A visit to Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset

by Jan

Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset is a special haven for swans in Dorset and one of the Jurassic Coast’s unique attractions.  It’s the only place in the world where you can walk amongst a gigantic colony of mute swans.

After a day out in Dorset exploring Old Harry Rocks and West Bay, we stopped for an impromptu visit to Abbotsbury Swannery.  Located on the Jurassic Coast, the swannery at Abbotsbury takes advantage of its position on the Fleet Lagoon to provide a sheltered environment for the birds.

If you enjoy nature and wildlife, the Abbotsbury Swannery is one of the best family attractions in Dorset.  However, I was surprised to discover that the swannery at Abbotsbury is not a new attraction.  In fact, there have been swans breeding at Abbotsbury for hundreds of years.

Read on to find out more about our visit to Abbotsbury and useful information about the Swannery.

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A brief history of Abbotsbury Swannery

Swans as far as the eye can see on land and water

The Swannery’s long history started in the 11th century when Benedictine monks built a monastery in the village.  At this time, the monks started to farm swans to provide meat for their banquets.

Although in 1539 the monastery dissolved at the hands of Henry VIII, the swannery remained.

Luckily, in 1543 Sir Giles Strangways, a local MP,  bought the Abbey and swannery and continued to manage the estate.  Descendants of the Strangways family have been overseeing the conservation of these mute swans ever since.

The Fleet Lagoon

Swans and sun reflected on Fleet Lagoon, Dorset, UK

One of the reasons Abbotsbury is the perfect place for swans to flourish is its location at the end of the Fleet Lagoon.  The Fleet Lagoon is the stretch of calm water which separates Chesil Beach from the mainland.

It’s 13 km in length and provides a peaceful wetland habitat which is ideal for the birds.  In winter, the swans depend on the eelgrass meadows that grow in abundance on the base of the sheltered lagoon.

What can you expect to see on a day out at Abbotsbury Swannery?

Swans, swans, and more swans.

However, before you head off to see swans, take a moment to watch the introductory film.  This will give you a bit of background to the birds and their breeding habits.  You’ll also see lots of information boards beside the path with fun facts about the swannery.

After the film, follow the trail down to the Fleet Lagoon.  Remember to keep your eyes peeled, as the swans are everywhere.

Single swan amongst reeds at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset, UK

Don’t be surprised to see one sleeping on the path or following behind you.  There’s nowhere else in England where you can get so close to so many swans.  Amazingly, this popular Dorset attraction is home to over 600 mute swans, plus a few visitors from overseas!

We saw a black swan, visiting from Canada and a larger Australian swan.  Plus a few other seabirds, who popped in to share the feed.

Two Swans nesting on five large eggs

It’s important to note that Abbotsbury Swannery is a sanctuary, rather than a zoo.  The swans are not in cages and are free to wander at will.  The staff tag the birds, so that they can monitor the breeding programme, but the swans can leave at any time.  Most choose to stay, so it can’t be too bad.

Keep a look out on both sides, as you’ll see birds in the bushes sitting on their nests.  We were there in spring, so many were keeping their eggs warm.

If you want to see cygnets hatching, the best time to visit is mid-May to June.

Can you feed the swans?

Swans feeding at Abbotsbury Swannery, Dorset, UK

It’s best to time your visit to Abbotsbury Swannery to overlap with one of the swans’ feeding sessions.  These feeds take place at 12 noon and 4pm.  We arrived in time for the 4pm session.  You’ll know it’s feeding time, as the swans appear from all corners of the sanctuary.

Children can collect a bucket of grain, which they can feed to the swans at the water’s edge.  At quieter times, adults can take a bucket too.  It’s great fun.

Look out for the cheeky swans who can’t wait and help themselves from the wheelbarrow!

This is also a Q & A time, so you can ask any questions you like about swans.

Fun facts about Abbotsbury Swannery and its swans

Large black golf ball looking bouncing bomb one of the early prototypes tested on the fleet lagoon.
  • They are called mute swans as they are much quieter than other breeds.
  • The swans have a knob on top of their beak, which is larger in males.
  • Abbotsbury Swannery was one of the filming locations for the film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
  • Many famous visitors have visited Abbotsbury Swannery, including Russian prima ballerina, Anna Pavlova.  She came to Abbotsbury to observe the majestic birds, whilst rehearsing for Swan Lake.
  • The swans don’t breed for first two years.  When they are born, they are a grey colour. (think back to “the Ugly Duckling”!)
  • The Fleet Lagoon was used as a test site for Barnes Wallis’ bouncing Bomb. You can still see the bomb at the Swannery.

Other things to do at Abbotsbury Swannery

Two boys on peddle go carts

On the walk down to the swannery, you’ll find a small go-kart track which kids can use for free.  They also have a Swan Maze, largest willow maze in Dorset.  We saved this to do on the way out, but unfortunately, it shuts at 4.30, so the kids didn’t get to go in.

If you are visiting with younger children, they also have a small play area.

If you have time, you can combine your day out with the neighbouring Abbotsbury Sub-tropical Gardens.  You can get a discounted ticket for both.

Know before you go

How to get to Abbotsbury Swannery

Abbotsbury is on the Jurassic Coast in West Dorset, between the seaside towns of West Bay and Weymouth.  The address is New Barn Road, Abbotsbury, Weymouth, DT3 4JG.

The best way to get there is by car.  The nearest train station is Weymouth, which is 20 minutes’ drive away.

Opening times and admission

The Swannery is open every day from 10am to 5pm in summer.  Click here for ticket prices and to book.

You can get a -25% dual ticket for the Swannery and tropical gardens.

We bought our tickets using Tesco Clubcard vouchers, so didn’t have to pay at all.

Where to eat at Abbotsbury Swannery

We didn’t eat at the Swannery, but they have an on-site coffee shop, the Kennel Café.  They offer a selection of homemade cakes and cream teas.

Alternatively, you could eat in the picturesque village of Abbotsbury.  You could try the Old Schoolhouse, a cosy tearoom or the aptly named Swan Inn, which has a large beer garden.

Can I take my dog?

No, dogs are not permitted at Abbotsbury Swannery.

We'd love to hear from you!

Have you been to the Abbotsbury Swannery in Dorset?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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