Intending to take full advantage of the glorious weather forecast for the weekend, we packed the car and set off for the Dorset coast on Saturday morning. Windows down with a bit of Headcat, Imelda May and Ian Drury on the stereo we made good time around the M25, boggling at the tree skimming approach of a BA 747 on its way into Heathrow, before we hit the M3 on our way south.
Our destination was the town of Abbotsbury and it’s famous swannery.
The swannery is home to a huge colony of nesting mute swans (Britain’s only resident species of swan) and was established by the Benedictine monks of the local St Peter’s Monastery, in the 1140s. Don’t get any ideas about the monks thinking the swans were pretty, they were on the menu. In fact because they spent a lot of time on the water and the flesh of the young birds tasted a bit fishy, they could be by the twisted logic of medieval theological thinking be counted as fish and eaten of Fridays. It reminds of the scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where Carol Cleveland confesses to being a witch when she weighs the same as a duck.
After the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 the swannery passed into the hands of the Ilchester family and to this day the swans here are some of the few in the UK’s open waters that do not belong to the Queen.
At this time of year the swans are busy breeding.
These soon become these.
And before too long they are in the water with mum and dad,
looking for eel grass and other delicacies.
The swans are not the only creatures with family I saw this little fellow in the marshland.
And there were plenty of these little cuties on the pasture.
And not all of the swans are mute, there are a few Australian immigrants.
And then there are always folk on the lookout for a free meal
About a ten minute walk from the Swannery is Abbotsbury Children’s Farm, it’s based around Abbotsbury’s old tithe barn that the monks built-in the 1390s. The price of admission was included in out Abbotsbury Passport (£11.50 adult, £8.50 under 16s) aside from some kind of pirate activity centre for the younger children, there were plenty of animals to see, including ponies, pigs, chickens,
alpacas, guinea pigs, rabbits, tortoises, goats, sheep and ducks. Although as we were there during the hottest part of the day most of the animals were wisely taking shelter inside.
Also included on our passport was Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, which was a short drive away. Established in 1765 by the Countess of Ilchester, her descendents have filled the gardens with exotic plants like camellias, rhododendrons and azaleas from all over the world. I was lucky enough to spot one of the more exotic feathered inhabitants too,
before it was time for an Orchard Pig cider in the Colonial Restaurant and then on to out hotel in Weymouth for the night.