Friday, 23 December 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 10 Durfold and an Old Canal

Holly Crop

The two biggest enemies for December walking are the shortage of daylight hours and the sea of mud that normally comes with every path! It pays not to be too ambitious for what can be achieved on these short days and I was quite pleased that I could cut my cloth according to the amount of time I had! I changed my plans somewhat as I had a later than normal start to my walk and I was keen to revisit the area around The Lake that I had only managed to see during my rather fog-bound walk last time out.

Durfold Wood

I parked at the pocket car park at the Woodland Trust site at Durfold Wood. Luckily I was one of only two cars there, as there are only about half a dozen spaces at most. From the car park I took the track leading into the wood so that I could meet up with the Sussex Border Path at the south end. Although marked on the map as an unofficial track, the quality of it seemed pretty good until I got into the wood proper. The quality deteriorated until eventually I wasn’t sure there was a track at all!I think the people from the Ordnance Survey were being a bit ambitious showing it on the map. After fighting my way through bushes I eventually emerged on to the right path.Despite all the discomfort of not having a proper path to follow it was lovely wandering through the woodland on such a lovely sunny day, as the few remaining leaves on the trees reflected the light so well.

Lone Trees

At the far end of the ‘path’ was a large clearing created by forestry activity. Clear cutting of this nature is quite unusual in Sussex and so it was quite a stark sight. However, at the edge of the clearing was a very healthy looking holly bush taking full advantage of the new found light it had gained after the loss of its neighbours. Luckily it was well away from any roads as it would surely have been plundered for its bright red berries. I followed the SBP for only a short distance before heading down towards Winkins Woods Farm. By now the heavy soil underfoot had caused me some discomfort and so I proceeded rather more slowly as I continued towards the Lake.
The Lake

When I got to the twin farms of Haymans and Little Haymans, I was rather curious to see that there was plenty of building work going on. I also had to keep my wits about me as the builders had rigged up a number of level lines with string and pegs, creating quite a tripping hazard. I managed to negotiate my way through the mud and building work to head out across a number of fields before finally getting to The Lake.Last time out I had only the briefest glimpse of this body of water, but now approaching from this side I was amazed to see how big this body of water actually was. I am guessing that it once fed a water mill, as there were some mill-like building below what looked like a dam at the end I had approached.I took the opportunity to linger and have my lunch here – it was a most agreeable place to stop.

Autumn Reflections

The official path continued onwards towards Frith Lodge. However, I wanted to see a bit more of the Lake and so I rather naughtily continued along the side of the field so I could get a longer view. I took care not to trespass on to the section that was controlled by the local angling society – they were quite keen to keep out walkers! Presumably they disturb the anglers’ peace and quiet! I’m not sure I was trespassing by following the field edge, but as it was a weekday and I was by myself I didn’t think anyone would mind too much, especially as there seemed to be a path of sorts. I did feel relieved when I reached the path I had last walked down three weeks earlier though.

The Lake

The mood of this part of the lake was rather different to the other week when the fog had descended and I was surrounded by gloominess. Now everything had a fresh feel in the crisp winter air and I could actually see the view as I wandered up past the Deer Tower & I was really pleased that I had chosen to head back this way rather than take the route recommended by the guide book. The Deer Tower still looked deserted, which was a pity. I could live in a place with such character! Maybe it is a holiday house?

Shillinglee Park

I pushed on past Shillinglee Park and took a look at the North Ponds, which had been almost invisible last time out. Today they positively glowed! I retraced my steps and headed along the road rather than taking the path that I had last time out. This saved me a bit of time and I had already concluded that I wouldn’t see anything that I hadn’t last time out. As it happens I got a new view of the rather impressive looking Shillinglee House, which I had completely missed last time. In the field next to me was a rather surprising looking addition to the field of sheep – an ostrich strutting around! It looked like it had some serious attitude so I didn’t get too close!

Deer Tower

At White’s Hill, I finally caught up with the SBP. When I looked at my watch I was rather surprised to see that I had already used half my time getting to this point so I knew I would have to put my skates on a bit to catch up some time! Luckily now I was on the official path, the going was rather easier and I didn’t have to constantly map read in order to navigate myself. The path followed a ridge of sorts between fields and woods mostly, although there was a brief interlude when I crossed an all-weather horse racing training gallops.I also met a man heading in the same direction as me with a very large dog that was straining at the leash.He looked rather annoyed to see me as I think we wanted to let the dog go running across the fields. Both he and I were relieved when we went our separate ways.

Shillinglee Lake

The next couple of miles were a very pleasant ramble along field edges and through pieces of woodland. The fungi, which had been such a feature of my autumn season of walks this year were starting to die off. Some of the trees still had leaves on, but mostly they were now bare as winter started to take hold. Eventually I reached the end of Durfold Wood again and passed a house where the dogs let loose in the grounds of an adjacent large house were barking their brains out at me. It was rather an irritating encounter especially as the dogs were very persistent and the grounds were quite large. Still, I guess the owners are unlikely to have any problem with burglars!

Shillinglee House

I skirted the rather odd little settlement at Shortlands Copse; a group of houses arranged like a mini housing estate that was strange in as much as it wasn’t connected to any other village. I did spot a small bungalow on the edge of the settlement that would be desirable for a single person to live in (as long as you got on with your neighbours that is!).


I crossed the main road ahead by a very attractive looking lodge house and headed out over the fields. This onward section of walk skipped between Sussex and Surrey, which meant that the signage wasn’t always terribly reliable. In fact when I got into the woods further ahead I had my worst navigational nightmare for some time, when I followed the signage and found myself walking along a path that I wasn’t convinced was what it purported to be. Very overgrown in places, it was not a pleasant experience. Added to that and the sunny weather that I had enjoyed thus far was now being replaced by some very overcast conditions and the day definitely began to lose its shine somewhat.

Shortlands Farm

Eventually when I had managed to find my way once again I ended up walking along a well maintained track through the woods, which was rather more pleasurable. As I walked along I noticed a very low flying helicopter passing overhead. I didn’t take too much notice of it at the time, but a little further ahead when I came to the end of Hog Copse I passed a very large Dallas type ranch-house with the helicopter parked on the front lawn! Further down the garden I was also rather perturbed by a couple of cows that looked a bit unnatural, when I realised that they were in fact made of plastic. Maybe they were made by the same company that supplied Milton Keynes?

Hog Copse

A bit further on and I reached Burberry Bridge. For me this signalled the end of the official part of my walk today. I would be heading back via the towpath of the Wey and Arun Canal, a walk I had previously taken in August 2009. Wandering along the towpath today was rather a different proposition from back then, with a chill wind in my face now that the sun had disappeared. The towpath was very muddy in places too, which wasn’t very pleasant walking. I did make some quick time though as the towpath is nice and flat and there was no problem with navigation.I wandered along for about two miles and thought at one stage that I might get a bit more sunshine as the clouds broke. However, what I did get as I wandered back through the woods to the car park was a dose of rain and it got very dark as I returned. I was extremely relieved to get back to the car after trudging through some very uninspiring woodland for the last couple of miles back.

Plastic Cows

This section of the Sussex Border Path was very pleasant but there were some navigational problems along the route. There was a lot of woodland walking, which although very pleasant, didn’t afford a great many views. It may have been better to tackle this section during the autumn or spring months when the woodland was at its best. Even the canal towpath section of the return route was a bit drab, although that was probably due in the main to the overcast weather that I had by now encountered.

The Old Canal

Friday, 9 December 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 9 Temple of the Winds and Shillinglee

Spooky Black Down
I set out from home today on a bright sunny autumn morning on the south coast to head inland to the car park at Black Down, where I had ended my walk last time. As it was such a convenient car park it seemed a good idea to use it again. As I headed north of the Downs, my view of the world changed as I hit a fog bank almost immediately. The fog got worse as I headed northwards and I wondered about calling the day’s walking off altogether. However, the weather forecast had suggested that there would be sunshine later so I persevered on the basis that I might get lucky.
Looking Out Over Mist
As I climbed up Black Down the clouds drifted away towards the top and I was met with brilliant sunshine at the car park itself. Of course far below was a blanket of white – always a slightly odd feeling, makes me think I am standing on an island in the sky! To the north of Black Down the blue sky and sunshine persisted although I could see that the cloud was starting to close in from the south, making for a short lived scene. I decided that I would head down towards the Temple of the Winds, at the southern end of the Black Down plateau. On the way the cloud started to drift in and the sunshine got more and more obscured as I headed south.
Brief Sunshine
The atmosphere on top of Black Down was magical on this early morning and I was surprised by the number of people out early on this Sunday morning enjoying it. I met more than a dozen people heading down to the Temple of the Winds, unusual for a Sunday morning. The mist lingered around the tall Scots Pine trees and there were water droplets formed on just about everything from leaves to spiders webs.
Deep Reflections
It all made for a spooky kind of introduction to my day’s walking. At Temple of the Winds the view across the Weald that I should have had was completely obscured by white cloud and although I lingered for a few minutes to see if it might clear, it soon became obvious that it wouldn’t and so I headed down the southern slope of the hill. The Temple of the Winds sadly does not have anything left, other than a recently added stone seat at the point that Alfred Lord Tennyson used to admire the view.
Temple of the Winds
Back in 1967 this tranquil place was the scene of an air crash when an Iberian Airways jet came down and killed all of those on board. There are few clues of the disaster now, but apparently at the time a large number of trees were taken out and there were localised fires across a wide area. Getting help up here at night-time when it happened must have been a nightmare, as there aren’t many ways to access this area other than on foot.
Sulphur Tuft
As I headed down the slope I admired the large crop of fungi that was devouring all the dead wood in the area. From the bracken covered slopes I then entered a dark tunnel like world as I descended through the yew tree belt. Eventually as I got to the bottom I passed by a large and rather idyllic looking house. My path continued around the garden before eventually coming upon a road.
Spooky House
As I descended the fog got thicker until I could see no more than about 50 metres ahead of me. This is not the type of weather conditions I am used to and although the effect of these conditions on the countryside was interesting, I nonetheless wanted to see some views and hoped that it would soon clear!
Spindly Giants
At Upper Diddlesford Farm I came across another of those huge collections of scrap farm vehicles that have become such a common feature of this walk. Unlike others I have come across this one looked as though some of the old machines were actually being stripped for parts as they were in various states of completeness. It made for a fascinating sight, especially in the gloom of the fog.
Upper Diddlesford Farm
I made my way across fields to Northchapel, a village that I had passed through on my journey up here. There was no let up in the conditions and if anything the fog closed in even more. I had a little look at the Half Moon pub, a welcoming looking place that would surely have been a better place to spend the day than out in the fog! I took the opportunity to take a look at the interesting looking church of St Michael the Archangel at the heart of the village.Memories of the recent Remembrance Day service were obviously still fresh in the mind judging by the poppy memorial wreaths still looking in great condition on the war memorial outside the church. The churchyard looked quite spooky with a hint of sun trying to break its way through the cloud.
Half Moon Pub
I headed north out of the village and soon came across a group of ramblers ahead of me. There is nothing I hate more than groups of ramblers when I’m out. Their incessant chatter and complete oblivion to their surroundings annoys me and as I passed them I put on a bit of speed to get some distance between them and me. This took some time, and somehow the still conditions seemed to ensure that their voices carried a long way. Eventually I did lose them though as they took a different turn at Frith Hill. My relief was palpable! It also gave me the opportunity to have a peer at the marvellous house at Frith Hill and the topiary chickens that had been clipped (at least I think that is what they were!).
Northchapel Graves
I headed down towards what looked to be a fairly large body of water called The Lake. However, when I got there my view of the water was rather more distant than I imagined. Judging by the heavily engineered bridges, I guessed that this was at one time a landscaped park although what was left could only be described as faded beauty.As I peered through the fog to see if I could see anything of the lake I got the surprise of my life as this small azure and shimmery blue bird passed underneath the bridge at breakneck speed. I could only assume that it was a kingfisher even though I didn’t get a very close look. Its fabulous colour stuck out on such a gloomy day.
A little further on and my eyes were drawn to a shaggy ink cap fungus growing under the bushes. Its distinctive shape and textures were fascinating, although taking a picture of it proved very tricky due to its position & I cursed the fact that I hadn’t brought my little tripod. By now it was clear that the fog wasn’t going to lift and I took the decision to cut short my day’s walking. I passed by the rather murky looking Deer Tower, a folly-like residence that looked rather deserted and onwards to Shillinglee Park. Many of the original buildings here had been turned into residences for the well-heeled, completely altering the character of what must once have been a country estate.
Deer Tower
In order to reduce the amount of road walking I needed to do, I took a big loop around Walk Copse and the North Ponds, crossing the road that passed between the upper and lower pond. I suspect that these were once hammer ponds for the iron industry that operated in this area 250 years ago. Now the only activity that exists is fishing for the local angling society. There were actually quite a few about that day – possibly fog suits them?
North Ponds
I eventually made it to the Sussex Border Path at last when I reached White’s Hill. By now the fog was so thick that I could barely see a thing. The entire walk back along the official route was almost completely lost on me as I focused my attention on ensuring that I had my navigation right. From what I could see of the early part of the walk I wan’t sure I was missing a great deal as the path wandered along the side of bare looking fields.
Bleak Fishing
I passed through a couple of sections of damp woodland, where I did come upon a large fairy ring of fungi, which was quite impressive. Eventually though I came to the A283 at the summit of the fabulously named Cripplecrutch Hill. Crossing the road was no easy matter though. Not only was it really busy but I couldn’t see very far in front of me so it was a bit frightening. Eventually after a few minutes a welcome lull came and I crossed safely and disappeared into the gloomy woodlands opposite. Here I followed a lane that had the distinct look of a road that didn’t quite make it. Even the map suggested that might be the case.
Shaggy Ink Caps
I came out at Gospel Green, where I had to take Jay’s Lane. This final section seemed interminable. I think the walking through muddy fields had taken its toll and I was glad that I had kept the walk fairly short today. The trudge along the lane was quite tough as it regained the altitude that I had lost coming down off Black Down earlier in the day. It was a slow and steady climb – the worst sort at the end of a day’s walking!
Gospel Green
I can’t say that I would enjoy walking in conditions like these very often for I got really frustrated at not being able to see anything. However, some of the landscapes had extra interest because of the cloud, especially the trees on Black Down, which had a really ghostly feel. The churchyard at Northchapel was also very atmospheric. It was an experience that I enjoyed to a point, but not one I would like on a regular basis. Irritatingly when I got back to Worthing it was bright sunshine and had been all day!

Friday, 11 November 2011

Sussex Border Path Section 8 Black Down and Haslemere

Daybreak on Black Down
Autumn has worn on and I was eager to get one more early morning visit to the Sussex Border Path before darkness sets in and no longer provides me with the advantage of extra daylight hours without disrupting too much of my day. I got up for my eighth tour around the Sussex Border Path while it still seemed as if it were the middle of the night!
Upper Roundhurst Farm
I arrived at Black Down car park a lot earlier than it suggested that it would be open and so I was pleased to see that the gate was open at the National Trust Car Park. I had arrived just before sunrise and at the crack of dawn. The light suggested that we would be in for a really special day and certainly the atmosphere, slight mist hanging around and oranges and purples made for a sight that was really worth getting up early for!
Sun Up
I soon discovered the down side of such an early start when I descended from the fabulous viewpoint over the Weald and Downs to the south. My path went down through some thick woodland, which was so dark it felt like it was still night time! Such was the speed of the advancing light though that by the time I got to the bottom and emerged from the wood, the darkness had largely disappeared from the air and daylight was properly underway. By the time I reached Upper Roundhurst Farm I could also see the sun starting to make an appearance through the trees, setting off the warm tones of the rather impressive sandstone built farmhouse.
Golden Morning
I hooked a left and climbed steadily along the tree lined road, hoping that I would get a proper look at the sun. I didn’t have long to wait luckily as I soon found a gateway from where to admire the blood red ball of a sun rising somewhere over Gatwick Airport to the east of me. All across the valleys in front was low lying mist, adding to the autumnal atmosphere. I left the Sussex Border Path a little further on, taking my route to get to the beginning of today’s section of the ‘official’ path. My route took me along fields and through stretches of woodland heading towards the south of Haslemere.To me left, as it would be for much of the way was the sandy bulk of Black Down, surprisingly the highest point of Sussex (and not anywhere on the South Downs as most people would think).
Pine Cones
All the way autumn was properly underway and although it was a beautiful day, there was no hint of the Indian Summer conditions that I had enjoyed on my trip to the Isle of Portland only three weeks earlier. In fact the colours on the trees were properly changing and pine cones and various fruit including crab apples were showing signs of being shed at any hint of wind!
Tree House
Eventually I reached the rather attractive looking High Barn Farm, where one of the outlying cottages had a rather novel looking and luxurious tree house in their back garden. A lucky set of children I thought! I was also surprised to find a foot stool blocking my way, of the type a librarian might use. As abandoned vehicles go, it was probably one of the more unusual I had come across!
I soon plunged back into woodland and was heartwarmed to see a nice tribute to a conservation volunteer named Bernard Farquharson, a Scot by birth but who had loved and contributed so much to the area that his friends and colleagues had marked his passing in 1995. I was supposed to cross what looked like a couple of hammer ponds in this wood, but they were rather lost in the undergrowth and I am not sure that they had any water in them whatsoever.The woodland path soon gave way to another road and I followed this all the way into the outskirts of Haslemere. I merely flirted with the town though, taking a route over the rather affluent looking Haste Hill. This is an area of sumptuous housing and big iron fences and gateways.
This flirtation with Haslemere din’t last long and I descended down quite a steep hill to Stedlands Farm. The character of the walk changed now to one that was more familiar from the last leg – thick woodland and areas of heath in between. I negotiated my way around another hammer pond and eventually up Fernden Hill. The countryside looked like a manicured piece of parkland for a large manor house, although I couldn’t find one on my map. I eventually concluded that the house may have been usurped by a rather ugly block of flats that would be more at home on a university campus. Luckily the path didn’t give me a very clear view close up, although I had seen the block from a distance across the fields about two miles.
Fernden Hill
I reached the main road at Kingsley Green and was rather surprised by the car I had to wait for in order to cross the road – it was an Austin 7! I crossed to the attractive village, arranged around a small village green. I was particularly intrigued by the small garage that had a clock tower on the top – not sure what function this once would have been; a blacksmith maybe? The piece de resistance though was the red telephone box, which was surrounded by sunflowers!
Communication Centre
I pushed on up the road that I had travelled to park the last time I was up this way, hoping that I wouldn’t meet any traffic on the way. The road was so narrow that there was almost no room for a pedestrian to be and I was thankful that I didn’t need to put this to the test! I was pleased to head off across Marley Common, passing a rather attractive lodge house as I did so. This little corner of common land the link to the last piece of Sussex Border Path and I picked up the route once again.My attention wandered across the common to a large black and white beast in the distance. I genuinely didn’t know what it was as it looked a bit woolly for a cow, even though it was the right size.When I got close I discovered it was a cow!Helpfully there was a sign next to it saying that the National Trust was grazing Belted Galloway Cattle here to try and maintain the heathland without it running to scrub.
Marley Common
I dropped off the common back to the main road via a very steep path and was pleased not to have to wait too long to get across. I headed along the small valley that I had been along earlier in the day, meeting the path I had passed in the opposite direction about an hour previously. For the short stretch that I retraced my steps I couldn’t help be surprised by the difference walking in the opposite direction made – it looked like completely different countryside!
Valewood Farmhouse
Back at Stedlands Farm I headed off in a different direction, heading towards the very attractive Valewood Farmhouse. I’m no expert on the age of buildings but judging ny the style I am guessing this might be as old as Tudor? The house wasn’t the only relic – there was an old fashioned tractor left to rot in the front garden! I was so taken with the farmhouse that I have to confess that I paid insufficient attention to my route and continued along the country estate road enjoying my surroundings. I had walked a good half mile before checking the map again and to my horror discovered that I was going the wrong way! Fortunately I corrected myself but had to take a pretty steep path in order to do so. I managed to connect back with the official route at Chase Wood. It wasn’t all bad – doing this enabled me to get some really good views across this parkland type countryside.
Chase Wood
A little further on and the mood of the walk changed considerably as I entered the sandy environment of Black Down. I was really pleased that I had left this until the end of the walk for by now all the clouds had blown away and the sun was lovely and warm, showing off the Scots Pines at their finest. I had been up here once before some years ago, but what I really found remarkable is that it is quite unlike any other part of Sussex that I know. It is like a small patch of the New Forest transported fifty or so miles away and dropped on an unsuspecting part of the world!
Back on Black Down
The only aspect of the last stretch of the walk that I didn’t enjoy was the fact that I felt a bit turned around due to the plethora of paths, few of which appeared to be marked on the map. It didn’t matter as far as the official walk was concerned for the Border Path appears to follow the biggest of the paths. Any chance of me looking around further were rather stymied by this little problem though. Maybe I’ll have another bash on the next leg of the walk?
Black Down
By now it was 11am and I had made the most of the day already! As the day got warmer it was starting to attract walkers and the car park at Black Down was pretty busy when I got back! I headed over to the viewpoint that I had enjoyed at sunrise, but by now the view southwards was rather obscured by the very bright sunlight. I didn’t hang around, feeling happy that I had had an early start and enjoyed the countryside largely to myself. Now it would be the turn of the crowds!

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

South West Coast Path Section 54 The Isle of Portland

View From The Start

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.
Verne Fort

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.
Railway Incline

Instead I parked at the top of the hill above the town of Fortuneswell and devised a route that would allow me to circumnavigate the island using the official route. It was pleasing to see that this car park was free and with plenty of room on this by now superb day. In fact I had to pinch myself to remind me that it was now October, so warm and benign were the conditions. Sadly the air wasn’t quite as clear as I would have hoped, and long distance views were impossible. A pity, for I imagined I would be able to see Devon and the Isle of Wight from up here.

Verne Fort Entrance

I walked first along the crest of Verne Hill where I could gaze across the fabulous view of Chesil Beach and Weymouth. This stupendous view is surely one of the finest in all of England and I was surprised that the car park wasn’t more full. As I left the car park behind, I crossed what appeared to be a railway bridge. The railway below was no ordinary trackbed though as it sloped steeply away from my position. I remembered that Julia Bradbury had explored some industrial railways on the island as part of her ‘Railway Walks’ series a couple of years ago and immediately recognised this to be one of those.The trucks would have been pulled up and down these incline railways using ropes and pulleys.They must have been quite the sight when in operation!

Verne Fort Detail

At the end of the road I took a path that wound its way around the perimeter wall of what is now a prison, although most of the buildings are hidden behind a huge perimeter wall hinting that the building once had military significance. The walls were covered in cotoneaster, an invasive plant that seems to be thriving here on Portland. From one Victorian engineering structure to a very different one as I got myself on to a different part of the former railway that had the inclines admired earlier. This made for nice easy going, even when faced with the steep incline down into Castletown on the banks of Portland Harbour.

Railway Incline Into Portland Harbour

As I descended down the incline much of the investment associated with bringing the London 2012 sailing events came into sight. Some very large apartments had been built on the site of some of the naval buildings, although interestingly one of the blocks appeared to have been abandoned part way through construction.Any trace of the freight yard that would once have existed at the bottom of the incline has long since been obliterated by history and the expansion in the Royal Navy yards that occupied this part of Portland Harbour during theCold War. Now the Royal Navy has moved out and commercial buildings are filling the void.

Portland Castle

Before moving on I took a look at Portland Castle, almost hidden in the trees off the road. A quiet spot now, but its presence reminds us of the strategic need for this kind of defence in years gone by. A group of giggly girls had got together for what looked like the last hurrah of summer. Despite the unseasonably warm weather Istill thought they were very brave in considering swimming in the harbour waters.

Fortuneswell Beach

I pushed on along the harbour road to where the A354 finally enters the island at the northern end of Fortuneswell. From here I started the walk down the western side of the island, heading up on to the top of Chesil Beach for its last half mile or so before it runs into the cliffs of Portland.This was the first time I had been on to the top of the beach since its embryonic beginnings at the western end, two walking days further back along the coast.As I looked along the line of shingle I thanked my lucky stars that the coast path doesn’t even attempt to use this as its route. To do so would be mind-numbingly boring and extraordinarily hard work. I sense that only the fool hardy or masochistic would attempt such a route, while everyone else would do the sensible thing and boycott it entirely.

Try Again

I briefly walked along the promenade looking for a refreshment stop and was pleased to see that there was a café at the far end. I was less pleased by the cost of the cold can that I purchased and even less pleased by the fact that they appeared to have no water available to buy. They were missing a serious trick here in my opinion, especially as the beach below was filling up with scuba divers and their associated companions. Although the café looked the part, I wasn’t sure whether they had mentally already wound down for the winter…

Dive Team

Anyhow, feeling somewhat refreshed I plodded my way back up the steep hill that I had only recently descended on the other side of the island. I took it slow and steady to enable me to enjoy the changing view as I climbed. At the top I paused for a minute to enjoy this view for the last time before my perspective was to change. At the topof the hill I met with what was once the narrow road that accessed the hinterland of the island.It has now been widened and moved away from the cliff edge slightly, enabling some public art depicting various reminders of the quarry industry to be installed. Portland Stone has been prized for many years and was used in the construction of St Paul’s Cathedral, the UN building and the Cenotaph among many other prestigious buildings. Reminders of the quarrying are ever present throughout the island and the next couple of miles in particular provide a good study of the impact made by quarrying on the landscape.


The path continued along the top of the enormous cliffs for the next mile or so, with breathtaking views across Chesil Beach and the azure sea below. I was astonished at the colour of the sea, which wasn’t too dissimilar with the parts of the Mediterranean I have seen. On the shore side of the path were lots of quarrying reminders, with half cut blocks discarded and various engineering features still in place to help get the stones out. It made for a fascinating section of walk, and for me probably the best section of the entire day.

Cotoneaster Cliffs

At Blacknor the path just about manages to skirt around the side of a military installation and the views across Chesil are suddenly replaced with views down towards Portland Bill and its lighthouses, the southern tip of the island. The scenery changed somewhat too, with the cliffs getting less dramatic all the way as I headed south. The walk became more open too with less quarrying activity. The interior of the island cannot be called picturesque, for most of the visible buildings are rather ugly looking ex military and local authority housing. Although a gloriously sunny day, I could imagine how depressing these places must be on those gloomy cold and grey winter days – grim!

Path Framing

Still, progress was very quick along this section of coast, partly because I was heading slightly downhill the whole time. The path was undoubtedly popular, although some of the walkers were less than considerate towards their fellow users. One family in particular were paying no attention to their dog, who was yapping at all who passed and then decided it would terrorise a group of horse riders for daring to amble slowly past. The reaction from the owner/ keeper? Nothing at all…

North Portland Cliffs

As I approached the very ugly looking business park at the edge of Eastnor my way was blocked by an animal of a very different nature – one of the largest caterpillars I had ever seen! This big hairy beast was shuffling across the path in front of me. Sadly I didn’t know what kind it was, although I suspect it was a tiger moth of some sort given its resemblance to those I have seen in books. Portland has a few species that do not appear anywhere else due to the geographical nature of its location. I did think I might have struck gold and found a rare species, but I couldn’t be sure…

West Coast

A little further on and I passed the first of three lighthouses that occupy Portland Bill. This first one is now converted to a very desirable looking house and is neighboured with a National Coastwatch Foundation lookout tower. I should imagine this is one of the better gigs for a Coastwatch Volunteer as the view must be stupendous on a good day. Ahead of my the present lighthouse was obviously the honeypot that most visitors had headed for today. The car park was stuffed and all around the ‘Bill’ were hundreds of people milling about enjoying the day.

Huge Caterpillar

After looking around the outside the lighthouse (which was now closed for winter!), I popped into the café to stock up on drink. The place was absolutely heaving, with dozens of plates of fish and chips being dished up to what must have been an unusually busy October Sunday. I trust the owners had stocked up ahead of time, for there didn’t seem to be any shortage of food.

Portland Lighthouse
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!
Portland Bill Lighthouse
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.
Portland Bill

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!
Framed By Huts
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!
East Coast
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.
Church Ope Cove
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.
Rufus Castle
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!
Portland Railway
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!
Portland Breakwater