10 of the best things to see and do in Weymouth & Portland - 2015
- Credit: Archant
Famous as a host venue for the 2012 Olympic Games, these two coastal towns remain a popular destination to visit, whether you are seeking the quieter island life of Portland or a traditional trip to seaside at Weymouth
A Seafood Celebration
Weymouth is rightly famous for it local seafood which is landed in its historic harbour. One of the towns most prestigious annual events is the multi award-winning Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival (dorsetseafood.co.uk). Held over the weekend of 11-12 July, this is a celebration of seafood in all its forms from mackerel in a bap to seafood paella. Weymouth’s harbourside will be filled with over 80 stalls, selling all things seafood and celebrity chefs will be cooking up some delicious local fish dishes in the demonstration kitchen. Then on 19 August the ever-popular Weymouth Carnival Day and Fireworks returns to entertain the crowds.
Walkers are spoilt for choice in Weymouth and Portland. One of the most notable local routes is the 3.5k Rodwell Trail (dorsetforyou.com/411203). Connecting Ferrybridge to Weymouth, this section of the former Weymouth and Portland Railway still has the remnants of four stations and a small tunnel as well as offering spectacular views across the Portland Harbour and Sandfoot Castle Gardens. For birdwatchers, just a few minutes’ stroll from Weymouth Station the RSPB reserve at Radipole Lake is an excellent place to walk or cycle and enjoy the wonderful range of local wildlife.
Portland is actually a limestone peninsula connected to the ‘mainland’ by a barrier beach where the A354 runs to Chesil Beach. This is why it is often referred to as the Isle of Portland. The area is famous for its quarries which produce the highly desirable Portland Stone, used to build St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace. You can find out more about the island at Portland Museum, a community run museum which showcases all aspects of this areas unique history. Exhibits range from fossils and archaeological finds to maritime history and famous people connected to the island. Younger visitors will enjoy solving the Explorer Trail and trying on dinosaur costumes. The Museum was founded by local resident and birth control pioneer Dr Marie Stopes in 1930. It is located in two thatched cottages and a modern extension in the quiet hamlet of Wakeham, on the east side of the Island (portlandmuseum.co.uk).
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Last year The Dining Room on St Mary Street, in the heart of Weymouth, won Restaurant of the Year in the Dorset Magazine Food, Drink and Farming Awards (thediningroomweymouth.co.uk). This award-winning establishment, headed up by talented chef Taher Jibet, offers contemporary cuisine with a strong Mediterranean influence in relaxed surroundings. Given the restaurant is just a stone’s throw away from the harbour, there is a lot of local seafood on themenu, and Taher is a major supporter of the Dorset Seafood Festival. At last year’s event he headed up the Great British Whelk revival championing this locally harvested shellfish.
A welcome new addition to the town is Al Molo (almolo.co.uk) which recently opened in the wonderful art deco Pier Bandstand on The Esplanade. The waterside restaurant offers a wide range of authentic Italian cuisine from the Emilia Romagna region of the country, an area renowned for its pasta. Amongst their signature dishes is owner Giuseppe’s delicious take on the Italian classic Tiramisu.
Nearby, situated in a Grade II listed building on the harbour side, Mallams is a popular restaurant with locals, which has been serving fabulous food for the last 25 years. It is renowned for its excellent fish and shellfish dishes and meat, game and poultry are sourced mainly from the Jurassic Coast. The restaurant also has a spacious self-catering holiday apartment upstairs (mallamsrestaurant.co.uk).
One of the most unusual venues in Weymouth, is The Palm House. Located next to Swannery Lake this café-bistro and activity centre was originally an Edwardian glasshouse. The café-bistro offers breakfast, lunch, and scrummy cream teas. The south wing of the building is home to Starfish Craft Studio, which offers walk-in activities including pottery and pebble painting, t-shirt printing and decoupage. The Palm House is a big hit with children, under 5’s are catered for with Blooming Kids - offering indoor and outdoor play with kids’ houses, a see-saw and sandpit, while parents can relax with a glass of wine!
Running between St Mary Street and The Esplanade, St Alban Street is Weymouth’s smaller version of The Lanes in Brighton. There are around 20 independent shops and cafes including Bibi’s Boutique (21 St Alban Street), Razzberry Gifts (18 St Alban Street) and Ye Olde Sally Lunne Bakery (9 St Alban Street). Also checkout Chunes Record Store at 9 Mitchell Street, while you can pick up unusual and nostalgic keepsakes or have a go at glassblowing at Stuart Wiltshire Glass at 18 St Nicholas Street.
Located in Osprey Quay in Portland, the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy (WPNSA) was the host venue for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic sailing events. The centre continues to be a major facility for the local community as well as sailors of international repute, who train here. Sailing and windsurfing lessons are available for beginners through to the experienced and there is a fantastic café on site with fabulous views over the harbour.
Sun, Sea and Sand
One of the more unusual local visitor attractions is Sandworld. Situated at Lodmoor Country Park on Preston Beach Road, Sandworld was a finalist in the Dorset Tourism Awards in 2013. Here you can marvel at sculptures made by world class sand masters with beautifully detailed pieces up to 5 metres high. This year’s Sand Sculpture Festival, which runs until early November, has the theme Best of British: Winston Churchill, The Beatles and One Direction are just a few of the British icons that have been immortalised in sand and water. You can even have a go at sand sculpting yourself (sandworld.co.uk).
Nearby attractions include Weymouth Sealife Adventure Park and Tower (sealifeweymouth.com). It’s a good place to seek out on a rainy day as its aquarium has everything from sharks and turtles to crocodiles. But if the sun is shining then head down to Weymouth Beach for a spot of traditional bucket and spade fun, a donkey ride, some Punch and Judy entertainment and an ice cream.
For the past two years Louise and Todd Moffat and their team, have run the fabulous Taste* Café within the Fine Foundation Chesil Beach Visitor Centre, which is run by Dorset Wildlife Trust. The café, which is open seven days a week, offers beautiful views of the Fleet Lagoon and Chesil Beach and its wildlife – the area is particularly famous for bird watching.
On the menu you will find local and regionally source produce such as Portland crab sandwiches, local hot mackerel salad and Lyme Bay scallops. They also do a cracking cream tea! Look out for the evening events calendar including their popular Tapas Nights (tasterestaurant.co.uk).
The Jailhouse Café at The Verne in Portland is run by the charity Expia, and staffed by risk-assessed prisoners on day release. Since opening in November 2011, the café has offered hundreds of men work placements and training to prepare them for release. The feedback on Trip Advisor gives it an overall rating of ‘excellent’ to ‘very good’. Open seven days a week (10am - 2pm), it serves good value locally sourced food including fish and chips for just £6.95. The café also has probably one of the finest panoramic views of the Dorset coast in the county.
Capture a Castle
Sandsfort Castle was completed in 1539, on the order of King Henry VIII, to provide a defence for safe anchorage in Portland Harbour. The remains of the two-storey building stand imposingly on the cliff top and entrance to the attraction is free of charge, thanks to Heritage Lottery Fund. Children will love the on-site adventure playground while there is also a café where parents can relax (sandsfootcastle.org.uk).
The mission to protect Portland Harbour continued into the Victorian era with the building of Nothe Fort. Today this is one of the best preserved forts of its kind and well worth checking out. The advances in technology that affected the fort are explained through the many exhibits and audio visual displays located on the ramparts and gun decks. There’s also a maze of underground passageways to explore too. Find out more at nothefort.org.uk.
Portland Port is the leading cruise destination in the South West of England with around 26,000 visiting passengers last year. Some of the best vantage points to see these ships, with a drink or coffee in hand, include the Jailhouse Café, Harbour Lights Bar & Restaurant and the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.
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