Weymouth places to visit - What to do on Portland : JustWeymouth

Portland Pictures

Portland - Weymouth places to visit - What to do on Portland

A picture of Portland
Portland pictures -> Click here to jump to gallery

Portland, a small island steeped in history
Portland is a small island attached by Chesil beach to the mainland at Weymouth and is the southernmost place in Dorset. Portland is popular throughout the year with sightseers, climbers, bird watchers and walkers and was referred to as the 'Isle of Slingers' in Thomas Hardys' novels. The famous Portland stone has been quarried here for many years and together with the often huge waves crashing endlessly against the cliffs is responsible for creating the unique and beautiful landscape that makes Portland such a popular place to visit. Portland birdwatching is particularly popular on the Island with the Portland bird observatory found close to Portland Bill in the old lighthouse. Perhaps the most famous landmark on Portland is the iconic red and white Lighthouse at Portland Bill, with Pulpit Rock in the background. Portland Bill can be a dramatic place to see, especially on a windy day when the waves crash up against the cliffs making it one of the most ideal places to visit from Weymouth if the weather isn't quite good enough for a day on Weymouth beach. Portland can be reached from Weymouth with a short drive across the Fleet bridge and road running parallel to the famous Chesil beach. As you drive up to the heights of Portland you will see fantastic views of the Fleet, Chesil beach and Weymouth. Portland is made up of several small villages with Fortuneswell at the bottom of the island and Easton on the top being the largest. Parking can be found in Fortuneswell giving the oportunity to explore the village and Chesil while plenty of viewing points can be found as you make your way to the top near the Verne Citadel (formerly Verne prison) where the views are just fantastic looking across Chesil beach and the Fleet lagoon for as far as the eye can see.

The Verne Citadel (previously used as The Verne Prison) and Fancys Farm
If you look to the top of Portland, the Verne Citadel dominates, originally built as an inpenetrable fortress to defend Portland Harbour, it later became the Verne prison and is now an imigration removal centre. The Verne Citadel is a listed building and with its high ditches and walls and commanding views across Portland Harbour it is obvious why its location was chosen. Close to the Verne can be found the high angle batteries, also part of the defence of Portland Harbour, along with The Verne. The high angle battery as the name suggests used guns to fire at a high angle allowing the shell to drop down on its targets around Portland Harbour. The High angle battery today is a derelict set of tunnels that can be found close to the Verne. Also worth a visit close to the Verne is Fancys farm - a community farm with free entry, you will find animals ranging from goats and dogs to Wallabies, a cafe is also available for refreshments. Fancys farm is a must for the little ones if you are visiting Portland.

Church Ope Cove, St Andrews church, Rufus castle (Bow and Arrow castle), Vikings and Pirate graves..all part of the eventful history of Portland
Driving back from the viewing points high up on Portland, follow the road towards Easton and you will find Portland Museum and close by you will see parking for Church Ope Cove. Follow the signs and after walking down the small alley that runs past quaint old Portland cottages and the impressive Penysylvania castle you will be greeted with a beautiful view of the impressive ruin of Rufus Castle perched high up on the cliff. Rufus castle (or Bow and Arrow castle as it is known) is a ruin from the 1400s, although inaccesible, it is worth coming down to view. Continue on under the arch on the footpath and you will find one of the best views in Dorset, looking out over the picturesque Church Ope Cove and the clear blue sea. The area above Church Ope Cove really is one of the most beautiful places not just on the Isles of Portland but in the whole of Dorset to stop and rest for a picnic. If you fancy walking down the steep steps you can access the stone beach of Church Ope Cove. The beach of Church Ope Cove was once a sandy beach but is now covered in smooth stones, a product of Portlands quarrying history. You will also find St Andrews churchyard high up above the cove. This ancient monument which dates back to the 15th century is a step back in time and it is amazing to find the 15th century archway still standing. The church itself used to be the main church on Portland but after a number of landslips, it was allowed to return to nature and a replacement church built. St Andrews churchyard is more commonly known as Church Ope Cove Pirates graveyard due to the presence of a tomb showing a skull and crossbones emblem. It is often mistook as the grave of a Dorset pirate but history shows that around the time that the tomb was made, the skull and crossbones was a common feature to be found on tombstones and actually this 'pirate grave' has no relation to piracy at all. It is said that the first viking attack to reach Britains shores also occured on the beach of Church Ope Cove, making for a very interesting a varied past of this small Isles of Portland.

Portlands Old churchyards and Portland pirates....
As well as the remains of St Andrews churchyard at Church Ope Cove, other interesting churchyards on Portland include the Naval cemetary overlooking the harbour on the lower part of the island. The Naval cemetary is open to the public. By far the largest Portland churchyard is that of St Georges Church which can be found close to Easton and this large churchyard belongs to St Georges church - built to replace the ruined St Andrews church already mentioned high above Church Ope Cove. St Georges churchyard has a number of interesting graves including murdered victims of Portland press gangs, real Dorset pirates and a survivor who was rescued from aboard the Titanic disaster.

Portland Bill
By far the most popular and most pictured place on Portland is Portland Bill. A number of lighthouses have been built at Portland Bill over the years to help shipping to navigate the dangerous waters around Portland. The old lower lighthouse now houses the bird observatory - Portland birdwatching is very popular around this part of Portland. The current famous red and white Portland Bill lighthouse still warns ships to this day. Open to the public, for a small fee, you can climb the steps to a fantastic view from the top. If climbing the 153 steps to the top of Portland Bill Lighthouse isn't your idea of fun, why not take a break on one of the benches overlooking the sea, there is a shop and cafe at Portland Bill and plenty of fine walks along the coastline - just past the current lighthouse at Portland Bill, you will see the famous stack of rocks known as Pulpit rock. A walk along the coastline at Portland Bill will show plenty of evidence of quarrying for the famous Portland stone which has been used for so many famous buildings throughout the country. Portland quarrying activity really has shaped the beautiful island that we find today.

Portland Museums
Portland Museum can be found close to Church Ope Cove in Wakeham and for a small fee you can see the history that has shaped the unique isles of Portland. Also well worth a visit is the 16th century Portland Castle built on the instruction of Henry VIII to protect Portland harbour from the feared invasion by the French. Portland Castle was involved in Portlands defence throughout the next 400 years, being under Royalist control during the civil war, it defended the harbour during the Napoleonic wars and was used by military personel during both world wars after which it was released by the MOD and today under the guardianship of English Heritage it can be visited to give a unique insight into the history of Portland.

Portland is only a short drive or bus trip from Weymouth and is one of the most ideal places to visit from Weymouth if the weather isn't good enough for the beach. Because Portland Bill is so open to the sea, it can get pretty windy here causing some big waves to come crashing in, it is this that has made Portland such a dangerous place to navigate through the centuries but that also makes it one of the most dramatic and beautiful places to visit in Dorset.