Somewhere along the Jurassic Coastline of Dorset lies a shallow, salty body of water called Fleet Lagoon. Sheltered by Lyme Bay at Chesil Beach, it provides an ideal nesting ground for the world’s only managed colony of Mute Swans.
In the 1040s, Benedictine Monks built a monastery and formed the Swannery to farm swans for their banquets. The monastery was destroyed during King Henry VIII’s reign in 1539 and since the 1540s, the Swannery Sanctuary has been under the stewardship of the Ilchester Estates.
Today, 600 swans are visited each year from March to November at what is now known as Abbotsbury Swannery.
During one of our visits to England from our then home in California, it was my delight to spend a day at Abbotsbury Swannery with my children and their granny one glorious June day. I hauled around a now archaic camcorder (the kind that held a full size video cassette), thrilled to capture the hatching of a cygnet on film.
Many years have passed since that day, but last Saturday hubby and I took a drive to the countryside of Dorset and decided on the spur of the moment to visit the Swannery on what turned out to be its last opening day until next March.
On the way, driving through the heart of this historic and beautiful county, we took a quick pit-stop to admire the iconic Hardy Monument looming high into the late autumn sky above the village of Portesham.
This monument was built in 1944 in honour of Vice-Admiral Sir Thomas Masterman Hardy, Flag Captain of HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. It was Hardy who held Lord Nelson in his arms as he was dying, while saying the immortal words, ‘Kiss me Hardy’.
Today the National Trust owns the monument, but according to its website it is currently closed to visitors due to parking problems. However, the day we pulled off the narrow, winding road for me to take this shot, we saw more than one group of ramblers hiking their way towards it. One cheeky rambler had the temerity to tell me that I ‘cheating’ by driving and not walking. I’ll remember that next time, thanks Mr. Rambler.
Parking is free at the Swannery but the cost of admission isn’t cheap: £10.95 for adults, but cheaper if booked online. However, since it is dedicated to the preservation of this priceless colony of Mute Swans, we felt it was well worth it.
As we entered, the first thing I got was a shock as a black hooded apparition jumped out at me. Who was this stranger lurking in the herb garden? A cardboard cutout of a man dressed up as a monk as it turned out, but it did give me a fright, much to hubby’s amusement.
Heading down the path, we came across a ‘Bug Hotel’, the remnants of a felled tree that came down in the storms last winter and which is now a natural habitat for a variety of insects in which to hibernate and breed.
The Swannery was badly damaged during last winter’s storms with awful flooding that assailed the Dorset coastline, but they have done a wonderful job of repairing the damage. Let’s hope it doesn’t happen again this year.
Then we saw our first swan and a ‘teenage’ cygnet…
By the end of October, some of the swans move off-site for the winter months but there were still many left for us to see on this November day. The pathways had overflowed with nesting swans when I had visited years before at the height of hatching season. Apart from a few ruffled feathers and cross hisses from the male swans, it was remarkable that they had been so accommodating as visitors walked among them.
No nesting swans at this time of year though, and the paths were easy to navigate, yet incredibly, we did see one pair guarding what looked like the remnants of an old nest just off the path…
…while another pair enjoyed an afternoon nap.
Then, at last, the beautiful lagoon opened up before us…
At this time of year as some of the swans migrate, other visitors drop in to say hello:
The Swannery also provides shelter for orphaned and injured swans, releasing them as they hopefully recover. In return, resident swans make sure to obey the rules…
Not only a peaceful and invigorating walk along the path through this sanctuary, the Swannery offers spectacular views of the surrounding Dorset countryside…
The reeds provide nesting material for the swans.
As we turned away from the lagoon and back along the path, it was obvious that swans are not the only birds catered to, as can be seen from this owl nesting box:
Just before the exit there is a display of the kind of boats once used for hunting and fishing on the lagoon:
There is also a display for those interested in WWII history about the Bouncing Bomb that Barnes Wallis tested on the lagoon in March, 1943:
For those who might want a play at the end of their visit, there is opportunity to take a spin on the pedal go-karts:
The Swannery was quiet on this early November afternoon. After the unseasonably mild October, the breeze whipping up from the lagoon had a bite to it, giving warning of the winter yet to come.
But the sun wasn’t ready to put its hat away just yet.
As shadows grew longer and the sun bathed all in day’s end burst of warming glow, we said our goodbyes to the swans. Not only their peaceful sanctuary, but also a place of tranquility and welcome respite for us, as fresh as the salt-air that filled our lungs.
For beautiful walks from all parts of this wonderful world of ours, Jo invites us to join her for her weekly Monday Walk and will be delighted to take you along.
If beautiful photos of all creatures great and small bring you smiles galore, then Michelle is just as delighted to welcome your entry over at her Weekly Pet Challenge.