Tina (a member of the bookings team) and her husband (Martin) spent an afternoon exploring Abbotsbury, which is famous for it’s gardens and swannery, however, the village itself is also a beautiful place to spend some time.
Abbotsbury is owned by Charlotte Townshend, owner of Ilchester Estates which also includes Chesil Beach, The Fleet and more. Apart from the Queen – Charlotte Townshend (as owner of the Ilchester Estate) is the only other individual in Britain who is allowed to own swans !! There are two other organisations who have right to swans: The Dyers’ livery company (an historic guild of dyers), the Vintners’ livery company (an historic guild of wine merchants) – over time kings and queens have afforded this right to these organisations as a way of showing favour to their allies.
Now in the heart of the village is The Ilchester Arms Hotel, which is well worth a visit for a bite to eat or a drink. Re-opening after a full renovation in April 2014 having been taken over by the Harrison family. The Ilchester offers informal dining in the conservatory, dining room or bar areas, with a variety of menus offering affordable bar snacks and homemade meals through to fantastic locally sourced steaks and seafood. Freshly made breakfasts, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea options can all be enjoyed under the gaze of St. Catherine’s Chapel, or a drinks selection with a variety of specialist beers and local ciders can be sampled by a roaring log fire. The delicious menus are created by renowned Head Chef Sean McBride and focus on using locally sourced ingredients.
We popped in over the weekend and stayed for a drink before our mooch around some of the village shops and walk up to St. Catherine’s Chapel, which has a commanding view over Lyme Bay and Abbotsbury. Martin had an impressive pint of Bath Gem and I had a glass of very nice Muscat Voignier White Wine.
There is an eclectic mix of shops in Abbotsbury from Antiques to fishing tackle, wood turning to a traditional butchers – The Bride Valley Farm Shop which is the home of the amazing Dorset Longhorn Beef. There are also a couple of tea rooms which I am sure we will try on a return visit for a slice of lovely home made cake and steaming pot of tea, St. Catherine’s Chapel can be accessed via the footpath that runs alongside the village general store.
After our fortifying drink at The Ilchester Arms we strolled up to St. Catherine’s Chapel to admire the view the amazing view (even on a grey day it is very impressive). The 14th century Chapel is under Guardianship of English Heritage and has been Grade 1 listed since January 1956. St. Catherine’s Chapel was built as a place of pilgrimage and retreat by the monks of the nearby Benedictine monastery Abbotsbury Abbey. Its position on the top of a hill about 80 m (260 ft) high, overlooking the coast from Portland Bill to Bridport, meant that it was a prominent feature for seafarers. Only a handful of chapels of the same kind are located outside the precincts of the monasteries who constructed them. The isolated setting of the chapel granted the monks to withdraw from the monastery during Lent for private prayer and meditation.
St. Catherine’s Chapel has a local tradition of ‘wishing’. This involves using the niches in the east jamb of the south doorway to ‘post’ prayers to the saint asking for her help.
The chapel has been (and still is) visited by women searching for a husband as St Catherine is the patron saint of spinsters – these ‘posted-prayers’ or ‘wishes’ are found tucked into these niches – a traditional prayer used here is:
“A husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine,
A rich one, St Catherine,
A nice one, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine.”
The view from the top of the hill towards Chesil Beach and the Swannery are amazing and really worth a visit.
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