Walk - Around Portland
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.
- From the far north-west corner of Portland Bill car park, by the motorbike area, take the small path on your left 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.
The rare maritime grassland here is home to hardy plants like the pink-flowered thrift and the feathery-leaved wild carrot, as well as creeping plants such as wild thyme, bird's-foot trefoil and the tiny pink and white stars of centaury and squinancywort. Please help protect these plants by staying on the grass. The red-and-white lighthouse was erected in 1906, replacing the higher and lower lighthouses built in 1869 on the western and eastern coasts (see the Portland Bill Walk). The lighthouse 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.
- Passing the fenced-off buildings at Southwell Business Park, carry on along the Coast Path, ignoring all paths inland to carry on along above the sheer cliffs, passing underneath several arches from the former Tout Quarry, to arrive above the rooftops at Chiswell.
Southwell Business Park was built in the 1950s as the Admiralty Gunnery Establishment and became the Admiralty Underwater Weapons Establishment in 1960. It closed in the 1990s before being transformed into a business park. The Venue Hotel, occupying much of the naval establishment, was host to some of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing teams. Southwell is one of Portland's oldest settlements and was occupied by the Romans. Its Avalanche Memorial Church was built to commemorate the loss of 106 lives when the SS Avalanche and the SS Forest collided off Portland Bill in 1877. The field beyond the business park is divided into a number of strips. Known as 'lawnsheds', these are family field systems dating back to medieval times (see the Portland South Walk). Beyond it, the steep cliffs are a popular spot with climbers. Above them, Blacknor Fort, built in 1902, was the most recent of the island's numerous fortifications over the ages (see the Portland Castle Walk). Below them, the shoreline is littered with the waste stone dumped over the cliffs from Tout Quarry. The Quarry itself is well worth a detour. As well as being a nature reserve, it is home to the Tout Quarry Sculpture Trail, a fascinating tour of the creations of top national and international artists who were invited to carve designs on and out of the remnants of the old quarry.
- Above the houses at Chiswell the Coast Path splits in two to go around the island. Fork left to descend steeply to Chesil Cove, bearing right with Pebble Lane and turning left on the road ahead to walk to the roundabout.
Thomas Hardy named Chesil Cove 'Deadman's Bay' in his novel 'The Well-Beloved'. Portland is linked to the mainland by the eastern end of the famous Chesil Beach (see the Portland Castle Walk).
- At the roundabout take the next road on the right and walk along Victory Road, with Victoria Gardens on your right. At the cemetery take the road to the left and follow Castle Road to the roundabout.
Portland harbour, one of the world's largest, and was built between 1849 and 1872, at a cost of over one million pounds, despite the fact that the labour was provided by convicts (see the Portland Plateau Walk). Producing 1500 tons of stone a day, in total the convicts shifted 5,731,376 tonnes of stone for building the island's fortifications and breakwater. Originally a coaling station, Portland was a Royal Naval port for many years. At the beginning of the twenty-first century it was the berth of the UK's only prison ship, HMP Weare, but today its use is purely civilian. In 2012 it hosted the Olympic and Paralympic Games yachting and windsurfing events, and will be the venue for the 2016 Vintage Yachting Games.
- Take the next road on the right at this roundabout too, taking the footpath on the right a moment later, under the low bridge. Climbing steeply to Verne Common Road, cross the road to carry on along the footpath opposite, following it across the common and bearing left with it around the edge of Verne Citadel.
The remarkable landscape around Verne was shaped by the construction of the quarries' infrastructure in the nineteenth century, including one of the world's earliest public railways (see the Portland Castle Walk), as well as the fortifications built by the convicts working on the breakwater (see the Portland Plateau Walk).
- Coming out on Verne Hill Road, turn left and walk to the junction ahead. Take either of the footpaths opposite and walk to the High-Angle Batteries. From the seaward side of the batteries take one of the small paths to the rough track immediately beyond, where you pick up the South West Coast Path. Turn right on the track, on the landward side of the mast, and carry on ahead past Waycroft and Admiralty Quarries, on your right.
The eastern side of the island is a gentler landscape than the exposed and rugged gully-scored cliffs of its western shore. The undercliffs that resulted from a number of landslips this side are a haven for wildlife, and the limestone grasslands are home to many creeping plants that attract rare moths and butterflies (see the Church Ope Cove Walk). A rare breed of sheep originates from Portland, and an unusual wild cabbage grows here, and many migrant birds stop off here after their long journeys.
- Fork left and then left again to follow the Coast Path to the old engine shed on Incline Road. Bear right here and walk to the high fence of the Young Offenders Institution, turning left to follow it around the coastal side of the buildings. When the South West Coast Path leaves on the left to descend through the undercliffs, carry on along the road.
The engine shed, built in the mid nineteenth century, housed the steam engines that carried stone from the quarries to the workers building the breakwater.
- As the road swings around to the right, a little way beyond, carry on along the path ahead, past the car park and onwards along the top of the cliffs above Durdle Pier. Passing around the edge of another massive quarry, Yeolands Quarry, bear left around Silklake Quarries beyond it to rejoin the Coast Path. Ignore the path to the right a little further on, staying on the Coast Path as it reaches the remains of Rufus Castle above Church Ope Cove.
There are two butterfly reserves here in the middle of the island, and many different species of butterfly and moth can be seen here, including a variety of silver-studded blue butterfly that is unique to Portland (see the Church Ope Cove Walk).
- At Rufus Castle ignore the path heading under its archway, to your right, and instead take the steps on the left down to Church Ope Cove. Follow the Coast Path waymarkers to climb out of the cove on the far side, carrying on above the shoreline to ascend to the road above via a series of zigzags up the steep cliffs.
Rufus Castle is thought to have been built in the eleventh century for Rufus the Red, son of William the Conqueror, but the building still standing today dates from Tudor times (see the Portland South Walk). Beside it, the ruined church in St Andrew's graveyard was first built in the twelfth century on the site of a much older chapel, but after it was repeatedly damaged by French raiders and then landslips it was abandoned and a new one built inland (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.
Here the landscape is dramatically pitted and terraced, reshaped by the extensive quarrying that took place over many centuries. Portland stone was used in the construction of many prominent British buildings, including St Paul's Cathedral and most of Whitehall, and British war graves, as well as many military monuments, are built from it, including the recently-constructed Bomber Command Memorial.
- Coming to the beach huts around the old lower/higher lighthouse, carry on ahead along the Coast Path past them, to return to Portland Bill and the car park at the start of the walk.