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Cheyne Tunnel and Freshwater Bay

Portland, Dorset

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The above image is copyright Dorset County Council 2000 and is reproduced here with permission.

To the casual motorist driving to Portland Bill this stretch of the road approaching Southwell from Easton seems relatively uninteresting.

However, at the foot of the cliffs to the east is the Cheyne Tunnel and vertical shaft which was once an essential part of the Island's water supply. This can be reached and explored with care.

On the west side of the road is an old forge building and, nearby, a storage yard which has, over many decades, been the last resting place for a wide variety of Industrial Archaeological gems - traction engines, an ancient shepherd's hut, cranes, etc., - all left to rust away.

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Cheyne House and Tunnel

    

Cheyne House sits exposed on top of the cliffs above Freshwater Bay. It is claimed that the film "The Damned" was filmed on Portland and a picture of Shirley Ann Field shows her standing in front of Cheyne House in 1963 - click here for details of this film.

There is a great picture of Cheyne House taken in 1962 to be seen by clicking here.

At right above is Cheyne House pumping station. This building once contained the machinery to pump water up from near sea level.

 

 

'Hank' the charming donkey who lived in the grounds of Cheyne House in the late 1980s.

Sadly, the owners of Cheyne House have told me (January 2003) that Hank is no longer alive. 

Very sad.

STOP PRESS - CHEYNE TUNNEL WAS BLOCKED IN 2011 BY A ROCK FALL

The following pictures were sent to me by Adam Montague.

Have a look at Adam's blog - click here - it's great!

The structure to the right of the house capped a shaft driven down to near sea level in mid-Victorian times. From this shaft a horizontal tunnel was driven which emerges from the cliff face close to sea level near the centre of this photograph.

Exploring this tunnel - which is totally dark at the end because of a right-angled diversion - is a frightening experience!

Access to the tunnel and exploring inside is dangerous and definitely not recommended for infirm claustrophobics. The entrance is shown by the red arrow above.
How to get to the tunnel.

Park either in Southwell village or in the car-parking area a little to the north of Southwell. Then walk to Cheyne House which is about 200 yards (180 metres) north-east of Southwell. There is a rough track running down to the cliff-edge path which is marked as a public footpath. 

When this track levels out search for a fairly steep but useable path going down to sea level. Then - and this is the difficult part - follow the foot of the cliff heading towards Weymouth, i.e. keeping the cliff on your left. 

After a few minutes of climbing over boulders and avoiding cracking your head open (I once fell head first on this route and badly hurt a shoulder - beware!) you will find the tunnel entrance. You should have a good reliable torch and a helmet. The former because the tunnel is completely dark at the end and the latter because the roughly hewn roof is, in places, scarcely 4 ft (1.2 m) high.

  

The entrance to the tunnel was originally protected by a steel door set into a carved stone archway. This is described by the late Erick Ricketts in his book "Old Buildings of Portland". The left-hand picture shows my son Dave posing at the entrance in 1990 and the right-hand picture was taken in October 2003.

The vertical shaft was part of a system for pumping drinking water through a three mile long pipe to Fortuneswell and the prison. The horizontal tunnel is 150 feet (50 metres) long and large enough to walk through albeit bent double to avoid rubble and overhanging rock. A hard hat and a powerful reliable torch are essential if you are crazy enough to explore.

The spring that supplied the drinking water still runs along the tunnel floor in winter making this a treacherous place to visit. 

The above left picture is a view into the tunnel taken in 1989 and the right-hand pictures were taken in October 2003. 

The boulders have been thrown into the cavity by storms and, even a long way into the tunnel, there are lobster pots and other debris.

        

After clambering 150 feet into the tunnel and negotiating a right-angled bend we are faced by this Victorian brick archway. The vertical shaft lies just beyond the archway.

There is some evidence of previous visitors as well as stout timbers and girders (old tramway rails) which have collapsed from above.

Turning out the torch here plunges you into a terrible damp and frightening darkness.

If you must go here - NEVER GO ALONE!

 

Above left is the view looking up the shaft and above right is the view looking down.

No torch I took into this tunnel ever showed the top 150 feet (30 metres) above my head.

Notice the remains of wooden planks laid across recycled tramway rails taken from the quarries.

Only the base of the shaft is bricked; the rest is roughly carved out of the limestone.

When the Condor catamaran sails past, the tunnel fills with a very loud throbbing noise as the shaft resonates. This is quite painful to the ears.

 

The left-hand picture by Liam Deeney shows a plaque on the wall of Cheyne Tunnel which I had missed on all my visits to this interesting manmade tunnel.

At right, Sandy, my best friend and partner, poses at the entrance to the tunnel - but refuses to go in! How sensible!

Industrial Relicts

Opposite Cheyne House is a loop in the road which marks the original course of the road from Easton to Southwell. Between the main road and the loop is an old blacksmith's workshop and nearby is an area of waste land where a variety of old artefacts have been stored.

Over the years some have rusted away whilst others have been renovated and moved on.

This example from 1990 is an old portable workman's or shepherd's hut.

Another of the ancient relics parked up by the old blacksmith's workshop opposite Cheyne House.

This picture was taken in 1990 but the steam engine has decayed a great deal since then.

 

An old mobile crane rots away in the yard near the Southwell forge building. The left-hand picture was taken in 1990. At right is the same crane photographed in October 2003. It looks as though it will soon collapse and be buried by the brambles that are encroaching upon it.

The old blacksmith's workshop  north-east of Southwell with Cheyne House in the background.

Sadly, this building was demolished in 2009 thereby removing another interesting part of Portland's history.

The main road used to run to the west of this building but was diverted to a more direct route nearer to the coast. The old road still exists however.

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