SWCP Portland

By: snowgood

Aug 16 2015

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Category: birds, Butterfly, Photography, South West Coast Path, Walking


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I started walking the Cornish Coast Path in 2011 with one aim, to reach my goal and do the whole lot.

After siezing my opportunities I surprised myself by completing the route in just 10 months.

There wasn’t a single walk where I came home disappointed.  Every walk had highlights, even the ones that didn’t go to plan.

Four years on my waistline may have increased, but my appetite for walking remains undiminished!

By using the Cornish walk as a foundation, and adding an earlier aborted attempt on the south Devon coast (back in 1998/99) I’m now getting close to reaching completion of the entire South West Coast Path.

The official guide says that’s 630 miles, but that only tells half the story. There are numerous diversions and cliff falls to negotiate.

To complete this epic route there are many additional miles to complete, walking back to your car, or a bus route.  Then there’s the thousands of miles fanning out to all points of the compass just to start each leg.

In addition there are mini cab rides, and numerous nights away from home in a mixture of hotels and pubs.

As I see myself homing in on a complete circuit I’m terribly excited about completing the challenge.

In fact I’ll take any excuse as a chance to car on my epic adventure, even a little cry from down the landing at 3:30 in the morning.

It was a timely nudge, an excuse to get on the road at 4:00 am and beat the traffic.

Rather than the usual five hours through busy holiday traffic I made in just over three.

I then spent an hour half with my car and SLR camera capturing shots in the “Golden Hour”, before starting the walk around Portland proper.

I struggle to carry a rucksack when it’s hot, and this little chap was making slow progress outside the Chesil Beach visitor centre.

Out on Portland I stopped to take in the views acros the harbour, and back up towards Abbotsbury.  Walking back to the car I spotted the warmth in this Portland stone wall.

I’ve spent many years replicating this colour whilst I was running House Martin, but you can’t beat the real thing.

At 7:17 am there wasn’t much action, and I was happy to catch the shadows before the sun bleached out the detail.

That’s a small part of Portland Harbour on the right (see the kite surfer shot in the last post), with Fleet Lagoon in the centre, flanked by Chesil Beach and the open sea of the English Channel to the left.

Apologies for the long intro, let’s get started on my Portland circuit.

I parked up (free of charge) quite close to Portland Castle.

As I started my walk I looked out towards the old H.M.S. Osprey Helicopter Control Tower.  It seems like only yesterday I watched Westland Lynx hovering over the tarmac, but in reality it was over 16 years ago whilst I was repping in this area.

The only choppers here now are operated by the Her Majesty’s Coastguard unit.  Even these will go soon as the Augusta Westland AW139s will be decommissioned in 2018.

Leaving Portland Castle behind me I walked across the road to the first marker stone, which some kind soul has used as a convenient spot to leave a black bag of dog poo. What a welcome to “The Island”.

Undeterred I marched up a steady incline that was once known as the Merchant’s Railway.  Small carriages were used here transport quarried stone down to Castletown, and the cargo ships below. It seems barely credible, but this little network was in operation back in the 1820s and carried 81,000 tonnes per annum as long ago as 1865.

Having climbed the slope which rises to nigh on 490 feet I found myself up on edge of Verne Common and next to the first of two prisons on the island. Anyone unfamiliar with the area would never guess that behind an enormous dry moat there are 595 prisoners.  Even the sign that stands above the remote entrance rambles on about it being an ancient citadel, and the current purpose is hidden within the text.

I climbed up a steepo embankment, and took this photo of the wild mint that seems particularly prevalent on the east side of the island.

Full credit to the authorities running the various trails here, as there were numerous information plaques advising toursis on what they might see.

I hoped to make my first sighting of the beautiful Silver Studded Blue Butterfly. as a species our UK Blues tend be quite diminutive, but I soon discovered this particular species is a good bit larger than the norm.

You can probably tell from my photos that even with an early start I hadn’t escaped some pretty hot weather.

Up on the plateau I came across numerous beautiful flowers, this was one of my favourites.  No idea what it is!

Some time later I took the pic of the blue Coast Path sign at the top of this post.

It was directly outside the second prison which is ambiguously called a “Youth Custody Centre”.

You might be wondering why I took that photo?  It marked the spot where I stood still for perhaps 60 seconds and just listened.

There was utter silence.  No people talking, no birds singing, not an engine revving.


What bliss.

Soon my empty stomach was rumbling as I trudged on before taking a wrong turn at Church Ope Cove, and walking through the doors of “The Hayloft” which is the islands newest coffee shop.

The staff were friendly, and the place was clean with a cheerful vibe.

Suitably re-energised I plodded off down the road to see something I didn’t like at all.

A blooming wooden Coast path sign pointing back the way I should have come!

My map wasn’t super clear for this point, and once I’d retraced my steps I discovered I’d missed the correct route by just 10 yards!

At least it was my only mis-route of the day, and I did get a second chance to see little beach huts, with pebble walls around each one defining their individual territories.

A little later I met my first “proper” walkers of the day.  They were planning a holiday, and just here for the day to check out the lie of the land.

Don’t be fooled by the flat looking sea, those two boats were a few hundred yards away from ferocious “races” that churned up the surface. All the vessels I watched kept well clear!

Here’s another of nature’s beauties. Again I’ve no exact idea of the species, but I do know he was kind enough not to bite me.

At various points along the eastern side of the Isle of Portland you’ll find numerous vertical cliffs.  I shouldn’t be surprised, but I was, as I watched rock climbers scaling the heights and exchanging notes.

These people are “funny” breed.  They miss the easy way up, dangling on ropes trying to gain toe holds, and finger grips, whilst playing with a little bags of chalk.

Of course I’d join them if I was at all fit, and didn’t possess the arms of a weakling.  Oh well, it’s a sad fact, but I’ll never be able to scale the heights like these athletes.

At least I can be thanful I can walk freely, and can afford the time (and money) that these trips entail.

The further south one heads the topography gently slopes towards sea level at Portland Bill”.

En route I came across further evidence of this areas industrial past.

Numerous derricks, and not a few inlets remain showing how the region has spent over a century providing masonry for building products throughout the land.  Even that massive man made harbour is largely constructed from Portland Stone.

I spotted a photo depicting Prince Albert laying the first stone.

Here’s one of yours truly, soaking up the rays and pondering the exploits of the working man all those years ago.

At last I was closing in on the famous light house, and a chance for further refreshment. The cafe I’d spotted on my early morning recce was now open, and the expensive car park was full.  To be fair the establishment was pretty good, but I didn’t fancy a full meal, and just grabbed a lemonade and Mint Magnum.

The sea can be no more than 20 feet below the verdant plateau at this point, and I was reminded of the seaweed near Durdle Dor.

Isn’t it gorgeous?

I didn’t hang around long, as I wanted to get back to Roz.  So I legged it back to the north, watching migrating Willow Warblers flitting around the wire fencing, and marvelling at the youths who’d climbed onto Pulpit Rock.

In my mind the light house was only just beyond half way, but in truth I raced back up the west coast with very few obstacles to rapid progress.

I ignored a few of these, and to be fair to Ministry of Transport (who are the legistive body reponsible for pedestrian access) there were indeed a few sizeable land slips.

My reasoning was that the path closures weren’t that severe, and that I may never get another chance to complete the original course.  What’s more the two guys in this picture seemed to be locals, and they weren’t about to stop for any little yellow signs.

Along these high cliffs I heard the cronking of three ravens, two of them performed a magnificent dive tumbling upside down in flight.  How I love their exuberant syle.

Other masters of the air included numerous Kestrels, one female seemed to piroutte on the wind like a perfomer in the big top, and all of this just yards away from me.

Further along a solitary Peregrine passed me heading south.

After passing a few Spanish holiday makers it was time to make my descent into Chiswell. A little hamlet that nestles beside the southern tip of Chesil Beach.

My OS map doesn’t acknowledge such a place exists, but it does.  From here I had just 800 yards to go, and I was back at the car.

Changing out of my walking gear into clean clothes I then made use of my English Heritage card and made a visit to Portland Castle.

In reality this was more of a battery, or fortified defence against inavders.

I’m told it was built by Henry VII in 1540, maybe that’s what made him so grumpy that he kept bumping off his wives?

On this particular day in history the Gents were out of acction, and there was nobody to answer questions.

Ah well, I’d had a good day.

A little over three hours later I was back in Sussex.


4 comments on “SWCP Portland”

  1. Well done, thanks for all the photos. Yes, the sea weed is captivating. Checked out your links, I would love to explore the castles and ruins.

  2. Thanks. Beautiful images, inspiring project. Next week I’m going to Sennen in Cornwall so the path will be right next to me. Regards Thom.

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