79 Portland Bill and Chesil Beach

There is a number 210 bus that goes from Dorchester all the way to the tip of Portland (but not quite as far as Portland Bill). A man at the bus stop tells me (in a Dorset accent) that he always takes the 210 because it is cheaper than the number 1. I ask him if he is going to Portland too – but he is only going into Weymouth town centre.

“Here it comes,” says my friendly bus stop neighbour. It is just as well he is guiding me. I expected an express coach. The bus is old and I would have missed the small card with the number “210” pasted at the bottom of the front windscreen.

South West Coast Path, Ruth walking round Portland, Dorset.I am the only person who travels as far as Portland. ‘Hope you’ve got your passport,’ calls my new friend as he gets off in Weymouth. The bus trundles through the outskirts of Weymouth, crosses the causeway into Portland, winds up the hill of Fortuneswell and squeezes through narrow residential streets in Easton.

Finally we arrive at my stop – where I ended my walk yesterday – Avalanche Road, Southwell.

The South West Coast path follows close to the sea from Freshwater Bay to Portland Bill. After the disappointing walk yesterday, this is a great walk with fantastic views over the sea. I pass over the top of rocky cliffs, close to the edge of the sea.
rugged path through quarries, Portland, Ruth waking round the coast

And here are more disused quarry workings. Old winching apparatus remains in place. I assume large hunks of stone were lowered onto waiting boats during the busy working days of these quarries.
quarry and winches, Portland, Ruth's coastal walk, UK

The stone is pale grey, almost white. Many fine London buildings are made from Portland stone, including much of Whitehall. This though reminds me I have to return to London tomorrow for a meeting, and I am sad my short holiday is coming to an end. The weather has been amazing, the scenery fantastic and the people really friendly.

lighthouse, Portand Bill, Ruth on her coastal walkI see the lighthouse of Portland Bill ahead of me. Actually there are three lighthouses – a squat one inland, a taller one nearer the coast and a fine, impressive tower right on the end of the point. I meet people. Dog walkers. Walkers. Fishers. Photographers. There are small huts – like beach huts but with no beach. Fishing boats. And a large car park with a cafe and toilets.

The cafe looks nice but it is too early for lunch.

I walk around the lighthouse and look out over the choppy sea off the Bill. The rest of the sea is calm. The rippling waves I can see must be due to hidden rocks, explaining the importance of the lighthouse. I pass a lone rock sticking up out of the sea. This must be Pulpit Rock.

The coast path crosses short grassland, heading uphill towards a lookout station. People are walking around. There are bird watchers with enormous telescopes. A man tells a group of women he has seen a – what? I don’t catch it. Further up I pass a small rabbit, dead. I wonder if there are birds of prey wheeling overhead here. I do see a wheatear. Several wheatears.

The coast path is wide and flat. I skirt a forbidding set of buildings, surrounded by high fences and security signs. coastal path, from Portland Bill, Ruth walks around the coast

This is ‘Southwell business park’. Apparently. I have a flight of fancy and wonder if this is the famous Portland Down – where a cure for the common cold was sought and subsequently it was discovered that unpleasant biological strains were tested – prototypes for biological warfare. [A subsequent search on the Internet reveals I was confused with Porton Down, near Salisbury. Although I did uncover details of secret and controversial biological testing in the area in the 1960s on this website .]

From here onwards the path becomes much more interesting, winding close to the cliff through a rugged landscape of natural rock falls and old quarry workings. I pass under archways made from great chunks of stone.

soldier in pill-box, Portland, Ruths coast walk, DorsetI stop and have a snack by an old 2nd world war pill box. Someone has drawn a soldier on the back wall.

memorial, Portland, Dorset, Ruth on her coastal walkI also pass a couple of sad memorials. One has a semi-permanent look, with a professional plaque stuck onto a rock. The other consists of a collection of withered flowers, still in the florist’s cellophane. This second one is adjacent to a sheer, high drop onto cruel rocks below. Almost certainly a suicide, I think, and am reminded of Beachy Head. How sad.

Shortly after this, I have to jump off the path when a mad man on a mountain bike hurtles past me.

The highlight of the walk is when I reach the cliff area called West Weare. The view is spectacular, marred only by a thick haze, making photography lack lustre. Ahead is the mighty sweeping curve of Chesil Beach. Ten miles of shingle bank, the distant end lost in the blue murk of the horizon.
Chesil Beach, from Portland, Dorset, Ruth's coastal walk

Below me is the area of Portland called Chiswell. Beyond is the blue of Portland Harbour and the distant landscape of the south end of Weymouth, an area called Wyke Regis. Standing upright is the tower of Weymouth bay. It appears to have sprouted a bulb on too. (later I learn the tower has had a top circular section added today)

path down to Chesil Beach, Ruth's coastal walk through DorsetThe path down to the beach is steep and I am glad I brought my poles. I pass a little primary school, perched on the side of the steep slope. And tennis courts.

Ahead is a pub. The Cove House Inn. They don’t do dry cider but I enjoy a lager and some of the most wonderful, fresh scallops I have ever tasted. A generous portion too.

Trying to avoid another hot and unpleasant trek along the busy A354, I walk along the shingle of Chesil Beach instead. This is hard work but I have had worse encounters with shingle – at least these shingle pebbles are large and fairly stable underfoot.

Chesil Beach, Ruth walking round the coast, Dorset

Apparently, the shingle pebbles become smaller as you follow the beach north westwards. Oh, and in case you are wondering, you are not allowed to remove pebbles from the beach.

sign, Portland, Chesil Beach, Ruths walk in DorsetI did momentarily consider walking the whole of the ten miles of Chesil Beach instead of following the official South West Coast path, which runs along the inner shore of East and West Fleet. But this mile or so of shingle walking reminds me why the official path follows the shoreline instead. It is hard work.

kite surfing, Portland Harbour, Ruth walks around the coastline.
I rejoin the causeway and walk along the strip of ‘common land’ that runs beside Portland Harbour. There are sailing ships out. And kite surfers. There is a stiff breeze but the water is calm. Perfect for kiters.

My plan was to continue up the coast to East Fleet and catch the bus from Chickerell. But I am tired, the bus only runs every 2 hours, and I remind myself of my number one rule for this coastal walk. “I will enjoy myself”.

So I catch the bus from Ferry Bridge, heading back to Weymouth. It is 3:30. I hadn’t realised the significance of the time. At the next bus stop a crowd of school children push and shove their way onto the bus. I am entertained by their conversation all the way back to Weymouth town centre.

Vital stats: miles walked 8 miles.
Highlights: the view.
Low points: the causeway.


About Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, doctor, woman, etc.
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7 Responses to 79 Portland Bill and Chesil Beach

  1. discjirm says:

    Cheers for the write-up. I love the Isle of Portland – have several very happy memories of walks on the island.

    I think the white tower at the very end of the Bill is actually a shipmark

    At least you managed to walk on the Isle before the chaos of the Olympics hits it…

  2. I love your blog Ruth. Thank you and well done on your progress. I passed through Portland and Chesil Beach in the spring of 2010. I am about to head back up to Shieldaig on the north west coast of Scotland to resume my walk. The coastline and scenery is also stunning up there, but not sure that the weather will match it! Philip Williams. http://www.philipwilliams.uk.com.

  3. Pingback: 80. Chesil Beach to Fleet | Ruth's Coastal Walk (UK)

  4. Karen White says:

    I visited Portland Bill back in 2008, it was lovely to read about your walk and be reminded of it.

  5. Mr D Stedeford says:

    Portlanders call outsiders to the island “kimberlins.” NEVER utter the word “rabbit” when on Portland -it’s taboo and bad luck. Thomas Hardy’s wonderful novel “The Well-Beloved” is largely set on Portland (which he called the Isle of Slingers). It’s the tale of Jocelyn’s relationship with 3 generations of young women each called Avice. One of the Avices Hardy has living in the pretty cottage of Portland stone which is now Portland’s Museum (Above Church Ope Cove). The magnificent 18th century church of St George’s, Reforne (open daily)also features in the novel and absolutely must be visited for its splendid interior with box pews facing huge matching pulpit and lectern (scripture reading and preaching being given equal importance) and also its fascinating graveyard. As with all Hardy’s novels the locations for much of his tale can be found (see AM Edwards “In the steps of Thomas Hardy”). On the east side of Portland part of the coastal path follows the trackbed of the former Portland Railway (as it does along the causeway leading to Ferry Bridge) before rising up to the extraordinary 19th century citadel that is HM Prison The Verne. Nearby is an active quarry as Portland stone continues to be extracted. There is also Henry VIII’s Portland Castle and the legacy of the 2012 Olympics in the many leisure pursuits available beside and in Portland Harbour, which has also now become a regular port of call for cruise ships. Highly recommended is the Lobster Pot Restaurant at Portland Bill which does a great crab sandwich. I found the 13 mile coastal path around Portland from Ferry Bridge and back walking anti-clockwise around the island to be an unmissable highlight of the trail.

    • Thank you for all this interesting information about Portland. Just been back recently on a winter’s holiday with friends and we visited the sculpture park and walked around some of the Coast Path. It was great to revisit and I would happily go back again.

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