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Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Walk 117 Weymouth and Portland (Dorset)

Walk 117 Weymouth and Portland (Dorset)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 194
Distance: 17 miles or 25km
Difficulty: moderate
Terrain: road, cliff and other paths
Access: Parking in Weymouth.
Public transport: Plenty of buses between Weymouth and Portland.

This is a bit longer than the normal walks I do as it involves a circular walk around the island of Portland. Start off on the coastal path near to the George 111 statue in Weymouth and walk along the coastal path adjacent to the beach.

Look out for varied architecture including The New Vic Hotel which has a rather smart bust of Queen Victoria above its entrance. There are good views to the sheltered Weymouth Bay from here and soon the River Wey will have to be crossed for the walk to Nothe Fort. On the hills near Weymouth is a chalk carving of a horse meant to represent George 111 – dismayed that the work generated royal disapproval the artist killed himself. Fortunately, these days we are a little more sanguine about royal criticism – there would be an architect’s bloodbath if Prince Charles comments about some modern buildings were taken too much to heart!

The bridge across the Wey gives a good view up and down the river – lifeboats and old sailing vessels were in evidence when I was there. A plaque near here states that Captain Richard Clark departed from Weymouth to join Sir Humphrey Gilbert in his discovery of Newfoundland. Continue the walk up to and along the pier where ferries leave for the Channel Islands and Brittany. A less welcome visitor arrived here in 1348 as it was near Weymouth that the Black Death entered Britain killing nearly half the population in one year!

Weymouth Harbour was once a major port in the UK for both fishing and cargo – less so now although the catch is still the third largest in England. The bridge here is raised every two hours to let shipping through.

Continue the walk to Nothe Fort. This was built in 1860 by the Royal Engineers, with help from prisoners from Portland Prison, as part of the defence of Portland Harbour. It housed 12 gun batteries with 70 rooms on 3 levels. It remained in active service until 1956 and is now owned by the council.

Walk westwards and after about a mile is Sandsfoot or Weymouth  Castle and gardens. This was completed on the orders of Henry V111 in about 1539 to support Portland Castle in the protection of Portland Harbour. It has 2 storeys, dungeons, cannons and quarters for 50 men. The castle was in bad repair by 1584 due to damage by the sea and remedial work had to be done. It was held for the king in the Civil War and was then used as a mint. It then became a storehouse and never saw serious military action.

Portland Harbour was built in Victorian times and was an important naval base during the times of the Spanish Armada. It was closed (under the then name of HMS Osprey) in 1999 and the work transferred to Somerset. The cycle track along this stretch is part of The Rodwell Trail and follows part of the old Weymouth to Portland railway line which was closed in 1965. Look out for the platform and a sign of one of the old stations.

The walk along the road to Portland is a bit tedious. It becomes better near the end where there is a good view of Chesil Cave. This point, which lies at the end of Chesil Beach, gets the full blast of the Atlantic and is the site of many shipwrecks. The walk on the west side of the island starts with a rather steep and difficult climb alongside some houses to West Cliff. The path wasn’t entirely clear and it is possible that I took a route that was more difficult than it should have been. There is a very good view back to Chesil Beach which is one of the greatest examples of a tombolo in the world (a tombolo is a spit of land formed by longshore drift that has completely sealed in a section of the coast). The beach is 17 miles long and has been built up by a steady deposition of pebbles, the bulkiest near to Portland and the smaller down the coast at Abbotsbury. Local fishermen can tell exactly where on the beach a pebble comes from by its size.

Continue the walk along the path adjacent to the rugged coastline past Blacknor and towards Portland Bill. The scaly cricket’s only British home is in this area possibly brought here on a World War2 landing craft.

The 115 ft high lighthouse at Portland Bill was built in 1906 although there is an older disused one a little bit inland. To the right of it is an obelisk constructed in 1844 and warning of a low ledge stretching out 30 metres into the sea. Look out for Pulpit Rock further to the west which is a popular attraction because of its shape.

Continue the walk around the island where a mixture of erosion and quarrying has resulted in unusual rock formations. The area has been quarried for centuries to extract limestone. This has been used in such notable places as St Paul’s Cathedral, the Tower of London and the United Nations HQ in New York. Further round near Freshwater Bay there appears to be some new quarrying going on – a crane with a load still attached was abandoned – must have been knocking-off time!

Further up the east coast is Rufus Castle which is at the top of a steep climb from Church Ope Cove. The castle was built for William Rufus, king of England from 1087-1100, and is also known as Bow and Arrow Castle because of the many spaces for these weapons in the 7 ft thick walls. All that is left is a ruin and the arch is the only original part that remains.

Look out for the grim facades of the Young Offenders Institution and prison at Grove with the barbed wire and cameras. Near the end of the walk, on a hill near Fortuneswell, is an impressive sculpture of a quarryman. Descend into Fortunewell where there are buses back to Weymouth if needed.

Photos show: Chesil Beach from Portland; Portland Bill lighthouse; Quarrying areas on the south coast; sculpture of quarryman near Fortuneswell. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Walk 116 Lulworth Cove to Weymouth (Dorset)

 Walk  116 Lulworth Cove to Weymouth  (Dorset)

(Second leg of English coastal walk – Broadstairs to Lands End)

Map: L/R 194
Distance: 13 miles or 20 km.
Difficulty: moderate/quite challenging in parts
Terrain: mainly cliff paths
Access: Parking at both ends.
Public transport: Train and bus are possible to Lulworth but involve a train and a bus - bare bones service. Taxi best option. Good bus and train links from Weymouth to surrounding areas.

This walk features some of the most outstanding views on the English coast. It is worth popping into the Heritage Centre at Lulworth Cove to learn about the area’s geology. Follow the coast path westwards and up the steps to Dungy Head. The view back makes clear the horseshoe shape of Lulworth Cove. Forward are the outlines of Weymouth and Portland with the dramatic cliffs of St Oswald’s Bay in the foreground.

Next up is the iconic ‘Durdle Door’, an arch of limestone rock. A unique species of butterfly, The Lulworth Skipper, was discovered here in 1832. The walk continues up to Swyre Head, the highest point of the Purbeck Hills which form this part of the coast. (The area between Durdle Door and here is known as Scratchy Bottom!)

A little further along is Bats Head. There is a small gap near the point of the head and it is thought that erosion will eventually lead it to looking much like Durdle Door.

Continue along to White Nothe then Ringstead Bay – an area popular with divers. Burning Cliff, which overlooks the bay, is owned by The National Trust and is so called because in 1827 a peat fire, possibly started by lightning, burnt for six years.

A mile or so further along is the settlement of Osmington Mills. The mills were water mills which were used to grind corn. The Smugglers Inn, once the house of notorious smuggler, Emanuel Charles, dates back to the 13th century. John Constable came here in 1816 on his honeymoon and the views inspired his paintings of the Weymouth coast.

Continue along passing Black Head and an activity centre and on to Bowleaze Cove. This is a popular area for holiday makers with the Waterside Holiday Park an additional attraction. However, it is the long white building that sits above the village which is most impressive. This a grade 2 listed building designed in a Spanish Riviera style. It was owned by Pontins between 1950 and 1960 but was back as a hotel when I went there. The exotic sounding River Jordan exits on to the beach. Curiously, remains of elephants have been found in the area.

Continue along Furzy Cliff where there is a panoramic view of Weymouth and Portland. Descend on to the sea front where a piece of sculpted rock marks the recent building of sea defences. The entry promenade road into Weymouth has a row of colourful B&Bs/guest houses. Further along there is a mixture of Georgian and Victorian buildings. Look out for the pavilion jutting out on to the beach, this was built in 1960 to replace one destroyed by fire in 1954.

There are several things to look out for on the front. The ANZAC memorial (Australia and New Zealand) commemorates the troops from these countries who were stationed in Dorset and moved to fight in Palestine. The colourful clock tower commemorates the jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1887. The war memorial on the Esplanade features 3 events: 749 men killed off nearby Lyme Bay when they were attacked by torpedoes when training in 1944; also in this year 802 men died when their troopship sank in the channel; approx. 3000 American troops died after they left here for Omaha beach on D Day.

Further along is a full size replica of a bathing machine used by King George 111 during one of the 14 summers he spent here between 1789 and1805. On first arriving he was so impressed by the views that he exclaimed ‘I never enjoyed a sight so pleasing’. However, Queen Mary thought it a dull and stupid place!

Do not miss the impressive George 111 statue. Part of his cure, for what was then known as ‘the king’s madness’, (in fact a chemical imbalance in his body which damaged his nervous system) was to bathe in the sea water. The king’s visits helped to establish Weymouth as a popular resort and the statue was funded by ‘the grateful inhabitants’. The railway station is close to this area.

Photos show: Durdle Dor; Osmington Mills; Bowleaze Cove; View to Weymouth and Portland; George 111 statue in Weymouth.