Walk - Portland South
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2020. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Coming out of the car park at Wakeham, turn left and then right, to take Church Ope Road, by the museum, going through the gate at the end of the road and along the footpath beyond, coming out on the South West Coast Path by Rufus Castle. Turning briefly right, take the steps on the left heading down to Church Ope Cove. Follow the Coast Path waymarkers to climb out of the cove on the far side and carry on above the shoreline, ascending to the road above via a series of zigzags up the steep cliffs.
To the right of Church Ope Road, Pennsylvania Castle – a Grade II listed building – is a mock Gothic mansion built in 1797-1800 for John Penn, Governor of Portland and grandson of William Penn, who founded Pennsylvania (see the Church Ope Cove Walk).
Also known as 'Bow and Arrow Castle', Rufus Castle at the end of the lane is a Grade I listed building. Most of the remains visible today, including the archway over the lane, date from the late fifteenth century, but this was a Tudor remodelling of a much earlier castle. The original fortress is thought to have been built at the end of the eleventh century for William II (William Rufus, also known as Rufus the Red, son of William the Conqueror). In 1142 Robert, Earl of Gloucester, acting on behalf of Empress Matilda, captured it from King Stephen (see the Corfe Castle to Kimmeridge Walk). Further fortifications were added in 1238, and again 14 months later, but the earliest remains have probably been lost to cliff erosion. In 1989 the seaward archway collapsed too, and in 2010-2012 English Heritage carried out extensive restoration and consolidation work.
Below both castles are the remains of St Andrew's Church, built in the twelfth century and remodelled several times before being abandoned in the eighteenth century (see the Church Ope Cove Walk).
- Turn left on the road (Southwell Road), passing extensive quarries on your right. Carry on past the Cheyne Wears viewpoint to the footpath on the left beyond, where the Coast Path descends from the road once more.
- Turn left onto this path and follow the Coast Path as it makes its way southwards to Portland Bill, through a series of shoreline quarries.
The cliffs have been extensively quarried, like the rest of Portland (see the Around Portland Walk), leaving artificial ledges and terraces along the length of the coastline, as well as other remains, and the cliffs are seamed with holes and caves, where the sea has eaten into cracks in the rock (see the Portland Bill Walk).
- As the last extensive quarry above the shoreline gives way to open fields (after the first crane), a path on the right heads up to the Portland Bill Road. A detour up this path will take you to the Culverwell Mesolithic Site, through a gate on the opposite side of the road. Maintained by the Association for Portland Archaeology, the site is open to the public on Bank Holidays and the first Sunday of the month from May to August, and there is a contact telephone number on the gate for further information.
Culverwell is an important archaeological site where evidence has been found of extensive settlement here during the Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age) period, around 6000 BC. The site consists of stone slabs laid over a seashell midden, with hearths still visible, and archaeologists have been able to date it from samples of charcoal and molluscs found here. The floor is the first known use of Portland stone for building purposes, and there is also evidence of an early sense of spirituality. A polished axe head was found under a large triangular stone, with a pierced scallop shell and a pebble beside it. Generally Mesolithic people were thought to be hunter gatherers with a nomadic lifestyle, but this site gives an important insight into one of the first ever human settlements on mainland Britain.
Beside the site, the field is divided up into numerous narrow strips, known locally as 'lawnsheds'. These are strip lynchets, the remnants of a Saxon field system where families had their own strip of land to cultivate. Because the laws of succession at the time gave equal rights to daughters and sons, over time these strips were repeatedly divided and some of them are tiny.
From the Coast Path, without the detour to the road, continue ahead towards the two lighthouses.
The white lighthouse tower, now a bird observatory and a field centre, was once the island's 'lower lighthouse'. Beyond it, the sea cave near the Red Crane is a blowhole in stormy weather. At certain states of the tide, giant waves build up enormous pressure in the cave, and a dramatic geyser explodes into the air with a massive roar (see the Portland Bill Walk).
Carry on ahead along the Coast Path to Portland Bill, where there is a restaurant and a toilet block, and a lighthouse visitor centre.
Over the centuries the Portland Race wrecked many ships heading for Weymouth, and as early as 1669 a lighthouse was planned here, but it was not until the early eighteenth century that Trinity House finally agreed to shipowners' requests to build one. The red-and-white tower standing on The Bill today was built in 1904 (see the Portland Bill Walk). This tower is 41 metres high, 43 metres above the sea at high water. Its light flashes 4 times every 20 seconds. Its fog signal blasts once every 30 seconds and can be heard for 2 nautical miles.
- From the far north-west corner of Portland Bill car park, by the motorbike area, take the small path through the grassland to pick up the South West Coast Path. Turn right and follow the path northwards, inland of the MoD buildings and then heading along the top of the cliffs.
Quarrying and tourism have taken their toll on Portland's clifftop grassland, and recently portions of the grassland have been enclosed to encourage the rehabitation of the island's special maritime vegetation (see the Portland Bill Walk). You are asked to keep to the paths and areas of hard-standing to help preserve these special plants.
The MoD buildings are the Ministry's Magnetic Range, used for simulating the earth's magnetic field and measuring its effect on various test objects. The Lookout Station, beyond, is operated by the NCI (National Coastwatch Institution), a voluntary organisation set up in 1994, when two sailors drowned there within sight of the newly-closed Coastguard lookout at Bass Point, on the Lizard. It is open every day throughout the year, apart from Christmas Day and Boxing Day, and visitors are welcome, at the discretion of the duty watchkeeper. Visit the NCI Portland Bill webpage for more information, and a video showing huge waves off Portland Bill during stormy weather.
- Ignoring several paths leading away to your right, carry on northwards past the back of the Southwell Business Park.
- Continue past all paths to the right until you come to the one signed to Weston, a field before the first houses at Weston. Turn right onto this path, following it to the left around the top boundary of the field and turning right halfway along the next to take the path to the road.
- Cross the road and bear right to carry on ahead along the road opposite (Weston Street). Take the public footpath on your left, along a rough lane opposite the open field on your right. Ignoring the service road to houses on the right-hand side of the lane, carry on ahead.
- Turn right on the next lane, towards the end of this field, heading between more fields and on past the quarry, bearing right at the fork to come out at a junction of many paths. Turn right here and walk around the quarry, forking left at the end to come back out on Pennsylvania Road. Turn left here to return to the car park.
At Portland Bill