Exploring England #2
It’s a warm sunny day in late summer and a walking expedition on the Dorset coast beckons. It’s not far to the village of Abbotsbury and there’s also a coastal path, but today we’re visiting Abbotsbury Swannery, one of the largest colonies of mute swans in the world.
The swannery is located in the calm waters of Fleet lagoon, a long stretch of brackish water protected by Chesil Bank. The waters weren’t always so calm; at the end of the last Ice Age massive waves created the bank, a narrow wall of rocks between Lyme Bay and the coast. The land behind the bank was flooded as sea levels rose, creating the perfect breeding environment for water birds.
There have been mute swans in the lagoon since the 11th century, when the Benedictine monks of St Peter’s Abbey began farming the birds. In 1543, after the dissolution of the monastery, Sir Giles Strangways bought the land from Henry VIII and the swans have been cared for by his descendants ever since. While the swannery is not a zoo and the swans are free to come and go, the colony is carefully managed. We must purchase tickets at the shop before entering the grounds of the swannery.
From the entrance it’s a pleasant walk in the summer sun past grass covered fields and curious sheep. A stream flows beside the path and wildflowers bloom on its banks.
We enter the woodland closer to the coast and find hydrangeas flourishing in the dappled shade.
Our first sighting of a swan is a thrilling moment. A single white bird stands on the path ahead of us as if guiding the way.
Another swan with her half grown cygnets accompanies us for a while as she glides on a fast flowing stream.
As we walk there are more swans,
but these glimpses do not prepare us for the spectacle waiting at the end of the path – dozens of swans, a sea of white on the sparkling waters of Fleet Lagoon.
They might be called mute swans, but they are noisy. We’ve arrived at midday in time for a feeding session and the swans are excited. We learn that they receive limited feeding, sick or injured swans are captured and cared for before returning to the lagoon, and cygnets are monitored to ensure they remain healthy.
Young visitors are invited to help feed the birds who gather close to shore.
From a raised platform there’s a beautiful view of Fleet Lagoon, Chesil Bank and the swannery.
But it’s the opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close that we have all come for.
Abbotsbury Swannery is open every day from March to October, 10 am to 5 pm
See more great walks from around the world at Restless Jo’s Monday Walks.