Length: about 6 miles • Time: three hours • Terrain: Steepish climbs and descents on tracks that can get muddy; walking on shingle. Sturdy footwear required.
Discover a lovely village once a centre of power for prosperous medieval monks; explore a dramatic prehistoric hill fort; enjoy unsurpassed views of the Jurassic Coast and crunch along the geological phenomenon of Chesil beach.
Park in Abbotsbury village, which grew around the powerful Benedictine Abbotsbury Abbey — now just a fragment remains of its ancient walls although the magnificent tithe barn is still standing.
Walk along Market Street and turn right into Back Street by the Old Schoolhouse tearooms and after about 200 yards, turn left between thatched cottages following a sign to Blind Lane and Hillfort.
Head uphill and follow the steep path between flower-filled hedgerows and trees, passing through two metal gates. From here there are wonderful views of Abbotsbury village, the church, barn and St Catherine’s Chapel on the hilltop.
Carry on upwards, heading towards a ridge studded with rocky outcrops. Go through another gate and head towards a fingerpost — don’t worry, this is the highest point!
Turn left and join the South Dorset Ridgeway, a trail passing some of the UK’s most significant ceremonial ancient landscapes.
The lumps and bumps in the ground — burial mounds and barrows, banks and ditches — show that people have been drawn to this area from Neolithic times to the Iron Age. It rivals Stonehenge and Avebury in importance.
Easy walking along the high, grassy ridge provides breathtaking views along the Jurassic coast — from Portland to Start Point on a clear day. Inland, the rich West Dorset countryside rolls away in hills and valleys.
To the east, the stone needle of Hardy’s Monument can be seen on the distant hilltop. It was built for Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. Amongst other things, Hardy became famous as it was in his arms that Nelson died, saying the immortal words “Kiss me Hardy”.
Shortly after passing a “pillbox” on the left — a remnant of the Second World War’s strategy against enemy invasion — the track crosses a lane, through a gate.
Cross the lane, scramble up the bank to the left of a parking bay and go through a gate, following the track up and down, passing below an Ordnance Survey “trig” point up on the right. Climb up the bank to the ridge and you are in Abbotsbury Castle, a triangular iron-age hillfort.
The Celtic tribe the Durotriges established this and the other forts in this part of Dorset and the extraordinary viewpoint here makes it easy to see why Abbotsbury was so strategically important.
Follow the track along the seaward side of the fort and drop down to a stile by the coast road.
Cross the road and enter a field by a National Trust sign for Tulks Hill.
Continue along a wall to your left and at the end turn left and down the grassy (and sometimes muddy) path keeping a fence on the left. The path turns sharply left behind a hedge and after crossing a stile, head diagonally across a field towards farm buildings.
Keeping the farm on your right, skirt round the barn and cross a lane, following a blue waymark arrow, heading straight down towards the sea.
This empty, beautiful stretch of shingle is Chesil Beach, the embankment of pebbles and shingle stretching eastwards towards Portland.
After reaching a car park (and public toilets) turn right and walk along the shingle, with the shingle bank towering over you to your right.
Follow the track and turn inland, for a great view of St Catherine’s Chapel on the hilltop ahead.
Ignore a permissive path across a stile on the right and head for a fingerpost, where you turn right over a stile signed Coast Path and Swannery.
As you climb the field alongside the right hand fence, a view of The Fleet lagoon appears, a geological curiosity, locked between the shifting shingle and the sea.
The fortunate mute swans that come to nest and breed at Abbotsbury Swannery at the top freshwater end of the lagoon are making the most of a swannery created by the monks in the 11th century, when the birds were farmed as a delicacy for the Abbot’s table.
As the Swannery car park comes in to view, head to the left towards the village and climb over a stile. Here the path becomes wooded and emerges at the foot of the hill now to your left, with St Catherine’s Chapel perched on the top.
The ridges in these hillsides are strip-lynchets, evidence of ancient field systems where ploughing created terraces, still clearly visible in the landscape.
Just before reaching the village at a metal kissing gate there is the chance to turn left and climb the hill to the chapel.
Built around 1400 for the Abbotsbury monks, it survived Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, probably by virtue of its value as a sailors’ landmark.
From the chapel, retrace your steps to the gate and follow the lane leading back into Abbotsbury to end the walk.
There are cafés, pubs, restaurants and public toilets in Abbotsbury.