Dorchester-born Sir Frederick Treves, retired Royal Surgeon to King Edward VII, toured around Dorset compiling his 1914 publication Highways and Byways of Dorset. He devoted several unenthusiastic pages to the Isle of Portland including: ‘On the plateau, there are fragments of villages, all gaunt, hard-featured and treeless. Where there should be grass there is dust, and where a garden a quarry heap’.

The Portland that Treves described clearly isn’t the same Portland that I’ve been exploring and enjoying for many years. For a start, there are more trees than you would expect on an island of virtually solid rock, many streets are lined with delightful historic stone-built houses with scarcely two exactly alike, and the views from village streets and clifftops over ancient farmland to sparkling blue sea are almost Mediterranean. However, Treves was more appreciative about Church Ope Cove: ‘A tiny, green-wooded dell which, for charm and picturesqueness, can hardly be surpassed’. So, there were trees in Portland back then and, on this delightful walk, we will find them in abundance. We’ll also discover the stunning area of East Weares where nature has transformed the barren landscape of discarded stone into a haven for burrowing, long-eared furry mammals. Never mention the R-word on Portland!

The Walk

Great British Life: View to Chesil Beach from New Ground at the start of the walk. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)View to Chesil Beach from New Ground at the start of the walk. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

1. From New Ground parking areas, with King Barrow Quarry Nature Reserve opposite, walk back along the road. Take first left, Yeates Road opposite the New Ground signpost. Passing right Yeates Reservoir, continue into Easton Road A354 with views over fields, quarries and distant St George’s Church to the sea. Continue down past Inmosthay Quarry right and the old Drill Hall left and along the tree avenue. Past left, Grove Road, there are houses with great variation in height, width and ages in the rows down to Easton Square Gardens. Perhaps choose a refreshment stop for later.

Great British Life: Group of Wakeham houses, all different. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Group of Wakeham houses, all different. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

2. Swing left into Straits, uphill and with raised rows of houses left, every one different from its neighbour. At right Corner House Inn, swing right into Wakeham. Cross to the left side of this unusually wide street for better views. Notice that some cottages are built with huge ashlar blocks, whilst most others are of smaller ashlar or rubble-stone. Down to right Glen Caravan Park, the bridge crosses the old railway track on its way to west Easton. We’ll be walking on the old railway line later. Before Portland Museum, pass the terrace of cottages which is known nationally ‘as representing the uncontrived beauty, robust and practical, of the Portland vernacular architecture’, which has remained unaltered for around 200 years.

Great British Life: The Rufus Castle arch. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)The Rufus Castle arch. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

3. Before Pennsylvania Castle, built in 1800 for John Penn, Governor of Portland, the road continued straight down here but he diverted it away from his acquired land to its present alignment. Through the archway, you can see the old road turning right. On the opposite corner, the green space before the houses was the site of the quarry where stone was quarried for the Cenotaph (designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens) erected in London’s Whitehall in 1920. Now, turn left past the Museum and follow the lane down to the Public Footpath-signed gateway onto the stone-walled path. Continue down towards the arched bridge to Rufus Castle. Keep an eye out for tiny lizards in the left dry-stone wall, they emerge to warm themselves in the sun. The castle’s remaining structure is the pentagonal 15th-century keep. The extensive earlier medieval castle was much reduced by quarrying and landslips. Through the arch, take the right stepped-path at the Coast Path milestone. Down to the sharp-left ‘East Weares’ bend, take the right ‘13th-Century Church (ruins)’ path up to St Andrew’s Church. The Norman church was destroyed, repaired and rebuilt c.1340, then rebuilt again after a fire in 1475. By 1625, a report highlighted the precarious position of St Andrew’s, but it continued in use until replaced by St George’s Church in 1756.

Great British Life: Idyllic Church Ope Cove. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Idyllic Church Ope Cove. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

4. Returning to ‘East Weares’ steps, go down two more flights then turn left into the Crown Estates path. Instantly, turn left again, up the rocky path, then fork right above beach huts to a wider track T-junction. Go right, still near the right cliffs overlooking Church Ope Cove, and straight past lots of turnings. Then swing left, parallel with the seaward cliffs, and rising onto clear grassy path, then rocky, all with East Weares boulder ‘spoil’ left. Becoming narrower again, continue undulating past a deep left ‘hole’, then fork left through bilberries and bracken. With parallel paths below right near cliffs, keep meandering and undulating on the narrow but clear path. Fork left up above a rocky hollow, becoming wider on top, and down again, all through bracken, bilberries and boulders to the stone-built gun-post. Beyond this, if you go down to Durdle Pier, return and take the ascending wide rocky path away from the sea.

Great British Life: The stone 'pill-box'. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)The stone 'pill-box'. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

5. Narrowing into bracken, pass a right turn and a left fork. Zig-zag ever-upwards, steep and over boulders, to meet the old railway track path. Turn right, descending slowly along the left covered pipeline-bank and below high quarried cliffs. See Durdle Pier below. Narrowing and widening past right, Little Beach, continue down past a left sentry-box and a concrete tank. Soon, see Portland Harbour breakwater ahead. The breakwater’s foundation stone was laid in July 1849 and the last stone was laid in August 1872, employing around 500 convicts at any one time. Reaching a ‘Coast Path’ milestone, go over the pipeline-bank and follow the stony path up through bushes, passing a left turning. Notice the stone-banked Firing Range end wall below. Continue, steeply and slowly zig-zagging up, past a quarry-face of cherty limestone and up stone steps to a half-gate. Through, emerge into Grove Road with a Coast Path arrow-post and the prison walls opposite. Grove Prison closed in 1921, then re-opened as a Borstal Institute and is now a Young Offenders Institution. Turn right along the prison walls and fencing to the left bend with two-way Coast Path arrows. Go left and swing right through the right wall’s opening with a Coast Path arrow-post. The track bends left, but cross into the path through stone-blocks and cross the green with the Old Engine Shed right. Pass the Information plinth, cross Incline Road and pass the Coast Path arrow-post under a small sycamore.

Great British Life: Nicodemus' Knob, showing the layers of rock in the quarry. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)Nicodemus' Knob, showing the layers of rock in the quarry. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

6. Cross to the next Coast Path arrow-post and follow the quarry track with Portland Stadium wall left. Continue to the left bend and turn right, signed ‘Caution Pedestrians’. Follow this track to a right bend with left quarry ‘cliff’ and Coast Path arrow-post. Turn right with the quarry left. Through stone blocks, continue along the track to the facing gate with wire-fences beyond. On the way, see Nicodemus’ Knob a limestone stack left un-quarried showing the layers of stone taken from this quarry. Divert to study Nicodemus’ Knob if you wish, then return and continue to that facing gate. Go left at the ‘High Angle Battery’ stone. Through the stone blocks, head for the information plinth then explore at will.

Great British Life: High Angle Battery gun emplacements. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)High Angle Battery gun emplacements. (Photo: Edward Griffiths)

7. High Angle Batteries were long-range guns, aimed upwards at a ‘high angle’, to drop shells down onto enemy battleships’ decks where the iron plate is thinner. The High Angle Battery was built in 1892, it became obsolete and was removed in 1906 after Verne Citadel switched from artillery to an infantry base. It was converted to a medium security prison HMP Verne in 1949. Leave by the low path past two flat-topped stone-block buildings and through the gully to emerge at the ‘High Angle Battery’ gate and car park. Onto the road, with Verne Prison’s ‘back-door’ bridge right, turn left. Keep straight on at the T-junction with ‘Castletown’ signed right. Cross the Merchants’ Railway Incline bridge and follow the road, or the fence path overlooking Fortuneswell, back to the car park where you started.

Compass Points

Distance: 4 miles/6.5 km

Time: 3 hours

Start: New Ground parking area above Fortuneswell (Grid Ref: SY690731)

Exertion: Fairly strenuous with ascents/descents on minor paths to and from East Weares

Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194

Public Transport: First 501 from Weymouth to Portland Bill, May to September

Dogs: On leads on roads and cliffs, abide by The Countryside Code

Refreshments: Several inns and tea-rooms in Easton

Pq ‘The views from village streets and clifftops over ancient farmland to sparkling blue sea are almost Mediterranean’