- Distance – 6 miles
- Duration – 2 1/4 hours.
- Exertion – Hard – a few steep climbs
- Terrain – Beach (pebble), path, track
- Dogs – Allowed on beach all year round. Be aware of livestock and keep to the countryside code.
- Map – OS Explorer OL15 – Purbeck and South Dorset
- Start – Abbotsbury car park
- Refreshments – None on route but nearby Abbotsbury offers a selection
Approaching the village can be a daunting site. The hills look massive and thats what will be climbed. And it starts almost immediately. Parking in a car park on the eastern edge of the village, make your way back out onto the village road. Cut straight bough, heading for the footpath up the hill. It was steep too, but this is the worst bit and it’s good to get the worst bit done first!
The views are spectacular and on clearer days can make out the majority of the Dorset Jurassic coastline.
Iron Age round barrows littered the top of the hill. To think that these still exhist is amazing to me, they are 1000’s of years old and remain so prominent. In their heyday they would have been covered in chalk and glowed in the moonlight, creating a starlight impression within the landscape for miles around. Whenever you pass one, it’s worth checking the rabbit holes and mole hills for any treasure! I found a banana skin, which made me tut at us modern day humans.
Further along the top of the hill you come to Abbotsbury Castle, an Iron Age hill fort. It is a defensive fort as the ditch is on the exterior of the ramparts, making it harder for the enemy to enter. However, when the Romans arrived in AD43, they took it quite quickly before moving on the the larger Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, where they were then met with some force!
Crossing the main road and start descending to Chesil beach. There is plenty of war time evidence here with small defensive battlements scattered along the hillside and down to the beach.
Once there it is a real effort to walk on the pebbles but thankfully there is a small road parallel to it that can be diverted onto!
Pass the car park on your left and stay on the beach. Once guided off by a footpath sign the climb starts up to St Catherine’s Chapel. St Catherine is the patron saint of spinsters (although I prefer the term single ladies). She was a popular saint in medieval times. She was a lady who was strong in her convictions and good with her words, spreading Christianity far and wide. But she had her enemies, more specifically the pagan emperor Maxentius. He wanted to prove her wrong so had a debate with her and some of the best pagan philosophers. But she won. Therefore he decided to marry her. But she said no. So he had her killed by beheading. Pretty standard really-if you can’t beat them, join them, if you can’t join them, kill them. The legend continues though. When she died she did not bleed but flowed a milk like substance. And, on decomposing, her hair still grew and her body leaked an oil like substance that had miraculous healing properties! Can’t actually find any examples of these though!
There is a pilgrimage to St Catherine and a poem to be recited to those that want to ask for help, it goes something like this..
A husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine,
A rich one, St Catherine,
A nice one, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine.
PJ Harvey (a local singer/songwriter who has won the Mercury music prize twice in 2001 & 2011) wrote ‘Wind’ from the album ‘Is This Desire?’ It is said to have been influenced by St Catherine’s Chapel.
It is then a simple descent back into the village and to the car.