SWCP Day 39. Fleet to Portland, and Portland circuit

Today’s distance walked – approx 28 kms (17.3miles).
Ascent – approx 350m (1148ft).

I woke early, but didn’t get started until around 8.30am this morning. The first stretch of trail was around the remainder of the Fleet nature reserve en route to Ferrybridge. I briefly passed through a firing range – no red flags flying today, so no detour necessary. I stopped in at one of the huge holiday parks on the way, used their facilities and bought a sandwich.

Jetty at the Fleet nature reserve
Jetty at the Fleet nature reserve
Err, ok!
Err, ok!

The next 600m out and back down to the water was a hellish tunnel of stinging nettles, and I was stung a lot. Really annoyingly I think there had been an ‘upper’ path from the campsite, as I met a couple just a short while onwards, who I’d seen walking at the campsite earlier. I’ll keep my eyes open next time!

Chesil bank/beach
Chesil bank/beach

I got to Ferrybridge at 11am – the gateway to the Isle of Portland, which isn’t in fact an island due to the pebble bank of Chesil beach, which has joined it to the mainland over time. It’s worth Googling Chesil beach. It is 29km (18 miles) long, 200m (660ft) wide and 15m (50ft) high. It is rather spectacular. I talked yesterday about broad bean sized pebbles at the other end of the beach – well the stones at this end are bigger, and you are forbidden from removing any stones from the beach.
It was overcast this morning and Portland looked a bit dreary ahead of me. I could see the Castletown area and the high stone cliffs to the West that Portland is famous for. This area has been extensively quarried here for an age. St Paul’s Cathedral in London is made from Portland stone so Wikipedia tells me (plus many many other buildings around the world). The quarrying continues today.

From Portland back to Ferrybridge
From Portland back to Ferrybridge

Heading into town, the sun came out and lots of little boats sailed across the harbour in front of me. It was breezy and all was good. The new part of the marina as nice – and I could see the lighthouse from Weymouth and the old breakwater.

Boat storage at the marina
Boat storage at the marina

I had booked a cheap hotel The Royal Breakwater, in Castletown, which was in front of a very very large and extremely ugly, derelict block of flats. The budget accommodation in Portland, the YHA had no rooms or camping (book early if you can) and there’s no other camping on Portland. I was able to check in early, and left most of my belongings in the room while I went out for the afternoon to do the circuit around they island. I left Castletown at 1.30pm.
I really didn’t get good feeling about Portland, in both it’s urban areas nor on the trail. The guide book was right in saying that it’s very ‘different’. The extent of the quarrying is visible in almost every area of the trail, and what would have been an extremely beautiful landscape many years ago, is now a testament to just how much the land has been ruined over time.
The trail started to the West along past Tout quarry, where there is a sculpture park. There is a little detour here into the park to avoid some slips on the cliffs.

Trail through the old quarry at Portland
Trail through the old quarry at Portland

Heading South, and keeping to the coast there were spectacular views back to Chesil beach, The Fleet, and Weymouth harbour.

Looking back to Chesil beach
Looking back to Chesil beach

I didn’t really enjoy much about the trail itself today, and walking through the broken landscape wasn’t particularly nice. About half way down the island to the South I passed the village of Weston, then on to a large business park, which again, I can’t find anything nice to say about. A highlight of the day was seeing 2 kestrels ahead me on the cliff to my right.
I reached Portland Bill by 2.45pm. The red and white lighthouse being the rather large and distinctive landmark.

Portland Bill lighthouse
Portland Bill lighthouse

I experienced a particularly British ice-cream debacle at Portland Bill. I ordered a Mr Whippy with a flake from the girl at the counter. It was towering – absolutely enormous! So I asked the man behind me, who’d just asked for 5 Mr Whippies, whether he wanted my giant one, and I’d get a smaller one. He said yes, and took it from me, so I called the girl back, and asked her for a smaller one. There was already another guy onto making the 5 Mr Whippies, and he gave 3 more huge ones to the man behind me. The man took ownership of them, then asked me if I wanted one of these – presumably because he was being polite and returning the favour, as he’d taken one of mine. Here’s where everything fell apart… I felt it necessary to take the ice-cream from the man because I’m British, and equally as polite, and not wanting to offend him. So I took the other giant ice-cream from him, got a spoon and spooned half of it into the bin (they really were really, very huge) thanked him, and went on my way. As I left with my now perfectly half-sized (normal sized) ice-cream, I called my thanks to the girl behind the counter who was explaining to the guy to please make a small one – which he did. They were both baffled, and the man behind me’s 5th Mr Whippy was half the size. This exchange all took place within about 40 seconds. I could hear the guy apologising to the man for the small 5th Mr Whippy, and the man assuring him that a half size one really was fine. A perfect British ice-cream comedy! 🍦

On my way back up the East coast I passed a jumble of beach huts. Many were painted in darker colours, not the pastel or brights you generally see. As I walked to through the broken landscape, I looked over to the East at the towering white cliffs where I’d be walking over the next few days. I’ve got a very strenuous few final days in store! I passed by a little beach cove, and gave the 13th Century church a miss, as I was completely over the day’s walking.

Beach huts a near Portland Bill
Beach huts a near Portland Bill

A little later, just below the prison, I passed a few people who were chatting about the route, and should they go up this way (to my left, inland). We all said hello to each other and I continued on my way. A kilometre later I had to turn around and come back. The path was blocked at the beach!! I trudged back and realised I’d gone off-trail. Clearly the other people who I’d passed had done the same… What I hadn’t seen was that they were standing in front of a sign which read that you had to turn up and to the left, to continue on the coast path, rather than walking on as we all had. I was slightly annoyed they didn’t mention anything to me about it.

Church Ope Cove
Church Ope Cove

So with an extra 2 extra Kms under my belt I was really over it. The walk went up and around the back of the prison, before going over the top and back down a steep decline of the former Merchants railway, into Castletown.

There is a lot of history in and around Portland that I haven’t mentioned, like the castle built by Henry VIII and a huge Victorian fort. On another day I would probably have enjoyed it and wanted to see more. I guess I wasn’t quite up to it in this particular day.

Merchants incline towards Castletown
Merchants incline towards Castletown

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