Walk - Portland Plateau
Walk information provided with help from Natural England. Map reproduced by permission of Ordnance Survey on behalf of HMSO. © Crown copyright and database right 2022. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100022021.
- Park in one of the car parks on the left on New Ground and turn left to walk along the path to the end of the road, taking the footpath on your right, signed to the High Angle Battery. From the seaward side of the battery take one of the small paths to the rough track immediately beyond, where you pick up the South West Coast Path.
Verne Citadel was a military fortress built in 1847 to house the convicts who were building the breakwater in the water below it. In 1860-72 it was extended to accommodate the troops who were working in the East Weare Battery and, later, the high angle battery. The fortress itself had gun emplacements on three sides, facing towards the sea, consisting in 1888 of nine fixed artillery pieces and ten mobile ones. These were removed in 1906, after the fortress became an infantry barracks, but the emplacements still remain today. From 1937 the citadel was used for infantry training, but when the Royal Engineers left after the Second World War it was handed over to the Prison Commission and it is now a medium security prison for 575 medium- and long-term prisoners.
For centuries the natural deep harbour of Portland Roads and the Isle of Portland were of great strategic importance and both were heavily defended against the perceived threat from mainland Europe. Rufus Castle was built in 1450 to defend the only beach access on east coast at Church Ope Cove (see the Church Ope Cove Walk), while Henry VIII built Banksfoot Castle on the mainland in 1538 and Portland Castle in the 1540s to defend against invasion from the Spanish and French fleets (see the Portland Castle Walk). Breakwater Fort (built in 1860) and Nothe Fort (1872) were also constructed by the convicts and were designed to repel any attack that might be launched by the French Navy. In 1902 Blacknor Fort was built on the island's west coast.
The East Weare Battery, on the east coast below the citadel, was built in the 1860s in order to guard the new harbour and the island's naval institutions. The five open batteries originally housed 20 nine- and ten-inch guns, but these were replaced in 1900 by three six-inch guns, which were themselves replaced during World War Two by two 9.2-inch guns. The High-Angle Battery, built during the Napoleonic Wars and a scheduled ancient monument, is considered to be a prime example of Victorian military engineering, and was built in 1892. It housed six nine-inch, twelve-ton guns deep in a quarry and so hidden from passing enemy ships. The guns were designed to fire at an angle of 70 degrees, so that instead of hitting a ship's armoured sides they rained upon its more vulnerable decks from above. The guns were loaded from a narrow gauge railway that ran from the magazine and up a ramp to each position of the parapet. Originally positions were built for six guns, which could rotate through 360 degrees, but in 1898 two additional pits were built, although no guns were fitted and they were used only as observation posts.
- Turn right on the track, on the landward side of the mast, and carry on ahead past the quarries on your right, forking left beyond them and again at the next junction. Bear right past the old engine shed on Incline Road, ahead, and then turn left in front of the high fence of the Young Offenders Institution to walk along the high path around its seaward side.
On the seaward side of the high angle battery, RAF Portland was built in 1950-1951 and was part of the early warning radar UK Air Defence system. Codenamed Rotor 1, and also known as Rotor Station NIB, it was equipped with radar arrays, a small electrical substation, an operations building and a guardhouse. It also had a bunker containing the control centre for the Rotor site, divided into a number of working areas including workshops, radar offices, a tracking room and domestic facilities. The station was decommissioned by 1958 and little of it remains to be seen.
- Carry on along the coastal path past the Young Offenders Institution, heading southwards, staying on the pathway ahead when the South West Coast Path leaves on the left to descend through the undercliffs. 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 with the Coast Path as it reaches the remains of Rufus Castle above Church Ope Cove.
HM Prison Portland The Grove originally opened in 1848, when convicts working in the Grove quarries built their own cells. As well as convicts it held high-profile Irish Republicans, and in 1855 eighty convicts were deported from here to western Australia. In 1921 it became a Borstal remand centre, being renamed the Young Offenders Institution in 1988, and today it accommodates prisoners aged between 18 and 21, providing a range of vocational training.
- Leave the Coast Path here, heading along the footpath on your right that passes under the archway of the castle, and continue up Church Ope Road to the main road ahead.
To the left of Church Ope Road as you head to the main 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).
- On the main road turn left, passing the car park entrance on the opposite side of the road and taking the next turn on the right, just before the new houses. Bear right ahead, around the quarry, and stay on this main thoroughfare until you come to a junction of many tracks and paths. Take the first track on the left, staying on it when another two paths join from the right. At the T-junction turn right, turning left in front of the houses a moment later. Walking past a couple of fields, bear left at the end to follow Gypsy Lane around to the right and down to Weston Road.
One of the fields to the left before Gypsy lane is divided up into numerous narrow strips, known locally as 'lawnsheds'. These are strip lynchets, the remnants of a Saxon field system (see the Portland South Walk).
- On Weston Road turn left, carrying on past the phone box to where Weston Street leaves on the left. Take the footpath on the right, immediately opposite Weston Street, and follow it around a field, turning right at the T-junction and then left in front of the houses to walk to the western stretch of the South West Coast Path.
- Turn right on the Coast Path, passing through the remains of Bowers and Tout Quarries and travelling along the top of the high cliffs at West Weare.
One of 80 working quarries on Portland, Tout Quarry was worked by hand from 1750 onwards, mainly by gangs from the families who owned the lawnsheds. Today it has been turned into a sculpture park (see the Portland Castle Walk).
- As you approach Chiswell, the Coast Path forks. The left-hand fork, dropping steeply downhill, heads towards the causeway and Weymouth. Fork right instead and walk to the road, turning left briefly here to carry on along the Coast Path as it climbs steeply above the road on the right. At the top turn right and then left to walk along Yeates Road and the New Ground to the car park at the beginning of the walk.