Connected to the mainland by the breathtaking sweep of Chesil Beach, the Isle of Portland offers a magnificent blend of beauty and excitement. As a major feature of the Jurassic Coast – a UNESCO World Heritage site – Portland is well known for its fascinating landforms and spectacular sea views, there’s plenty to see and do during your visit.
Church Ope Cove
Church Ope Cove is a secluded pebble beach on the sheltered eastern side of the Isle of Portland below Pennsylvania Castle Estate. Some say it is likely to have been the landing place of the first recorded Viking attack on the British Isles in 789 AD. It was a famous smuggling beach and a natural target for landing goods and sinking contraband alcohol to pick-up under the cover of night. Now Church Ope Cove is popular for fishing, snorkelling, swimming, and even diving, as it provides access to numerous wrecks in the surrounding waters.
Portland Museum is the place to learn about the area’s history – local industry, the sea, the prisons, the people and the fossils of the Jurassic Coast. The museum was founded in 1930 by Dr Marie Stopes, the first curator and famous birth control pioneer, and is housed in two early 17th century stone cottages. One of the cottages inspired Thomas Hardy to centre his famous novel “The Well Beloved” around it, making it the home of “Avice”, the novel’s heroine. Many parts of the Estate feature in the novel including ‘Sylvania Castle’.
Rufus Castle, a Norman Castle built on a rocky promontory (or what remains of it) overlooks Church Ope Cove. The ruins of the structure dates from the late 15th Century, though built on the foundations of an earlier castle that dates from 1142, making it Portland’s oldest castle. It also goes by the alternative name of Bow and Arrow Castle, due to its construction in the form of a pentagon with loop-holes built into the thick walls allowing archers to fire upon attackers.
The Tout Quarry Sculpture Park
Craftsmen and artisans have worked with Portland’s Stone since Roman times. The Tout Quarry Sculpture Park keeps this part of Portland life alive with a fantastic park for visitors and the local community. Artists, both well-known and emerging create works for the park – often on site, with the disused quarries being used as an outdoor studio workshop.
Chesil Beach is an 18 mile long pebble beach stretching northwest from Portland to West Bay, separated from the main road for much of its length by the Fleet Lagoon, a shallow (less than 2 metres deep in most parts) salt water body of water. It is an important area for wildlife and lies at the centre of the Jurassic Coast. The Chesil Beach Visitor Centre, run by Dorset Wildlife Trust, is a great place to start your exploration of the area.
Castle Town D-Day Centre
Castle Town D-Day Centre is an authentic re-creation of the wartime dock yard that was situated on Portland in 1944 and it tells the story of the thousands of American troops stationed here in an immersive and interactive way. Suitable for all ages in all weathers, the D-Day Centre is an excellent day out.
Fancy’s Farm is a community farm, home to the only flock of rare breed Portland Sheep on Portland, along with a variety of animals that you can feed as you explore. There is no entry fee as the farm relies on donations. Just next to this is The Verne High Angle Battery, a Victorian gun battery built in 1892 as part of Britain’s Coastal Defences and is the best preserved Battery of its type in the united Kingdom.
Portland Castle is a coastal fort built by Henry VIII in the 1540’s. The historic English Heritage site and has an educational audio tour whereby visitors can discover the Castle’s long history and involvement in WWI and WWII. Portland Castle offers great sea views from the gun platform, gardens and the Captain’s Tearooms.
Portland Bill is on the Southerly tip of the Isle of Portland and is home to the Portland Bill Lighthouse. The visitor centre houses an impressive exhibit where visitors can learn about the lighthouse, its keepers and its 500 plus year history. Climb the lighthouse to have a view for miles along the Dorset Coastline, Jurassic Coast and the Portland Race.
The South West Costal Path
The South West Costal Path is 630 miles (1013 km) of diverse coastline from Minehead to Poole, and the Estate sits directly above a section of the path. The Southwest Coastal path has evolved over the years, but it started life as the route the Coastguards used to patrol daily to look out for smugglers. To walk a smaller section of the route, around Portland is 9.5 miles (15.2 km) and offers exceptional sights.