Abbottsbury Abbey Tithe Barn
Abbottsbury Abbey Tithe Barn

The Abbey of St Peter at Abbotsbury was a Benedictine monastery founded in the 11th century by Orc, steward to King Canute. After Orc and his wife Thola died, they left the abbey to the church. The abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in 1538 and the buildings destroyed so that the stone could be used for local building projects.

The remaining bits and pieces of Abbotsbury Abbey include the abbey gateway, St Catherine's Chapel, the gable end of the abbot's lodging, and the imposing Great Barn. The latter building, which measures 272 feet long by 31 feet wide, is the largest thatched building in the world.

After the abbey was dissolved, the abbey estates were purchased by Sir Giles Strangways. Much of those estates, which included the abbey's manor houses, the Abbotsbury Swannery, and several water mills, are still owned by the Strangways family.

The tithe barn is now a children's adventure play attraction, but you can see the barn from across the picturesque setting of the old abbey fish pond. At the top of the hill above the pond stand the isolated ruins of the abbot's lodging, with a fireplace at ground level.

A 10-minute walk up Chapel Hill leads you to St Catherine's Chapel, which is always open. The last time I was there a string quartet was practising, and the incredible acoustics of the late medieval building made their music reverberate and float out over the valley below. It was a surreal, beautiful experience.

While I can't guarantee you'll encounter musicians in the Chapel, you will be rewarded by wonderful views over Abbotsbury village, with the huge bulk of the tithe barn an obvious eye-catcher.

Do take time to walk around the village, for it is full of picturesque buildings, including several thatched cottages. There is a paid parking area at the eastern edge of the village, very close to the remains of the abbot's lodging.