Walk - Legacy Trail 5 - Around Hamm and Chesil Beaches
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 Dorset Wildlife Trust’s Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Centre cross over the road to Hamm Beach via the boardwalk and follow the South West Coast Path and Legacy Trail towards the sailing academy.
This is the bed of the former Weymouth and Portland railway which opened in 1865, finally closing in 1962. There are lovely views across Portland Harbour and the Jurassic Coast. In spring and summer, the fragile coastal grassland is full of wild flowers such as sea pink, yellow rattle and wild carrot.
Small wading birds feed along the shore edge and sea squirts may be seen in the shallows.
- Follow the Coast Path through the sailing academy complex where refreshments are available.
Look across to the Mulberrys, (large concrete blocks), examples of those used to create a temporary harbour during the D Day landings (WW2). The massive breakwaters (19th century) were constructed using stone from the island and convict labour.
Looking towards the island, you can see a steep, straight path, the Merchant’s Incline, part of a horse -drawn railway for transporting stone down from quarries to the harbour. It is now the route of the South West Coast Path leading up to the Verne Citadel, a Victorian fort, now a prison.
- At Portland Castle you can follow the South West Coast Path and Legacy Trail up onto the island, joining circular walk 6, or continue with this walk.
From here, follow the road pavement back towards Chesil Bank and the east side of the Island. At Victoria Square roundabout follow the Coast Path signs to Chesil Cove.
Look out for the yellow-horned poppies with their long seed pods, left to grow on the roundabout. You may like to stop off at the Chiswell Walled Garden.
From Chesil Cove there are dramatic views of the West Weares cliffs, part of the Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site. It’s very dynamic with landslides creating the landscape you see today. Quarries at the top of the cliffs are hidden from view. Vast quantities of waste stone have literally been thrown over the edge here. Many plants, butterflies, moths and birds live on the West Weares, including a plant unique to Portland.
You could linger on the John Maine sculpture (1993). Made from dry stone wall of local stone, it pays tribute to the quarrymen and masons who have worked with Portland stone for generations. The five wave-like terraces represent the five layers of stone as they occur naturally in a Portland quarry.
Chesil Cove gets the full force of the Atlantic and is the site of many shipwrecks. It lies at the end of Chesil Bank, the great storm beach or ‘tombolo’ connecting Portland to the mainland which stretches for 17 miles. Here the beach is at its highest with the largest pebbles.
Out in the Cove, it has been described as an underwater fairyland with abundant marine life living amongst the shipwrecks.
The appearance of the Cove changed dramatically with the construction of the Sea Wall and Promenade (1958 to 1965), which stabilized a massive landslide.
Rock samphire, once pickled and used to prevent scurvy by sailors grows out of the walls.
- From Chesil Cove you can either follow the Coast Path back to the Fine Foundation Chesil Centre, keeping on the shingle bank side or crossing over to Hamm beach if preferred. For the more adventurous you may want to walk back along the shingle ridge (about a mile of hard walking!)
It’s hard to get a foothold on the shingle and this is the same for plants and animals. Waves pound the ridges changing their shape and washing up clues to what lives out at sea; common dog whelk egg cases or ‘seawash’ balls, the remains of spider crabs, cuttlefish internal skeletons and pink sea fans. Unfortunately, there’s also marine litter -regular beach cleans are carried out and many artists source materials from here.
On a clear day you can look out across Lyme Bay and see as far as Start Point in South Devon.
Discover more about Chesil Beach and its wildlife at the Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Centre. You can look for birds on the Fleet lagoon and see underwater by a camera linked to the centre.
Refreshments are available at the Chesil Beach Centre.