapel escaped unscathed by virtue of being a good landmark for seafarers. Sir Giles built himself a house from what remained of the abbey itself. Five hundred years later the family still owns the land.
During the English Civil War Abbotsbury was a Royalist stronghold. After a mammoth battle it fell to the Roundheads, who tossed burning faggots through the windows to drive out the garrison. They then ran amok through the house despite warnings that barrels of gunpowder were stored within. When the house blew up, 60 Parliamentarians went up with it. Overall their support for the Crown cost the Strangways family £35,000 (the equivalent of about £20 million today).
In the Victoria Inn, at the start of the walk, in Langton Herring (diverting en route), or in Abbotsbury.