Abbotsbury (& Weymouth)

Dorset possesses perhaps the most under appreciated beauty of all counties in the South West. As my Grandad would say: “Cornwall? Devon? Pah! Give me Dorset any day”.

And it is this lack of appreciation, or dare I say it, tourism, that adds to the county’s allure.

It has vast rolling hills, glistening oceans, sand that burns like hot coals beneath your feet and idyllic villages. It is home to the New Forest AND the Jurassic Coast, going from one to the other in a matter of minutes.

One of the most beautiful villages of this wonderful little county is Abbotsbury. About fifteen minutes west of Weymouth and about an hour east of Exeter.

In order to get there we took a train to Weymouth, a seaside resort I visited a couple of times in my childhood. I came expecting a coastal town, like most others, deteriorating, depressive and lifeless. But I was wrong, and happy to be for once. Weymouth wasn’t dead, it had a pulse, and it was, well, pulsating! The seafront was teeming with holiday-makers, bustling from stall-to-stall. The sun was beaming. You could barely see the golden sand with the amount of half-naked people on it. None were tanned though, everyone was either scarlet red or milky white. Along the horizon stood the imposing Jurassic Coast and Weymouth looked far more attractive now than it did fifteen years ago.

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We had an hour to spend here, so we walked along the coast and into the town centre, which looked just as nice as the beach. It’s one long high street with narrow intersecting side streets.

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We dawdled past the shops, wandering in and out of stores. An hour felt like ten minutes. We returned to the bus stop and paid five pounds to take us to Abbotsbury and back. Buses always feel so expensive to me, but they’re not really. I paid £2.50 for a journey that took twenty minutes, that’s pretty reasonable, considering I don’t have to go through the effort of driving. I could relax on the top deck, and admire the Dorset countryside. Which is exactly what I did.

Abbotsbury is perhaps the most idyllic village in the whole of Dorset. It has such a very compact and cosy feel about it. The village sits about two miles from the coast. Jennie and I had a drink in the garden of the Ilchester Arms Hotel. We sat and marveled at the view of St Catherine’s Chapel, sitting upon a hill that towers above the village. Just beyond that hill lays the Jurassic Coast.

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The sun shone onto our necks as we sipped our local cider. We decided against the alternate 7.9% cider, reluctantly remembering Jennie’s first afternoon in Budapest.

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We finished our drinks, sighed, put our hands on our knees, and agreed to leave. In that specific order. We journeyed up to the chapel we had just been looking at for half an hour.

The ascent wasn’t as daunting as it first seemed. After parting a sea of sheep we were at the summit within minutes.On our right was the village, with the church and abbey poking out of the top. On our left was the golden coast and an azure ocean.

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We circled the chapel before entering, it’s a very small structure, and completely hollow inside. Except for the white doves to which it homes. There aren’t even any seats, and could probably only squeeze about thirty people inside. It seemed strange to me that a thousand years ago, a village that held no more than fifty people, would need more than one house of faith. I envisaged that perhaps the church in the village was their regular place to visit each Sunday. And perhaps this chapel was saved just for special services, such as weddings or funerals. To me, this gave it even more importance. The walk up would be more of a pilgrimage, to witness a culmination of love or a goodbye to a friend. Of course all that could be completely fictitious, but it isn’t impossible, in fact it seems rather reasonable, and makes for an interesting thought.

We paused on that thought for minutes, imagining the sort of services that took place here, and the people that attended them.

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We sat on the bank a few feet outside the Chapel doors and ate our packed lunch. Now, that might sound a bit pathetic, but why should it be? I want to see as many places like this as possible, and in order to do that I mustn’t spend money where money doesn’t need to be spent. It could (and should) be spent on exploring somewhere else. We could have had lunch in the pub we had a drink at earlier, but we would’ve paid a handsome fee for it. And that is, without knowing really what you’re paying for. It’s hard to be disappointed with a packed lunch, because you know what you’re getting, you made it yourself!

I understand that I’m contradicting myself here – Why then, did I buy a pint at the pub instead of bringing my own?

  1. Lunch costs a lot more than one pint.
  2. I didn’t really think about it.
  3. Alcohol is a necessity, especially a cold cider on a summer’s day.

We ate our cheap lunch, admired the view and descended the other side of the hill down to the coast. Unfortunately, after climbing a few hills, stinging our legs and precariously rounding a herd of cattle we met a vast lake and realised we couldn’t get to the coast with the route we had taken. We could reroute ourselves, but Jennie had stung herself badly so a little disheartened, we returned to the village.

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Rather than climb back up the hill, we walked along the lake to the entrance of the Abbotsbury Swannery. Yep, a sanctuary for swans. I couldn’t think of anything worse. Paying money to be hissed at by hundreds of nasty white bastards.

We walked up a country lane, that were lined with houses that teemed our faces green with envy. We reached part of the abbey from which the village gets its name, but this section had been converted into a children’s farm.It was either a very large pond or a very small lake that sat in front of it. It all looked very postcardy.

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The abbey is no longer standing as one structure, god knows why, but parts of it have been demolished. A small plaque shows us what it used to look like and it must’ve been bloody brilliant. It saddens me to think of the great buildings this country has lost due to thoughtless, reckless ‘architects’.

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A short walk uphill is the village’s St Nicholas church I mentioned earlier. Its sandstone matched the rest of the houses in the villages. Similarly, it also had the same stonewalls surrounding it. It was a nice enough church but nothing to leave my jaw agape.

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If you’re fortunate enough to not be a student, and for some inexplicable reason end up in Abbotsbury, Dorset, perhaps you should pay for the swannery and the farm. If you do, let me know what it’s like and whether it’s worth doing. If you are looking for a fairly cheap day out in the countryside, there’s plenty to see here for free, and it’s all beautiful.

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