The Isle of Portland
Portland has been a Royal Manor since before the conquest of 1066, and there are few places with a richer or longer history. Relics from the Stone Age, and from Roman and Saxon occupation have been found. Portland played an important role in the Civil War; the building of St Paul’s Cathedral, the D-Day Landings, and even an international spy scandal in the 1960’s. (This centred around the top secret Admiralty Underwater Research Establishment, now the Southwell Business Park.) Fascinating buildings range from the historic and grand, like Portland’s three castles, and its unique churches, to simple rugged stone cottages of quarrymen and fishermen, all full of charm.
Nowhere in the British Isles has a place of this size been so changed by human activity. All the quarries and vast Victorian defences could so easily have led to total destruction but some are themselves now part of the attraction of the Island as nature reserves and a stone carving school. Portland Harbour and it’s monumental Breakwaters, the great Verne Citadel and historic gun batteries contrast with the ancient windmill towers, and the three lighthouses at the Bill. Around the coves and rocks you can see the sites of numerous shipwrecks, and still imagine the scenes of smuggling which was so rife here for more than 200 years.
Portland has an abundance of reefs and wrecks with dives to suit all levels, due to the old outer harbour there is always somewhere to dive what ever the weather. Other dive centres include those based at the ‘Ferry Bridge’ on the Weymouth side of the ‘Fleet’, but Castletown by the port is the main dive centre on Portland with many dive related shops supplying everything from air, underwater lighting and wetsuits from ‘O’ Three, who have manufacturing base near by. Divers can also experience diving from the pebble beach at Chiswell and exploring the many wrecks that lie beneath the West Weares.
Portland’s white limestone cliffs have long been revered, for providing quality sports climbing of all grades. Whether you’re a total novice or a seasoned pro you will surely find a route to suit your skill level.
The West side of the Isle provides extensive bolted routes, including the Blacknor & Battleship series of climbs, along with a number of bouldering opportunities at sea level.
The East side provides a challenging mix of bouldering and deep water soloing. The Cuttings based on the Old Railway line provide bolted climbs and good strong finger work routes, a must in the early morning sun.
Check out the Rockfax website.
On the Water
Portland is an ideal location for all types of water based sports.
As well as being the home of Weymouth Speed Week, held within Portland Harbour, Portland has a wealth of companies providing facilities for diving, sailing, windsurfing, kitesurfing, kayaking and angling.
Many of the activities are based around Castletown, off the World Heritage Coast Line at Chesil Beach, or at the National Sailing Academy, where superb mooring and slipway facilities were created for the London 2012 Olympic sailing events.
Just across the bay, in Weymouth Harbour a fishing fleet is based. From here take your chosen charter boat out of the harbour and into Weymouth Bay to some of the best fishing areas in the west country.
Many people may regard portland as a one destination attraction, but the Isle has so much more to offer than a trip to the Bill and a crab sandwich.
Portland, has in some guides only just made its way into print as part of the National Coastal Path. Soon to be opened is an extension to this path which will run above Portland Port cutting out the need for a detour inland openning up another section of stunning views in all directions.
So outstanding is the Island’s Jurassic Coast, which includes Chesil Beach and the spectacular West and East Weare Cliffs that all have been designated Special Sites of Scientific Interest (SSSI). Please respect the more sensitive parts and take care in the quarries, and around the cliffs where many rare plants and butterflies can be seen.
The Island is a major migration point for birds, so watch out for hoards of “twitchers” with binoculars who descend at the merest hint of one of our many rare bird visitors! Check out the website.
Links to websites for local facilities and places of interest.
Chesil Beach centre is the best place to start exploring this fantastic area of coastline.
Tourist information for Weymouth and Portland – this link will go directly to the events listings on the site.