84. Weymouth to Portland Bill via east side of Portland

May 2009

After my previous walk around the western half of Portland I am now going around the eastern side but for variety, this time I started at Weymouth rather than Portland Bill.

I was staying further east in Dorset so first took the train to Weymouth, which took around an hour. I had made quite a late start, so it was around midday when I arrived in the town. It was however a glorious sunny day, so it promised to be a good walk.

I headed from the station down to the sea front emerging by the colourful clock tower that is just behind the beach.

The clock tower at Weymouth

I then turned right passing the rather grand Royal Hotel. Weymouth is the second largest holiday resort in Dorset and it shows, as there are lot of hotels along the sea front. I was also pleasantly surprised to see the traditional Punch and Judy show lives on on Weymouth beach, with the hut set up for the next show although the sign “CCTV 24 Hour Surveillance” on the hut bought it up to the 21st Century, sadly.

Punch and Judy, Weymouth

The beach was proving popular with day trippers and holiday makers as it was the first May bank holiday weekend.  The view along the bay here is a pleasing one with the largely Georgian sea front intact.

The beach at Weymouth

At the south end of the beach I continued ahead to reach the harbour side, where a tall ship was moored up.

Weymouth Harbour

Rather than use the ferry I turned right and headed up the edge of the attractive harbour area to the nearest bridge.

Weymouth Harbour

Heading up the harbour I could look back to a fine view of the white chalk cliffs further around the coast (near Lulworth), which were now looming over the harbour mouth.

Weymouth Harbour

I passed the Harbour Masters building, wondering if is the grandest harbour masters building in the country? I continued beside the harbour and was soon approaching the bridge. This is a swing bridge and still lifts quite often. On the other side of the harbour there were more pretty brightly coloured cottages and many people sitting on the harbour edge enjoying the good weather.

Weymouth Harbour master

Weymouth Harbour

I climbed up onto the bridge, (having first checked it wasn’t open, of course!) for a view along the quay where I had been walking and along the river back to the coast.

Weymouth Harbour

It was a pleasant walk back towards the sea on the eastern side of the harbour, with the masts of the boats clanking in the gentle breeze and the sea gulls flying overhead. This is of course a walk I was now quite familiar with – this is the 4th coastal walk where I have been this way!

Weymouth Harbour

I continued up to near the end of the harbour wall from where steps took me up to Nothe Fort and park. The view from here was over Portland harbour and my destination, the island of Portland ahead. Portland also has huge harbour walls making a large area of fairly calm sea which has been used for many films.

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There is also a castle here, Nothe Fort although I did not visit it on this occasion, but it has impressive walls and is larger than many forts.

Nothe Fort, Weymouth

I could also take a view from the lofty heights of the park back around Weymouth Bay the town now looking more distant. At the end of the little headland, Nothe Point there is a little pier, South Pier. It is not a leisure pier as such more used by fisherman but the South West Coast path doesn’t go out here and I realised I had missed this before, so time to make sure I covered it. It gave a good view back up the river to the harbour.

Weymouth Harbour

At the end there was a little tower you could go up and get a view back along the pier to the fort.

Nothe Fort from South Pier, Weymouth

Returning from the pier I headed back in front of the fort and down the other (south) side of the park to reach Newtons Cove, where a new promenade and path has been built. I was clearly getting away from Weymouth now as it was now getting far quieter.

Newton's Cove

Past Newtons Cove the coast path is now diverted along the road a little inland and without any views of the coast. There used to be a path right along the coast here (it is still shown partly on maps) but coastal erosion has washed part of it away. However with the tide out I managed to make my way along it (with difficulty) to reach the sandy beach of Castle Cove.

Castle Cove, Weymouth

I could see the ruins of Sandsfoot Castle on the cliff top and they looked rather precarious from this beach. The cliffs look fairly stable but I still wonder how long the castle will survive?

Castle Cove, Weymouth

I made my way around on rocks to the far end of the beach hoping I might be able to get up to the park above, but sadly there wasn’t away so I had to return to the road, but I got a nice view back over Castle Cove before doing so.

Castle Cove, Weymouth

I then passed the remains of the castle via the park. It is not so obvious quite how close it is to the edge from the park.

Sandsfoot Castle, Weymouth

Beyond the castle there is another little sandy beach and I made my way round to this too although it looks like there is little if any sand at high tide.

South of Castle Cove, Weymouth

From here I returned to the coast path again and now followed the Rodwell Trail, which takes in the old railway line out to Portland and is popular with cyclists as well. Views of the coast here are a bit limited because much of it is in a cutting and hence there is a slop to the left, but you can climb up this in places for a view. After about half a mile I had reached the small harbour at Small Mouth and the start of the causeway out to Portland.

Portland causeway

The next stretch of the coast path is by necessity near the busy A354 but you can walk on the shingle and gravel next to the road for a while. There was some sea pinks growing in the grass, adding a bit of colour. It did not take me long to reach the little visitor centre and car park for Chesil Beach. I crossed the road for a view out to the Fleet and the shingle beach – it really is amazing.

Chesil Beach and the Fleet from the road to Portland

I continued enjoying the fine views of Portland getting ever close.

Portland

Here I continued on the south side of the A354 past what is now the National Sailing Academy, as this was the route of the South West Coast Path. However work on the England Coast Path has meant the South West Coast Path has now been routed so there is a new path between the end of the causeway and Portland Castle. Although I didn’t follow it at the time, I returned to Portland on another date to visit the castle and take this path in at the same time.

So I will take a brief diversion from the (then) coast path to visit Portland Castle. Portland Castle was one of the castles Henry VIII had commissioned of which there are a lot around the coast and it is similar in style to others I have passed, such as Pendennis Castle near Falmouth. The castle is now in the care of English Heritage and open daily during the summer (but not at all in the winter).

The lower courtyard still has all the guns in place.

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The views from the top are as you might expect, of Portland Harbour although as you can see the weather on this occasion was not too good.

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Finally the view from the top of the outer wall gives an idea of the scale of the castle.

Portland Castle

At £5 admission I thought it was pretty good. Anyway, back to the walk. The old route of the coast path took me up the road into Fortuneswell, where the A354 becomes a one way street as the roads in Fortuneswell are steep and narrow. The coast path then goes behind the castle and up a steep hill. Looking at the map I had wondered if this too was an old railway line but it can’t have been, it is far too steep!

Fortuneswell

Nearing the top I am now at the Verne, a large fort built into the rocks at the top of Portland. It is used for rather different purposes these days, with part of it being used for a Prison. This is one of the first sections of the England Coast Path to open and it comes with new coastal access. Areas with a slight light pink hue on the Ordnance Survey maps now mark this coastal access and generally it is treated as open access land – which is why I was surprised to see the prison has been included in this pink colour wash. Take a look at this map to see what I mean. Most odd, I can’t imagine the public has free access to roam around a prison!

The fort really is vast as you can see from this photo.

The Verne, Fortuneswell

As you can see there is also a tempting looking path off to the left. The map suggests this is a dead end and I presume if it wasn’t the new England Coast Path would have been routed this way and it hasn’t. So I didn’t go this way, but one day I must return to Portland and have a poke around this area, as now the land below the fort where the path ends as a dead end is open access it might be possible to take a more coastal route.

For now though, I stuck to the official route. The path went around the edge of the prison and fort and near it’s eastern end I could one again enjoy fine coastal views. The steep climb had been worth it!

Portland Harbour

I looked down below too over the slumped cliffs below and I could see what looked like a walk-able track below.

Near Grove, Portland

The path onwards from here was now quite easy being at a high level. As I commented last time, although Portland is high it is fairly flat, so once you are up you stay up. The area to the left looked to have been quarried in the past (like so much of Portland) and there was also an old Rifle Range marked on the map, and the landscape certainly had it’s fair share of scars.

Portland Harbour from Portland

The path soon squeezes it’s way along a track behind the second prison on the island, this one a Young Offenders Institution. The coast path is routed behind it on a track I suspect used by patrol vehicles whilst below there is a small rocky beach which is not named on the map.

Near Grove, Portland

How you get to it, or indeed if you can, I am not sure. Beyond this beach the coast path continued at a high level on a track with a quarry down to my right. I think this one is still in use although some youths were riding motorbikes around it. Whether they had permission or not I’ve no idea, but I was glad they were staying down there and not on the coast path! I had kept an eye on the low path below me which still looked walkable and then I spotted a couple walking it – so you can indeed walk down there. In fact I notice the England Coast Path has now been routed along this bit of the path, but at the time I was following the only marked coastal path.

Near Grove, Portland

The views of the east coast of Portland were good to, with the white chalk cliffs of the mainland visible in the distance too.

The eastern coast of Portland is quite different in character to the west. Whilst the west is mostly high and almost vertical cliffs, the eastern coast has more slumped cliffs, at an angle of about 45 degrees and the map shows some of them at least are formed by landslips.

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To my right was now quite a dramatic, if not pretty scene. This is one of the still working quarries, and it is vast. It is clear from this quite how much of Portland has been quarried out over the years – the stone still being in high demand.

Yeolands Quarry, Portland

Below me on the coastal side too were lots of rocks, which did not look natural, I suspect the waste from the quarries over the years and the hut down there certainly hints at the hand of man.

The east coast of Portland

Ahead I came to another pleasant sight – the little cove of Church Ope Cove.

Church Ope Cove

Portland is not known for it’s beaches but there are a couple, Chesil Cove on the western side and Church Ope Cove on the eastern side. This one though is sheltered from the westerly winds by the cliffs all around it and the slopes are dotted with numerous beach huts. Clearly a much loved spot, and I can see why.

There is access down to the beach, so I couldn’t resist heading down for a paddle and a quick rest. The beach is mostly pebbles but there is more shingle and coarse sand at the shore line so it is not too hard on the feet.

Church Ope Cove, Portland

There are also the remains of the church, which presumably gives the bay it’s name, at the top of the cliffs. You can just see the remains of some of the wall on the almost vertical cliffs behind the beach.

Church Ope Cove, Portland

The coast path too descends down to the beach and run along the low cliffs, part of an old landslip beyond the beach. Looking back it was time for one last look at this lovely and secluded beach before it disappeared from sight.

Church Ope Cove, Portland

The coast path continued past more boulders near the sea for a while, but then climbed back up onto the high ground above the beach and next to the road for a while. So I had to follow the road for a little while although on reaching another beach, called Freshwater Bay I could head back off the road and onto a coast path. I could now see the end of Portland, with the sea starting to be visible to the right, too.

The coast path near Southwell, Portland

The path soon headed back down again and gave me a view back along the eastern coast of the island, with a small section of near vertical cliffs, as on the western coast of the island.

The coast path near Southwell, Portland

The coast path now weaved it’s way through the very rocky coast, through the remains of old quarries, almost all the coast on this section showing the evidence of the extensive quarrying that has gone on.

Old quarry near Southwell, Portland

I suspect this area was once full of buildings to do with the quarry, all now gone. I continued past the numerous old quarries where clearly the cliffs themselves had been quarried too and cranes were now rusting away on the cliffs, no doubt once used to load the stones into waiting boats.

Old quarry near Southwell, Portland

In some cases, deep caves had been cut under the cliffs. I wondered too if these are the result of quarrying or are natural. I suspect the latter due to their shape.

The coast of Portland near Portland Bill

In other places, square blocks of obviously cut out rocks still dotted the bays. It was though lovely to be back at sea level and listen to the sound of the sea crashing into the cliffs and caves around me.

The coast of Portland near Portland Bill

The coast path was now following these low cliffs and soon I could spot my destination in sight, the lighthouse at Portland Bill.

Portland Bill

I continued along the cliffs and as I neared Portland Bill they were soon dotted with beach huts, which stretched some distance inland. It seemed odd there were so many beach huts when there wasn’t actually a beach. I bet though it must be fun to come down here on a stormy day and watch the sea breaking over those rocks, safe and warm inside a beach hut.

The cliff scenery too was lovely.

The coast near Portland Bill

It was then only a short walk to reach the famous lighthouse.

Portland Bill lighthouse

I could also watch the waves breaking over the rocks below Pulpit Rock. Indeed I sat here for a while doing just that, as I knew I had about 20 minutes to wait for the bus. It was a lovely way to end the walk listening to the sound of the sea and the gulls overhead in the pleasant early evening sunshine.

Pulpit Rock, Portland

Finally it was time for a last look at the coast and the lighthouse, before I had to head back.

Portland Bill lighthouse

I headed back past the lighthouse to the large and mostly empty car park at Portland Bill.  The bus departs from the far end of the car park and soon arrived although these days it only runs during the summer months, there is no winter service. It was again an open top bus, so I could have a nice ride back looking at the coast I had been walking. I saw quite a few cars on the island displaying the sticker “Keep Portland Weird”. There is certainly something different about the island, but I very much enjoyed it. Whilst much of the coast has been shaped by man rather than nature it is still very impressive and there is so much of interest the whole way. It is also not a particularly demanding walk and has the nice bonus of the good beach at Church Ope Cove to rest for a while.

I had a nice bus ride back to Weymouth and got off near the clock tower whilst the driver was radioing through because he couldn’t remember if this bus was meant to continue to Bowleaze Cove (at the far end of the bay in Weymouth). I left him to it and headed a little inland to the station for the hour or so journey back to where I was staying.

Here are the details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

First Wessex bus 501 : Lodmoor Country Park – WeymouthWyke RegisPortland Castle – Portland Heights – Easton – Southwell – Portland Bill. This runs summer only, from late May to late September, there is no service in the winter. The service varies from 5 a day to hourly during the peak season. The timetable link above is the Dorset County Council one from Summer 2015 (you need page 87), but the service has ended for this year. It should hopefully give an idea of the service for next year though.

If you want to do this walk during the winter months, my suggestion is to take bus number 1 to Southwell, which is then around a 30 – 40 minute walk to Portland Bill. This runs from Weymouth to Southwell every 10 minutes Monday – Saturday and every 20 minutes on Sunday.

Here is the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link | Slideshow

Dr Ian West from the University of Southampton also has an excellent website, with a large section covering the Isle of Portland.

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