Dorset walk around Portland

Looking over Fortuneswell to Chesil Beach from New Ground

Looking over Fortuneswell to Chesil Beach from New Ground - Credit: Archant

Edward Griffiths explores Portland’s rocky terrain and visits the Commonwealth War Graves and a rugged castle

This month, we’re going back to Portland, where we enjoyed exploring Fortuneswell and Chiswell in August, to find the lesser known paths below Portland’s Verne Prison and Grove Young Offenders Institution (YOI). But, before we get started, we’re visiting the Commonwealth War Graves commemorating the brave sailors and soldiers who died during both world wars. This year it’s not only the centenary of the First World War but also 75 years since the start of the Second World War. On a sunny day, with breezes rustling the trees beneath startlingly blue skies, the ranks of white headstones in immaculate lawns are just like Montecassino’s hilltop cemetery in Italy. After this, we’re off to explore the stunning north-east coast with its Portland goats, masses of butterflies, and if you’re lucky and the day is warm maybe you’ll see one of the tiny lizards near Rufus Castle. Then we stroll past Portland’s typical stone cottages, which most people don’t even notice on their headlong dash to Portland Bill.


• Distance: 2 miles (3.25km) on War Graves visit plus 4 miles (8.5km) for Undercliff walk

• Time: 4 1/2 hours

• Exertion: Easy to War Graves, then fairly strenuous with ascents/descents on minor paths to and from cliff path. Return is on easy pavements.

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

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• Map: OS Landranger Sheet 194

• Public Transport: First Open Top 501 from Weymouth to Portland Bill

• Dogs: On leads on roads

• Refreshments: White Stones Café Gallery, Easton Street. Selection of inns and chip shop in Wakeham and Easton Street on return

The walk

1 Walk east along New Ground’s wooden fence for the best views, then along the road, over two bridges, to a right bend and T-junction. Bend left down ‘Castletown Footpath’ road. At nearby bend, take the right path. Pass ‘Merchants Railway’ stone with Verne embankment right. Follow the old rail-track path with fabulous views. Past a left-backward branch and ‘Coast Path’ stone, swing right. Through the tunnel, continue to the top of ‘Merchants Incline’. Take the slight right path up through brambles to join the Tarmac track. Go left to and through the iron gate/kissing-gate.

2 Follow the track to the Commonwealth War Graves with superb views over the harbour and the Dorset coast. Return through the kissing-gate. Turn left up the steep faint footpath to Verne Common Road’s two-way footpath-post. Turn left. Go up the footpath-steps to the road before Verne Prison’s imposing entrance. Turn right down the road between high rock wall. Continue round the hairpin, passing the wall with Portland ‘screw’ trace-fossils, to the footpath-steps you just climbed. Continue around this hairpin and down the road. Take the right-backward footpath-fork, drop down to the rail-track path again, and return through the tunnel. Further along the track, take the ‘East Cliff Coast Path’ left-fork.

3 Up steps alongside the massive rock-faced dry moat and past Verne Prison’s ‘back-door’ bridge, turn left along left-fenced ‘Glacis’ road. Continuing as a stony track to the end barrier, turn left along the left-fenced footpath. Follow the meandering path. Fifty yards before the cliff edge, go through the right stone wall-gap. Follow the grass path downfield, past a right fork, to the wall-gap onto the descending path. Walk past Nicodemus’ Knob and follow the path to the old Tarmac lane. Keeping straight on, join Incline Road. At the nearby right ‘Coast Path’ post, cut across the left corner past the Old Engine Shed to the ‘Private Road’ track with another ‘Coast Path’ post. Follow Grove YOI’s high perimeter fence. Reaching Old Donovan’s Drain fume ‘pillar’, take the left ‘Coast Path’.

4 Through the ‘Portland Goats’ notice half-gate, follow the meandering path down. After rough scree, ignore the right fork. Over the pipe bank, turn right up the stone-signed ‘Church Ope Cove Coast Path’. Pass a drain-bend and a clearing with a lookout post. In ¼ mile, above Durdle Pier, take the narrow stony path down through rocks. Join a faint path onto a wider path down to the stone ‘pill-box’ with Durdle Pier’ below left. Turn south past the ‘pill-box’ along the rocky path through some brambles, bracken and scrub. When a caravan park and Rufus Castle appear on the distant cliffs, keep following the path, sometimes with the sea quite near below. Eventually, with Rufus Castle right, you’ll find Church Ope Cove below you. Follow the right-bending path up near the cliff edge, ignoring all right branches, to join the stepped path from the Cove.

5 Turn right up the ‘Rufus Castle’ steps to the viewpoint. Turn left under the arch and alongside the right dry-stone wall where the tiny lizards live. At the top, reach Portland Museum in Wakeham. Turn right. Walk up the wide road with grass verges and tall, narrow cottages in long terraces. Bend left at Corner House Inn into Straits. Bend right past left Easton Park into Easton Street. See left ‘White Stones Café/Gallery’ and several pubs. The road widens, with grass verges, fields and quarries left and footpaths both sides. Near the top end, fork right into Yeates Road. Pass right Kings Barrow Quarries Nature Reserve and left Heights Hotel’s rear. At New Ground T-junction, turn right to the car park.