St Catherines dates from the 14th century. It was built by the monks of Abbotsbury, possibly as a beacon for pilgrims coming to worship at the abbey in the village below. The chapel survived the Dissolution of the Monasteries that destroyed the abbey, because it was so valued as a navigational beacon to sailers making the crossing of Lyme Bay.
Because it was dedicated to St Catherine, the patron saint of spinsters, the chapel became popular as a place for women to pray for a husband. In the words of an old prayer:
A Husband, St Catherine,
A handsome one, St Catherine,
A rich one, St Catherine,
A nice one, St Catherine,
And soon, St Catherine.
The chapel is built entirely of local stone, hauled up the hill to the building site. There is a small oratory in the turret. The interior is bare, though regular musical events are held in the chapel, featuring local musicians. Surrounding the chapel are a series of medieval strip lynchets; terraces cut into the hillside for agricultural purposes. The lynchets are know locally as Chapel Rings, and are quite striking when seen from the village below.
The climb from the village takes 10 minutes or so (depending on how many stops you take to enjoy the view!). The slope is not terribly steep, and once you’ve reached the top, a very short level walk to the seaward side of the hill gives stunning views out over Lyme Bay, with Abbotsbury Swannery, The Fleet, and Chesil Bank in the foreground.