Walk - Legacy Trail 6 - Around Verne Nature Reserve and West Weares
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2019. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
Follow the Legacy Trail along the Coast Path from Portland Castle to the start of the Merchant’s Incline.
This walk follows in the footsteps of the quarrymen and their wagons of stone on the route of the original Merchant's Railway. It was constructed purely to transport stone.
Portland Harbour with its sheltered position and breakwater of Portland Stone has long been used by ships and was occupied by the Navy until 1996.Portland Castle and Sandsfoot Castle, (now a ruin) on the Weymouth side of the harbour, were built as coastal defences by Henry VIII.
- Start climbing up the incline stretching straight ahead and rising steeply.
The Merchant's Incline built in 1826 enabled the transportation of stone using no power operated machinery or engines. The weight of the laden trucks descending to Castletown pulled the empty ones up using a chain on a drum. The tramway stone sleepers can still be seen in places in the path along the route.
Teams of horses were used to transport the stone at either end of the incline and along the railway around Verne Hill and over to Priory Corner-the route this walk takes.
- Cross East Weare Road and up to the top.
You are rewarded with fantastic views of Chesil Beach, Portland Harbour and across to the Ridgeway. Hidden behind the grassy slopes the Verne Citadel, originally built as a concealed army barracks, is now a prison. In spring and summer, the longer grass attracts skipper, marbled White and blue butterflies.
- Pass under the road and skirt Verne Hill. Take the middle path around the hillside, which follows the route of one of two original tramway tracks that ran around this hill.
Ahead is the Verne Yeates incline, with three bridges across it. This was built to transport stone from Kingbarrow and adjacent quarries down to the Merchant's Railway. This area of grassland and scrub is part of the Isle of Portland Site of Special Scientific Interest and is important for its rich diversity of plants, butterflies and moths. You may want to climb up to the edge of the grassy slopes to see the deep moat. Look out for kestrels hovering over the grassland looking for small mammals and beetles.
- Leave the Coast Path and follow the Legacy Trail signs to Verne Hill Road. At the road turn right and continue down the road crossing over the first of the three bridges.
- After the bridge, continue to a footpath on the left. Follow this, the old Merchant’s railway line, across Old Hill. Continue along this path to an access road and down a footpath on the right to cross the main road. You’ll see a model of a Derrick crane at Priory Corner and the Spirit of Portland stone carving ahead.
Speckled wood butterflies love the dappled shade along this footpath. This was near the start of the Merchant's Railway where the wagons were loaded with stone from quarries across the Island including Tout Quarry beyond Priory Corner. This quarry is well known for its sculptures, including ‘Still Falling’ an Antony Gormley, set within the landscape and is well worth a visit. Circular walk 7 explores the quarries.
From here you could stop off at the Heights Hotel for refreshments and to enjoy the view overlooking Chesil Beach and the Fleet. This is a perfect place for refreshment whilst enjoying a stunning view of Lyme Bay and the World Heritage
- Follow the Coast Path signs from the crane, through a wall and down the west weares.
To your left there are dramatic views of the west coast 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 and super fast Peregrine falcons.
Below is 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.
- From Chesil Cove follow the Coast Path signs to Victoria Square roundabout and then signs to Portland Castle.
Refreshments can be found at Portland Castle, Heights Hotel and in Chiswell.