About half way down the east cost of Portland is Church Ope Cove. It offers a secluded beach which, it is said, was once sandy but is now pebbly. Apparently the extensive quarrying on Portland covered the sand with rock debris which was gradually worn down by the sea into the pebbles that form the surface of the beach today. Dig down, though, and it is said that the sand lies beneath like buried treasure.
It is believed that the first ever Viking attack of Saxon England took place at this spot, in 789AD. The raid was in the form of three ships from Hordaland in Norway. They were spotted as they landed and the authorities were alerted. The Royal Reeve of Dorchester, whose job it was to identify foreign merchants entering the kingdom of Wessex, came down to investigate and was promptly killed for his troubles. This small incident was the start of a significant period of history and heritage of Britain.
Overlooking Church Ope Cove is Rufus Castle. Originally constructed in Norman times to defend the exposed bay, the ruins today are actually a 15th Century blockhouse which is believed to have been constructed on the old Norman site.
Lying just underneath the castle are the ruins of St Andrew’s Church. There have been several churches built on this site and the earliest dates back to over 1,000 years ago.
The ruins found today are little more than an outline of the church, in places indistinct due to the encroaching green fingers of nature. Lying outside the church is a small smattering of graves. Rumour has it that there is a pirate buried here, and that his grave is marked by a skull and crossbones – here he is!
I accept that this stretch of coastline was notorious for smuggling. Church Ope Bay itself, which lies all of 100 metres to the south east of the church, saw its fair share. However, the suggestion that graves with skulls and crossbones on them designate the final resting places of pirates is, I’m afraid, a myth. Do not plunder these graves in a desperate need to seek buried treasure, for all you are likely to find is a police car waiting for you when you clamber back out empty-handed!
Graves with skulls and crossbones on them might be few and far between, but they are not as rare as you might think. In fact there is one local to me in Barnet, North London. It too is rumoured to be the final resting place of a pirate (Barnet, lying somewhat inland, is not renowned for its pirating activities, so maybe this pirate was retired).
In fact, skulls and crossbones on graves are simply a symbol of mortality and death. Sometimes the skulls are winged, symbolising ascension to heaven. The skull and crossbones symbol was popular in the 1700’s. That’s it. Sorry. No pirates I’m afraid.
Having put paid to that, there are some myths which deserve to be perpetuated. There is, I think, a certain duty which is encumbent on all adults to tell all children that a pirate is buried under any headstone they may see with a skull and crossbones on it. I know this is wrong, but don’t worry about being wrong. We all err. In the words of a friend of mine (who knows who she is but who has probably forgotten that she said this to me once):
To err is human, but to arrrrrrrr is Pirate!
Points on this part of the walk (copy and paste the co-ordinates into Google Earth)
- Church Ope Bay: N 50° 32.300 W 002° 25.670
- Rufus Castle: N 50° 32.370 W 002° 25.740
- St Andrew’s Church: N 50° 32.340 W 002° 25.740
Walk #82 Statistics (of which this post forms the fourth part):
- Date of Walk: 10 June 2015
- Walk #82 total distance covered: 5.88 miles
- Coast of Britain Walk Total Distance Covered: 699.94 miles
- CLICK HERE FOR LINK TO INTERACTIVE MAP!!!
My favourite place on Portland. A lovely sheltered little beach.
Pingback: The Coastal Path: 82d – Portland Part V – Church Ope Cove (Dorset, UK). – www.seanmunger.com
Interesting historical background completely unknown to me.
Well I must have driven past there a number of times over the years and not known about it. Time to put that right now!
Catching up on my blogs…. I noticed you wrote this one a day too early – in the states, September 19th is Talk Like a Pirate Day 😛
Oh no! Had I realised I would have published a day later, of course!
Interesting. I didn’t know the story about buried pirates when I walked this way, and was disappointed, later, because I’d missed seeing their graves. Now I realise I didn’t!