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A rocky day around the Isle of Portland

Updated: Feb 26, 2021

How do you walk for 14 miles with large blisters on the soles of both of your feet, without making them worse?

A sensible response would probably have been to rest up for a couple of days, but that would have felt like an early failure. Instead, I pondered my options, thinking that blisters can cause a lot of pain, but were not likely to kill me. Since returning home, I have found out that blisters can get horribly infected and cause real problems. I’m glad I didn’t know about that at the time!

So, I chose to carry on, keeping the weight of my pack down as low as possible. Luckily, I would be back at the same campsite that evening, so I left all of my camping gear and spare clothes behind.

I stuck plasters over both affected areas and stuffed my socks with hikers’ wool again.

I consoled myself with the thought that nowhere on the island is really remote; I could call a taxi at almost any time if I needed to, and travel back to my tent in comfort.

I always feel better for having a plan in place, so I set off optimistically. The fog had gone, the wind had subsided, the sun sparkled off Portland Harbour and I (almost!) had a spring in my step.

It didn’t last for long – as soon as I walked onto the slightly stony footpath rather than the pavement, my feet were in agony. I had a bit of a wobble. Well, a moment of panic really, before I gave myself a good talking-to. I reminded myself that it was only pain, and that I could always decide to get a taxi back at any time. I also reminded myself that I had two months of walking ahead of me, and needed to learn to fend for myself.

At that point, a man with no legs whizzed past on the pavement, sitting on some kind of advanced sports wheelchair and propelling himself along with what looked like Nordic ski poles. And there I was, feeling sorry for myself because I had a couple of blisters. It was time to grit my teeth and get on with it.

I amended my mental plan, stepped back onto the pavement and continued on towards the island.

My first impressions of Portland were not favourable. It’s an industrial island, and looks like it. After leaving the busy causeway and skirting the marina, the path climbed up through dreary-looking social housing. I paused for a rest half way up the hill and turned round. What a view! Those houses might look dreary from the outside, but every one of them has a spectacular view along Chesil Beach and over the sea – a view I would love to have from my house, one that would lift your spirits every day if you lived there. This was a great reminder to me that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – the first of many on this trip.

The view along Chesil Beach

The industrial nature of the island didn’t change as I passed a prison, a working quarry and a Young Offenders Institution. I was beginning to wonder why I hadn’t just had the day off and missed this part of the path, as many people do.

And then the path kinked left down off the hill. What a contrast! It felt like I had just walked onto a Mediterranean island. The sun was shining, and the path led through a rocky landscape covered in low scrub. Small birds were flitting from bush to bush. I could almost smell the Mediterranean herbs.

The path rose and fell. My legs were comfortable, and the pain in my feet was bearable. I was in my stride. The landscape slowly became more rocky and less scrubby, as the path passed old quarry workings and I passed a man walking his cat. I did a double-take. Was he really walking his cat? Yes, it was definitely a cat, in a harness and on a lead. Apparently, taking your cat out for adventures is a bit of a thing. If you’d like to read more about Jamie and Ninja the adventure cat, click here.

I dodged the crowds at Portland Bill lighthouse and followed the path north, skirting some Ministry of Defence land, a small industrial estate and more social housing, but that wasn’t all there was on this side of the island – the biggest treat of the day was yet to come.

Another detour where the path was eroding into the sea led me inland into a disused quarry. A few metres in, my eye was drawn to a white Portland Stone egg perched in the middle of a stone table. As I got closer, I realised that the table was in the middle of a rather unusual stone circle. It was surrounded by weird and wonderful sculptures. The single eye of a dinosaur’s head appeared to follow me around. Disembodied limbs were folded into lumps of rock or protruding from the ground. A massive dog’s head bared its stony teeth into a snarl, one eye red and one green. And all overlooked by a sage old owl.

Tout Quarry sculpture

A lot of people have had a lot of fun filling Tout Quarry with stone sculptures. There are abstract patterns, portraits, mythical beasts and at least one jack-in-the-box.

For a while, I was so engrossed that I forgot all about my painful feet. I didn’t need to take a taxi back along the causeway to the campsite, and I didn’t even need to stick to the pavement to be able to walk comfortably.

Back near the campsite, I walked past a sign saying ‘The Veterans’ Hub Community Café’. I was intrigued, so ducked in for a cup of tea and a chat. The café was just closing, but Andy, the proprietor, was happy to tell me all about it. It was a wonderful way to end my day’s walk – I'll be writing more about it here in a few days' time.

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In every corner you can normally find beauty and positivity. Julia proves the point in this article.

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