The South West Coast Path is the longest National Trail in England stretching nearly 650 miles between Minehead and Poole Harbour. On its way it is waymarked around the Isle of Portland and, a few weeks ago, I took a walk around it. I had been on several parts of the path previously but this was the first time I studiously followed the route. It is only about 14km (8 miles) round, so not very strenuous, though the distance obviously depends where you choose to start and finish. I went from the Victoria Square bus stop having taken the No.1 bus to and from Weymouth.
I walked clockwise round the island setting off up Victory Road then turning left, down towards Portland Castle, going past the YHA hostel. Just after the roundabout you find the first Coastal Path sign and you walk steadily up the old track of the old Merchants Railway ( http://www.portlandbill.co.uk/merchants_railway.htm) and past the Verne. The Verne has been a prison since 1949, although is now reported to house immigration detainees (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-dorset-26661666). The Verne citadel was built by prison labour, between 1860 and 1872. It was designed to protect Portland Harbour and had guns facing in three directions. It was complemented by the Nothe Fort built at about the same time in Weymouth. At the top of the hill there is a worthwhile detour into the High Angle Battery, built 1892 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Verne_High_Angle_Battery) and a scheduled ancient monument.
After walking past Fancy’s Farm – a community farm on the site of an old radar station, where you might spot a Wallaby or two! – you walk across some rough scrubby ground. It is worth keeping an eye out for gaps in the hedge on your right which give excellent views into a working quarry. Shortly, the track bears left and just before the Young Offenders Institution
you will see the Incline Road with the Grade 2 listed Old Engine Shed (http://watershedpr.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/PDF-of-brochure-outlining-project-for-the-Old-Engine-Shed.pdf) at the top. There is an excellent viewpoint just to the left of the Shed.
Back on the Coast Path you walk around the coast side of the prison and watch out for a small footpath sign on your left taking you off the road and zig-zagging down to the coast. Watch out for the feral goats, often seen at this point. (When I was there the goats were sun- bathing on top of a massive brick construction on the left.) Google maps actually shows the Coastal Path continuing along the road and taking a higher level track. In my view the lower level path is much more pleasant and, in my view, the best section of this walk. It is very quiet, there is plenty of plant and bird life and you are close to the sea.
The next features are Rufus Castle and Church Ope Cove.
I think the beach is delightful and a just reward for the effort of walking down, only to immediately climb back up on the path.
After a climb it is necessary to join a road for about 500m then look out for a footpath sign on the left taking you down a track. The next section is through old quarries with the occasional old derrick still standing. There are some great coastal views here.
Soon the three Portland lighthouses loom into view. There were lots of visitors in the car park but I still managed to find a table in the Lobster Pot restaurant just by the present day lighthouse for a drink and crab sandwich; excellent. The lighthouse, 35mtrs high and built in 1906 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Bill), is impressive.
The coast path continues round the lighthouse next to the sea and passes the Pulpit Rock, and then returns to the other side of the lighthouse to go round the high fence of a radio station alongside the very large Portland Bill visitor car park. You come out on a large grassy field criss-crossed with paths. The Coast Path is the one nearest the water but just about all the paths going uphill will take you to the left of the National Coastwatch Institution’s look- out station (http://www.nci.org.uk/portlandbill – my thanks to this voluntary organisation for use of this picture)
Shortly after this you walk past more wire fencing around the Southwell Business Park. This is on the site of what was originally owned by the Admiralty and occupied variously by weapons research departments. In 1990 it became the Southwell Business Park which now contains the Ocean Hotel and Spa Retreat and The Venue Hotel and many small business units.
Next you come to a new-ish housing estate, part of the village of Weston, with Chesil Beach and the end of the walk clearly in sight. Due to rock falls, I had to take a detour through the disused Tout Quarries. This was a welcome deviation because it allowed me to browse through what is now a nature reserve and sculpture park. Among the remaining rocks of the quarry are many sculptures and “spot the sculpture” is an absorbing adjunct to the walk.
After the detour the path descends sharply to Fortuneswell and the concrete sea defences at this end of Chesil Beach. The Cove House Inn is ideally situated for an end of walk, welcome bevvy.