Abbotsbury Swannery was more interesting than I thought it was going to be; not that I thought it was going to be boring.
However, having been there once before many, many years ago (1975 if memory serves) I kind of felt that I had been there and done that. I donʼt think they sold T-shirts back then.
Given that Mute Swans are usually highly territorial birds who given attack any other swan or human who gets too close to their nests, what surprised me most was how tolerant the birds were here. Not only were they nesting within a few feet of each other, for the most part, they also ignored the many tourists passing by and staring at them.
The Swannery was originally created as a source of food by the Benedictine Monks of the nearby Abbotsbury Monastery which was founded during the 1040s. Written records of its existence go back to 1393. It was used by the monks until the monastery was dissolved in 1539.
It was then purchased by the Strangways family as part of what became the Ilchester Estate which has remained in their ownership through fifteen generations up to the present day.
Two of the four original Duck Decoys still exist, together with a third on dry land for the kids to play in, complete with a dummy Decoyman hiding behind the screens.
The old Decoymanʼs House houses some old implements and boats along with an audio-visual introduction, along with a re-creation of a monkʼs herb garden. There are interpretive boards all over the site, some featuring a visit by the Royal Ballet in the 1920s to dance excerpts from Swan Lake.
The location of the Swannery is also interesting, sheltering as it does behind Chesil Beach at the top end of the Fleet lagoon, the area of salty water between the beach and the land. The shallow salty water and the sheltered position causes weeds to grow profusely providing plenty of food for large numbers of nesting birds.