A moderate-level walk from Weymouth train station to Church Ope Cove on the Isle of Portland.
Oh, I do like to walk beside the seaside – especially if it’s not that warm. I’m definitely not one of these people that enjoys a ‘refreshing’ (ie freezing cold) dip in the sea. Call me a fair weather swimmer, but if it isn’t over 15°C, I’m not getting in without a drysuit.
It’s no surprise, then, that I didn’t dare dip a toe in the Channel when I visited Weymouth. I’d much prefer to ramble along this coastline on foot – it is a fantastic walking destination. Arguably England’s original seaside resort, the town was George III’s favourite summer break destination, sparking a national obsession with the seaside holiday that has continued for more than 200 years.
A railway line was installed in 1865, 60 years after George III made the area so popular. Today it makes a very good walking route from Weymouth all the way to the Isle of Portland.
1. Follow the ghosts of steam trains
You commence the walk from Weymouth station car park – this urban kick-start passes through backstreets of terraced housing on the way to meet Portland Harbour. It’s only a matter of yards before you reach what is now the Rodwell Trail, a favourite route for walkers and cyclists.
All along the Rodwell Trail you can see reminders of railway history – it’s easy to imagine the steam locomotives screaming through. Leave the trail and cross the ferry bridge to rejoin a footpath following the line of the railway alongside Portland Harbour. The harbour is a vast natural bay and an ideal anchorage point. No surprise then, that Henry VIII chose to build two of his famous coastal defences here: one across the bay at Portland, and one right here: Sandsfoot Castle.
2. Dramatic coastline
Pause for a breather, and on one side you have the harbour (the location for the sailing race course for the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year) and on the other, Chesil Beach, the famous shingle bank that permanently connects the Isle of Portland with the mainland. The beach also provides shelter for the fishing village of Chiswell, which would otherwise probably not exist.
3. Parading on the pebbles
The line around the eastern fringes of Portland passes through what was a Royal Navy base during the two world wars. A fantastic point to take in the views, the old rail track makes use of the flat coastal plateau that overlooks the sea and Dorset’s Jurassic coastline. Follow the railway almost to its conclusion and then step off, down to Portland’s one and only beach at Church Ope Cove.
Surprisingly, this is the only place on Portland where walkers can get right down to the shoreline. Gaggles of visitors used to flock here to take advantage of the island’s single strip of paradise. The folk of 1920s and 30s Britain seemed unfazed that they were just yards from naval ships and torpedoes.
Today it looks quaint and pretty, dotted with brightly coloured huts. The beach used to be sandy but quarry debris now covers the sand, and has been worn into rounded pebbles. It is apparently an excellent swimming cove. Sadly, I didn’t take my drysuit with me.
Click on the map below for an interactive version fo the route.
HOW TO GET THERE
Portland is a six-mile costal walk from Weymouth. Take the A354 from Dorchester, heading south following signs to Weymouth Station. Trains run regularly from Portsmouth and Southampton.
FIND OUT MORE
91 Chisel Cove,
Portland DT5 1LN
01305 820 651
Overlooking Chesil Beach, this hidden gem serves traditional seafood fare.
The Heights Hotel
Portland DT5 2EN
This hotel has spectacular views of the Jurassic Coast.