82a – Portland Part II

New Ground is a road that runs along the high ground of Portland.  For coastal walkers there are convenient (and free) places to park along its length.  To the north are expansive views over Chesil Beach.

Chesil BeachChesil Beach is a natural tombolo, the exact origin of which is disputed to this day.  It is 18 miles long, running from Portland in the south to West Bay in the north.  It is a pebble beach; its pebbles are fist-sized at Portland and gradually get smaller and smaller, ending up pea-sized at West Bay.  It is said that if a local fisherman landed on Chesil Beach in thick fog then he could tell you exactly where he was just by looking at the size of the pebbles!

In the foreground are the embankments of Verne Prison, introduced in my last post.

The Embankments of Verne PrisonAs we left New Ground we passed right by its entrance.

Entrance to Verne PrisonYou’d be forgiven for thinking it was a fort rather than a modern-day prison.  In fact, it started life as the Verne Citadel.  It was built by convicts from Portland Prison (a different prison, which lies just to the south) between 1860 and 1872.  It was originally a fortress sprawling over some 50 acres and housing 1,000 troops, strategically located so as to have artillery overlooking the sea on three of its sides.

By 1906 the guns had been removed, and the Verne Citadel was used as a barracks and then as an infantry training centre before closing in 1948.  In 1949 it was handed over to the prison commission and turned into a medium security prison housing 575 men.  In 2013 it became an immigration removal centre.

During our walk around Portland we saw plenty of things we weren’t expecting, but of all of them we really didn’t expect to see any wallabies!

Wallaby at Fancy's FarmNo, they were not residents of the immigration removal centre.  They were running around quite happily at Fancy’s Farm which also boasts various other domestic and farm animals.

We would see a lot more on Portland.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Parking Spot at New Ground:  N 50° 33.450 W 002° 26.245
  • Chesil Beach:  N 50° 36.600 W 002° 31.550
  • The Verne Prison:  N 50° 33.720 W 002° 26.150
  • Fancy’s Farm:  N 50° 33.530 W 002° 25.920

Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the first part):

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81g – Portland Part I

For me, Portland started off as a little uninspiring.

At the entrance to Portland is the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy.  Completed in 2008, the academy buildings hosted the sailing events of the 2012 Olympic Games.  Was their legacy one of a thriving sailing community of sporting excellence?  No, our taxi driver suggested after our walk!  Rather, the Olympics had caused a brief and congested flurry of activity but little else besides.  On 5 August 2012, some 80,000 people packed into the town to watch Sir Ben Ainslie win a 4th consecutive medal.  Our taxi driver wished they had stayed away.

Weymouth and Portland National Sailing AcademyNext door to the sailing academy was Royal Navy Air Service Portland, also known as HMS Osprey.  Established in 1917, it continued service until 1999, when it was closed against a backdrop of cutbacks in the armed forces.  There is a still a Lynx XZ250 on display here – this craft was part of the Royal Navy Black Cats Helicopter Display Team – but even this is due to be moved off site in 2017.  The site of the base is now known as Osprey Quay and is a somewhat soulless business park and marina.

Westland Lynx XZ 250Amongst all this new development there are quiet pockets of history.  In the harbour we saw some Phoenix Caissons, part of the concrete Mulberry Harbours which were towed to France during D-Day operations to form massive floating harbours off the coast.

Phoenix Caissons in Portland HarbourWe also saw Portland Castle, built by Henry VIII between 1539 and 1541 to defend England against attack from France.

Portland CastlePortland Castle had quite an exciting time during the English Civil War, being taken by the Royalists and withstanding two sieges before finally falling to the Parliamentarians in 1646.  Today it is a well preserved building squeezed into a quiet corner of a large-scale regeneration area.

We were pleased to take our leave from this strange mix of old and new development, even if it meant passing through a tunnel and undertaking an uphill slog through a housing estate in which our taxi driver later told us that we should not linger were we ever to return to this place.

Access to Portland's Housing EstateThis uphill slog followed a straight line known as Merchants Railway, the site of an old railway used in connection with the island’s long history of quarrying.  It then veered off, continuing to climb and snake around the southwestern side of HM Prison The Verne, an adult and young offenders’ institution which is now used as an immigration removal centre for detainees awaiting deportation.

Portland Prison

Hmmmm.  So far Portland had offered an apparently unwanted sailing academy; a rather soulless business district; a dodgy housing estate; and a prison.  Not a great start, but things were about to get a lot better.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy:  N 50° 34.230 W 002° 27.370
  • HMS Osprey Lynx Helicopter:  N 50° 34.200 W 002° 27.123
  • Phoenix Caissons:  N 50° 34.250 W 002° 26.570
  • Portland Castle:  N 50° 34.092 W 002° 26.803
  • Portland Prison:  N 50° 33.720 W 002° 26.150

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the final part):

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81f – Weymouth to Portland

Portland.  There it was, a short walk away across the isthmus behind Chesil Beach and in front of its harbour defences which stretched across the water.

PortlandThe walk across to Portland from Weymouth is not the most interesting one we have ever undertaken.  It starts off along the Rodwell Trail which follows the line of an old railway track.

Rodwell TrailThis may not be the most interesting path to follow, but to me tracks like these can be a bit of a godsend.

In the past, when the kids were still with us, I would see a stretch like this and yell, “Route March!”  I would stride off and stare intently at my GPS to make sure we are doing at least 5 miles an hour, ignoring the shouts of dismay from the kids as they had to pick their paces up.  The quietude of the countryside would be shattered with complaints of a stitch within the first 100 yards, but soon the entire situation would turn into a walking race.  No running – that wasn’t allowed.  Our bulbous bodies would struggle to keep up with our little legs; our elbows would swing like pistons; our bums would wiggle unashamedly at other walkers as they dived for cover to avoid the unstoppable train of our barely-in-control group that steamed towards them.  Then, in a flagrant breach of the unwritten and unspoken rules, one of the kids would break into a run, leading the other to tear off after them.  We could cover miles in minutes like this, and when you’ve got 7,000 of them to cover that can sometimes be a good thing.

The kids weren’t with us today, but family tradition is family tradition, and so it was that in the blink of an eye, we arrived at Portland.

Welcome to PortlandCan you see that sand bank in the background?  That’s the world famous Chesil Beach.  More about that later, for there are much better views of it from the high land on Portland.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Rodwell Trail:  N 50° 35.402 W 002° 28.060
  • Chesil Beach:  N 50° 35.402 W 002° 29.530

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the sixth part):

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81e – Weymouth Part III

When we were in Weymouth’s harbour area we spotted something in the distance, way back east and north, where we had been the day before but further inland.  How had we missed this?

Osmington White HorseThe Osmington White Horse was carved into Osmington’s limestone hill in 1808, and shows King George III.  It boasts a regal splendour today, having been restored in 2012 for the Olympic Games when Weymouth and Portland hosted the sailing events.

Sat at the end of Weymouth’s Pleasure Pier is the Jurassic Skyline Tower.  It stands at 174 feet tall and on good days offers 16 mile views.  It has a glass gondolier, shaped like a donut, that slowly rotates as it rises and then descends.

Jurassic Skyline TowerI’m normally a sucker for towers, but this one was a slow-moving thing.  The gondolier was at the top and showed no sign of wanting to come down.  We on the other hand, were intending to get some mileage done today and were showing signs of wanting to move on, which is exactly what we did.  The rowing-boat ferry across the harbour was closed (a pity – I was looking forward to it), so we walked up to the Town Bridge.

Weymouth Town Bridge

Once on the south side of the harbour the South West Coast Path leads into Nothe Fort Gardens, providing some welcome relief from the urban landscape.  We were through Weymouth, and Portland beckoned.  I was looking forward to Portland but didn’t realise quite how much I was going to enjoy it.

Squirrel in Nothe Fort Gardens

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Osmington White Horse: N 50° 39.470 W 002° 24.270
  • Jurassic Skyline Tower:  N 50° 36.610 W 002° 26.785
  • Weymouth Town Bridge:  N 50° 36.430 W 002° 27.330
  • Nothe Fort Gardens:  N 50° 36.430 W 002° 26.750

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the fifth part):

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81d – Weymouth Part II

For my last post I started off by saying what I didn’t like about Weymouth.

So for this post let me say what I love about Weymouth.

Weymouth has a great harbourside area.  Lined with restaurants and pubs, what I like the most is the rowing boat ferries that take you from one side of the harbour to the other for a pound.

The kids weren’t with us on this walk, but here they are on the harbour ferry in 2011.  A man with an oar, costing a pound, to take you from one side of the harbour to the other.  It’s the simple things in life that count.

Happy memories!

Weymouth Ferry, 2011

I won’t spoil the mood by saying that when we got to the ferry point this time round we found it closed…

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • Weymouth Harbour:  N 50° 36.485 W 002° 26.910

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the fourth part):

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81c – Weymouth Part I

I am sorry to start on a negative note, but there is one thing about Weymouth I just cannot get on with.  It has a statue that I really do not like.  Painted in vivid red, white, blue and gold, here it is in all its gaudy glory.

Weymouth George III StatueIt doesn’t look so bad in this picture, but up close and personal the bright colours seem to boast of an overly glossy exterior that doesn’t quite match the true character of the town.

Perhaps, however, this is fitting.  For the statue is of “mad” King George III who also had a publicly presented exterior that was more glossy than his true self, at least for a brief time.  In 1788-9 the king’s mental health deteriorated.  This resulted in the Commons passing the Regency Bill of 1789, providing parliamentary controls in the event of a Regency (where the king’s son rules as Prince Regent).  The bill was ready to be sent up to the Lords, but never actually got there, as George had recovered by March 1789.

All the same, George III’s doctor recommended sea air, sea bathing, and even sea drinking as a cure for a wide variety of ailments.  Thus it was that the king and his family took their holidays in Weymouth during the 1790’s, popularising the town as Britain’s first seaside “resort”.  King George III’s private bathing machine is displayed just in front of his glossy statue.

George III Bathing MachineIf I were put in there and wheeled out to the sea I think I would go mad too.

King George and his family spent a total 14 summers here during the period 1789 to 1805.  On first seeing the town the king announced, “I never enjoyed a sight so pleasing”.  Possibly I would have thought the same when I first saw Weymouth, but then I saw that statue, and so that was that.

Weymouth is also famous for its sand sculptures, and there has always been something on display when we have visited.  This year (by which I mean 2015 – I am posting this a whole year late) it was the Last Supper with life-size figures.  The sculptures are absolutely amazing and well worth visiting.  They stand under a purpose-built canopy to protect them from the elements.  I have no idea how long they last, but the amount of work which must go into something so temporary is impressive indeed.

Weymouth Sand Sculpture

Weymouth also played in important part in World War II.  The major part of the American Assault Force launched from the Weymouth and Portland harbours on D-Day.  From 6 June 1944 to 7 May 1945 a total of 517,816 troops and 144,093 vehicles embarked from here.  The war memorial on the esplanade shows American Rangers marching along the same spot.  Three thousand of them would die that day.

Weymouth D-Day War Memorial Plaque photo

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)

  • King George III’s Statue:  N 50° 36.709 W 002° 27.227
  • King George IIII’s Bathing Machine:   N 50° 36.726 W 002° 27.225
  • Sand Sculptures:  N 50° 36.541 W 002° 27.100
  • Weymouth War Memorial:  N 50° 36.814 W 002° 27.185

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the third part):

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81b – Ringstead Bay to Weymouth

Having been lost in the loneliness above Ringstead Bay, it was with some relief that we found the coast again.  Desperately behind schedule, we marched off through Osmington Mills and on to Weymouth. At Osmington Mills we passed by the Smuggler’s Inn.

5 - Smugglers Inn, Osmington MillsEmmanuel Charles was the landlord of the inn in the 1840’s; he was also the ringleader of one of the most notorious local smuggling rings in the area.  HM Customs recorded that within his extended family there were at least 27 convicted smugglers.  Charles himself is said to have made a significant amount of money through his smuggling operations, although by 1851 he had lost it all and he died in poverty.

We strode on, eventually reaching Bowleaze Cove at the very far eastern point of Weymouth Bay.  The artist John Constable came here on his honeymoon in October 1816.  He the view from here and his picture now hangs in the National Gallery.

Fantasy Island Fun Park suggested that all sorts of thrills and fun could be found here.  The two solitary figures huddled underneath its walls with their ineffectual windbreak suggested otherwise!  Perhaps it was a bit early in the morning.

Bowleaze CoveWe were more interested in the small jetty and the views it offered towards Portland, which was our destination for today.

Jetty at Bowleaze CoveWe continued our walk into Weymouth, enjoying the sound of the waves lapping at the beach after so many miles of walking up and down cliffs.

Selfie at Bowleaze CoveWeymouth, of course, is still on the Jurassic Coast, and we were reminded of this by the many stone benches that lined the seafront which were as much fossil as they were stone.

Fossil Bench on the Promenade into Weymouth with insert close upAs we approached Weymouth we were able to see Nothe Fort.

Nothe FortWe had visited here in 2011, so would not be stopping again today.  Originally built in 1860-1872 to defend Portland Harbour, like so many forts it never actually saw any action.  It was abandoned in the 1950’s and is now a museum.

Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth):

  • Smugglers Inn, Osmington Mills: N 50° 38.085 W 002° 22.506
  • Bowleaze Cove: N 50° 38.175 W 002° 25.280
  • Nothe Fort:  N 50° 36.450 W 002° 26.625

Walk #81 Statistics (of which this post forms the second part):

Map

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