In order to spend some time with friends while following the rules around social distancing, I ended up spending a weekend camping on the Isle of Portland, in Dorset.
We were able to fit a group of us around a campfire with the 2-meter distance requirements. Which allowed us to remain separated and enjoy an evening catching up while watching the sunset over the English Channel. Luckily the weather held off and we even enjoyed a surprising amount of sun.
As someone who has not camped regularly, I wasn’t certain what to expect from the experience, but it was fantastic. Most of the small group had a long history of camping so setting up and breaking down camp was an easy task.
The Isle of Portland had not been on my travel radar before finding the campsite there. Now that I’ve been I would highly recommend it for anyone looking for a lovely weekend away. It has great scenery, beautiful hiking opportunities, charming lighthouses, and impressive history.
Isle of Portland
The charming Isle of Portland is located along the southern coast of England in the county of Dorset and is a land tied island, connected by a barrier beach to the mainland and Weymouth.
Despite its small size Portland has a long history and influence on the United Kingdom. Henry VIII built Portland Castle on this island as a defensive fort against the French and the Spanish. It is also well known for Portland stone and acts as a quarry for the famous limestone that is used in buildings across Britain, including St Paul’s Cathedral. Portland is also part of the Jurassic Coast, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and stretches across Dorset and Devon. It is famous for its geological history, shown in the erosion of the coast which has created sea arches and other beautiful sites.
Weymouth and Portland have great access to beautiful bays for adventure seekers, has great rock climbing opportunities, and a fantastic coastal walk across the southern part of the island.
Getting to Portland
There are a few ways to reach the Isle of Portland – we took the most predictable, which is via car. You have to pass through Weymouth to reach Portland and traverse a causeway in order to reach the island.
One of our friends travelled to Weymouth via train – the station is not very far from Portland but it is a small hike (a little over 4 miles). There is also a bus that runs between Weymouth Station and the Isle, the #1.
Chisel Equestrian Campgrounds
Originally for the weekend, we had plans to camp in an altogether different area of Dorset. When that campsite filled up quickly I went on the hunt for an alternative location in Dorset.
I stumbled upon this charming campsite on the Isle of Portland which was on an Equestrian Farm – they had plenty of space and gorgeous views of the ocean. They were practically on the tip of the island and had two separate fields, one for the party style campers and another for the quieter groups. Each field had a compost loo/toilet that was recently built and well kept, as well as cold water taps.
To book – simply give them a ring or look them up on Airbnb, they have listings there for the campsite as well. The owners are really lovely and extremely chill which made the stay unstressful and thoroughly pleasant.
We really loved staying on their site for a weekend camping on the Isle of Portland; it’s perfectly positioned to enjoy all that the island has to offer, especially the South West Coastla Path.
Itinerary for a Weekend Camping on the Isle of Portland
We started the day early and drove down to the island from Surrey, a county outside of London. Friends also drove from Southampton later in the day, but along the same route, and hit significantly more traffic. The early morning departure made a world of difference to the length of the drive.
Portland Castle was our first stop for the day – a well-maintained fortress managed by English Heritage. Restrictions around Covid-19 meant that we had to book our tickets online in advance, but this was a simple and painless process especially as we were members. We were able to show our tickets and head into the castle without any fuss. The display at the castle was really lovely, especially we managed to visit during a sunny and beautiful day. The history of the castle dates back to 1540 as protection against both the French and the Spanish, and that history of defensive position carried on even through the First and Second World Wars.
Isle of Portland
As is our tradition when visiting an English Heritage or National Trust location we were keen for a tea/coffee. During these times English Heritage had closed their award-winning cafe but recommended one a short walk away called theDorset Adventure Cafe. We opted for the Cream Tea at the Cafe and were delightfully pleased with the quality and taste of it. The staff were also very welcoming, friendly, and cautious of the social distance rules, which we appreciated.
After wandering around the Castletown neighbourhood for a bit we packed back into the car and headed for a pub down near where our campground would be. Our intent was to meet our friends there so we were able to find a large picnic bench outside of the Pulpit Inn and enjoyed the sunshine and the view of the ocean. Eventually, our friends arrived and we then made our way to the equestrian farm where we would be camping for the evening.
The rest of the afternoon was spent setting up camping, lighting our fire pit and grill, and then finding ways to sit around the firepit while maintaining distance – which worked without issue thankfully. Our evening was spent catching up, face to face, around the campfire and enjoying the sunset over the camp, the company of the neighbouring horses, and grilling our evening meal.
As a morning person, I am regularly up with the sunrise and while camping this was no exception. I watched as the sun rose on the horizon over the ocean in the distance. It was a beautifully peaceful way to wake up to the morning; at least until the rain came and the small group all woke up to begin disassembling camp ahead of any further rain or potential storm that appeared to be brewing on the horizon.
Though the rain never did come we managed to get the camp packed up and cleaned up in record time.
As the storm moved away from Portland we decided to take a hike down to the Portland Bill Lighthouse from our campgrounds as a nice way to start the day. We took the scenic route, heading down past the horse fields at the campground. It was a beautiful wander through the fields and we seemed to be the only ones about, other than the dog walkers. It was gorgeous to watch the sunrise over the ocean and enjoy an easy walk.
The Portland Bill Lighthouse was built in 1906 on the island. Though there is a visitor centre inside we were too early to enjoy the exhibition I’d love a chance to head back and visit the exhibit.
We returned to the Dorset Adventure Cafe for breakfast, a late one at least, before making a short stop at the Chesil Beach Sea Defense dunes for one last view of the island before crossing the causeway and heading back to our lives in the real world.
We had a lovely time spending the weekend camping on the Isle of Portland and I’d love a chance to revisit this quaint and beautiful location minutes away from Weymouth.
Also on the Island
We were able to see much on the tip of the island and a bit before meeting our friends, including:
- Portland Castle
- Portland Bill Lighthouse
- Trinity House Obelisk
- South West Coast Path
- Portland Harbour
There were a few more sites to see than what we had time for, and could be considered when travelling to Portland:
- Castletown D-Day Centre
- Church Ope Cove
- Rufus Castle (ruined)
- Pennsylvania Castle
- Grove Prison Museum
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