11. Dorset Coast: Portland Bill (Circular) - 5 miles - OS Landranger 194
Easy walking. No shade.
The Bill is a South Coast oddity. An almost-island hanging like a tear off the end of the equally odd Chesil Beach. Start the walk at the junction of Weston Road and Weston Street in Weston. Plenty of street parking.
From the junction looking west across the road you’ll see the footpath. Take it and turn left when it meets another path, then right to reach the coast path. Go left along the coast path, enjoying the spectacular views west. If the bloke with his head in the ground is still there, it's probably time to call an ambulance.
Passing some sort of factory, the first of three lighthouses come into view. A little further along you’ll see another to your left, and, eventually, the third and tallest at the point of the Bill. This red and white beauty replaced an 18th century one in 1906 and now has a visitors’ centre. Before then there were beacons going back to Roman times.
Sticking out into the English Channel surrounded by shallow rock ledges, the Bill is a hazard for all that floats, and the importance of these lighthouses obvious. Fifteen ships lost in 1901 alone probably explains why the current lighthouse with all its improvements was up and running five years later.
Time for tea?
Dropping down to the lighthouse you’ll see the Lobster Pot ‘Restaurant' to the left. Through my eyes it’s a cafe but, despite the pretentions, they make excellent Dorset Apple cake and crab sandwiches.
Sited on the southernmost point of the Dorset coast, this is great place to sit outside and watch the boats doing their stuff on the ocean. Although often busy, there’s plenty of space and it’s a lovely spot.
When you’re ready to walk off the cake, continue along the coast path toward beach huts that have passed down through generations but were the subject of a costly legal dispute a couple of years ago (costly to the tenants who lost against the landowner). Despite that, they remain charming.
Along this section of coast you’ll see plenty of evidence of the quarrying of the Portland stone (limestone) the Bill is famous for, including rusting cranes presumably used to load boats with it. A hairy business, I would have thought.
The Romans were probably the first to make good use of the stone, but it was Christopher Wren who established its fame by using it for the new St Pauls Cathedral in London. No doubt some Portland Billers' thanked God for The Great Fire of London. Out of the ashes of disaster...
Ignoring paths to your left, eventually coast path meets road. Turn right here then left soon after at a footpath sign pointing into a quarry.
Between two dirt tracks there’s the path you want. When another track bisects it, cross and continue on the path. At the next track, turn left and follow it. This brings you out on Weston Street. Turn left back to your car.
Driving back along Weston Road, you can’t miss the imposing church of St. George’s. Built by a Wren copycat, in pinches many of his ideas according to a guide at the church. Well done that copycat because it's beautiful and a welcome relief from the ubiquitous gothic. Well worth stopping to explore.
If you did this walk on a sunny day you'll have noticed the lack of any shade. And if it's left you hot and sticky, you might enjoy a dip from Smallmouth Cove to your right as you come to the end of the causeway. Just take a right at the road island and park up. I’ve always found it quiet on the sunniest of days.
If quiet's not what you’re after there’s always Weymouth!