20/01/2019 – Portland 3: Portland Bill

Click for 3D map of today’s walk – on a laptop or desktop, click on 3D if needed and use the Ctrl key & mouse/touch pad to manipulate the map and scroll to zoom in or out.

I left fairly early in the morning and decided to have breakfast in the van. I know an excellent viewpoint, the car park where I ended up on my last walk, and found it more or less deserted, so the full view around was open to me. It would have been easy to give in to my feeling to just have a rest and enjoy the view but this wasn’t going to happen. I know this area quite well and it’s one of the high points of this stretch of the path, so at the same time I was looking forward to it. After breakfast and after finding enough will power to put on my walking boots, I set off.

You have to first walk out of the car park again and turn left, along the road towards Portland Bill. About 100m or so I turned left, passed around the gate, and down to the cliff face, that from now on would slope down towards Portland Bill along a very slow gradient. The walk itself is easy and the view out is similar along the way out, equally fantastic all the way. As before, I could see almost the entirety of the Purbeck coastline, where I walked before. I could make out Durdle door and Lulworth, but also Osmington in the distance. The landscape is very similar to elsewhere on Portland, albeit slightly less ‘industrial’. It looks like the cutting of Portland stone on this part of the peninsula had seized ages ago, whereas before, there were quite a few active quarries still. A few times, I came across a sheer cliff face, as if it had been sliced off by a large knife. There are also a couple of antique cranes dotted along the coastline here and it makes you wonder how they lifted those heavy blocks of stone into the boats that had been waiting, precariously negotiating the swell that could have easily smashed them to bits.

After a few miles the path emerges above the cliff face and becomes easier still as you come closer to the Bill, which is named Bill because it resembles the beak of a bird. I could see the lighthouse from quite far away, rising above the landscape that at its ultimate point is almost level with the sea, compared to how high up I had started. I passed the many beach huts, if you can call them that, since there is no beach, which were dotted along a wide grassy path with the increasingly more interesting rock shelves and ledges on the left hand side. It’s well worth climbing down these in places as it gives you a very different view of the Portland landscape. In places you think you are walking on solid ground, but if you then jump off the top ledge onto a lower one you quickly find out that you were actually walking on top of a giant cavity that will no doubt one day collapse. The only assurance you have, apart from being completely unaware they are there until you put in some effort, is that on top of one or two sits one of those ancient cranes which must have been there for at least 100 years, if not a lot longer. I could gradually see Portland lighthouse rise up from the horizon and it looked really impressive in the gleaming sun, which was obscured by light cloud now and again, which provided a dramatic effect at times.

I finally arrived at the lighthouse and walked towards The Trinity House Obelisk, which almost vies with the lighthouse for attention. It’s a strange object which dates from 1884 to warn ships off Portland Bill, which makes me think there wouldn’t have been a lighthouse here then, what would be the point? The lighthouse that is there now stems from 1906, so much later. Unfortunately, you can’t climb up the lighthouse, which is closed to the public.

I could also clearly see the Portland Race, raging in the distance. This is a tidal race or current that literally eats ships and boats. You really need to know what you are doing as a skipper rounding Portland Bill or you’ll have an experience with the RNLI like many before here. It was even used by Queen Elizabeth the 1st’s navy to attack the Spanish Armada in 1588 in the battle of Portland.

It had got quite busy now, not least because there is a large car park right next to the lighthouse, fortunately relatively out of sight. I decided to return to the car park, retracing my steps. This was quite straightforward but I was a bit disappointed that there wasn’t another path back I could have taken, short of walking along the main road. The walk itself is more than pleasant however. Instead of seeing the lighthouse loom up in the distance, I now had full and constant view of the Purbeck coastline in the distance.

When I got back to my van there was a massive campervan parked next to me and I still don’t know how the driver got it in between the massive blocks of stone at the entrance of the car park to stop exactly those vehicles from using it as a free campsite. There used to be a 180cm height barrier there in the past, which has in the meantime disappeared, allowing more people to enjoy the view. I had a chat with the couple of the campervan and then returned home. Another very enjoyable day with stunning views – see below. You’ll see a lot of lighthouse pictures because… I love lighthouses and it’s hard to avoid them on Portland!

Click on image to enlarge and for slideshow.