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.
Next 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.
Amongst 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.
Portland 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.
This 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.
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):
- Date of Walk: 9 June 2015
- Walk #81 total distance covered: 15.29 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 694.06 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!