After the hors d’ouevre of the Rodwell Trail I was quite excited about the main course of the day, which was to circumnavigate the mysterious Isle of Portland. An earlier trip to the Isle of Portland some years ago did not leave an especially good impression and I was rather keen to exorcise that memory by exploring the coast, which from a distance looked far more promising than the interior.
The Isle of Portland is not a true island at all these days, being connected to the mainland by Chesil Beach and the A354, which is the only road on and off the island. Officially the South West Coast Path crosses over to the island along this causeway too, but I could see no merit in subjecting myself to this rather boring couple of miles of walking alongside the road.
The onward part of coast was initially a strange mixture of tourism, industry relics from quarrying times and the odd bit of fishing. Yet the mixture of activities seemed quite natural altogether somehow. Over by the third of the lighthouses there was quite a large collection of beach huts. Most appeared to be boarded up for winter now, but there were quite a few that had been opened up again for the day. I suspect that many of the owners hadn’t dreamed of such a day when they shut up a few weeks earlier.I was interested to see that one of the huts was for sale as I passed. It had clearly seen better days (in fact I pulled down a garden shed at home that was in better shape), and yet the owners wanted £20,000 – yikes! I guess it was all about location, location, location!
Eventually I reached the end of the tourist bit, rather more suddenly than I could have expected. The path then entered an old quarry, which was a bit of a moonscape. I am guessing that all the best quality had been removed for the next few hundred metres was a bit of a desert in terms of vegetation and ecology – even the grass was having a hard time growing! There was still a fair amount of activity going on though, with canoeists offshore exploring the coastline, a diving vessel speeding back round I assume to the beach where I had seen the rest of them before and a bunch of rock climbers practising on some of the steep cliffs.I was pleased to see so much human activity as I was slightly uncomfortable at how bleak the landscape had become, courtesy of our forefathers. It was a relief to head up out of the quarry, although having to walk along the main road for a short distance wasn’t quite what I had in mind for an escape.
Fortunately the road walking wasn’t far and I was soon heading along a twisting and turning section of path down into Church Ope Cove. This fabulous little cove was not what I was expecting after traversing the quarry.It reminded me of some of the Cornwall stretches of the Coast Path, as the little cove was overlooked by the ruin of Rufus Castle, said to have been built for William II (William Rufus). Not much is left of the keep now, for much of it has fallen prey to coastal erosion.Far below the castle, the cove is flanked by lots of beach huts and although the beach is still popular it is sadly not made of sand any longer as it was another casualty of the quarrying industry, with much of the surface now covered by quarrying debris. Yet, despite that nature is taking charge again and the stones are already turning into rounded pebbles!
Having descended almost down to sea level at Church Ope Cove, I faced a rather steep climb up to the base of the castle keep. Having satisfied myself that there was little more to see of the castle up close I continued on my way, soon re-acquainting myself with the railway line that I had followed earlier today on the Rodwell Trail. A short section is available to walk on the Isle of Portland too, as it made its final journey into Easton. I was so taken with the railway line and the rock climbers practising their skills along the former cutting that I missed the fact that I was supposed to climb higher up above the trackbed! No matter, for I found a way up a little further along, although I had to do my best impression of a mountain goat in order to reunite with the official path!
At the top of the cliff I was soon aware that I had regained the height that I had on the other side of the island for far below me was the breakwater coming into view. The path continued a course around yet another prison, this time a young offenders institute, but no less formidable looking. I guess Victorian prisoners were left in no doubt about their freedom being taken away! The land below the cliff was clearly used by the military in recent times, with a prominent rifle range in view but now rapidly becoming overgrown due to its lack of use.
Just beyond the prison I passed what could be forgiven for being just another random old shed. This was however the engine shed for the locomotives that worked the quarries in this area. A very noticeable incline leads down towards the port and I should imagine was once a hive of industrial activity. Today the rails are gone and replaced by a road, but not too much imagination is needed to guess what it once looked like. Of course it helped that there were a few pictures showing how things used to look on the side of the old shed.
By now I was really thinking about my return to the car and rather than retrace my steps along the same road that I had taken earlier in the day, I took a path leading round yet another quarry (this one still operating!) to reunite with the incline that I had found at the outset of the walk. By now the view had changed a bit as the sun was a little higher in the sky and the shadows were much reduced. I was pleased to see that the bush at the top of the incline attracted so many butterflies, although the numerous red admirals seemed a bit shier than I was used to. I tried in vain to get some decent shots before eventually giving up. Of course the fact that I had a two hour drive home helped focus the mind a bit!
All in all this was a superb walk – helped of course by the unseasonably warm and sunny weather. Despite not usually liking crowds when I am out, I did really appreciate watching what everyone else was doing. Seeing so many different activities going on put the Isle of Portland into a completely new perspective. Although the settled parts of the island don’t do its natural beauty justice, the coastline is dramatic and definitely worth a look – don’t be tempted to by-pass this section when heading east!