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The Top Of Portland

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This area covers the high ground on Portland south of the dominating Verne Ramparts within which lies the Verne Immigration Detention Centre; formerly the Verne Prison.

Included here is the New Ground Viewpoint [1] which is a popular point from which to see the amazing view over the Chesil Beach and Underhill.

A World War 2 gun emplacement survives as a stable [3].

There is a network of abandoned tramway tracks and bridges [2] including the spooky Waycroft Tunnel [4]. This is a wonderland for exploration by adults and children.

The Victorian High Angle Battery [5] is also a great place to explore.

The amazing Fancy’s Family Farm [6] occupies the site of a 1950s radar establishment RAF PORTLAND. The farm is a free attraction. How’s that for value for money!

There is an old water cistern on the Merchant’s Railway track [7] which is a novelty to look into. Nearby are drinking troughs which were used by the horses pulling the stone wagons from Tophill quarries to Castletown where the stone was loaded onto boats.

The Tillycombe Estate [8] lies on the extreme edge of Fortuneswell Village.

Please click here for a detailed map. Click the BACK button on your browser to return to this page.

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NEW GROUND VIEWPOINT [1]

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OLD TRAMWAY TRACKS AND BRIDGES [2]

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WORLD WAR 2 GUN BATTERY AND STABLES [3]

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WAYCROFT TUNNEL [4]

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THE HIGH ANGLE BATTERY [5]

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RAF PORTLAND ‘ROTOR’ STATION [6]

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FANCY’S FAMILY FARM [6]

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OLD WATER CISTERN AND DRINKING TROUGHS [7]

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TILLYCOMBE ESTATE [8]

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ANOTHER OF MY HOBBIES

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NEW GROUND VIEWPOINT [1]

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For decades visitors and locals alike have come to this flat part of Portland to wonder at the magnificent views over Fortuneswell and beyond to the Chesil Beach, Weymouth and the Jurassic Coast stretching away to West Bay, Golden Cap (the highest point on the southern coast of England) and Lyme Regis.

Sadly, trees have been allowed grow up on the northern slopes of New Ground which completely block the view!

How could this be allowed?

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The best views are now restricted to the area around the War Memorial - see the next web page west.

South of this area is a relatively undisturbed area of flat grassland.

In 2011 local archaeologists thought they had spotted ancient circular tracks in this area which might be the remains of a pre-historic living area. However, elderly local Portlanders remembered that a bicycle racing track had once existed in this area and that is indeed what the ‘ancient remains’ turned out to be.

The ‘velodrome’ was claimed to have once been amongst the best in the world - for the full story please click here.

There is an oval feature on the Google Earth image of this area. Is this the ‘velodrome’ remains? Please click here to see this image.

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From the eastern end of New Ground it is possible to see the view around the northern Verne Ramparts. The two levels of the Merchants Railway can be seen above the horses’ heads.

The old water cistern referred to below is just above the darker horse’s head.

Facing the reverse way from this view is ‘The Redoubt’; a large elevated area which the soldiers of the Verne Citadel used for marching.

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The military redoubt has largely returned to nature and it is difficult to imagine this being a smart training ground for soldiers. The buildings in the distance are Fancy’s Family Farm.

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WORLD WAR 2 GUN BATTERY AND STABLES [2]

To the south of New Ground near a tramway ravine lies a group of buildings making up a stable. This occupies the area and emplacements of a World War 2 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery. The history of this battery has been researched by Ashley Smith and his account can be read here.

Ashley has kindly given me permission to reproduce a few of his pictures here. There are many more on his Portland History website.

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Copyright Ashley Smith

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Copyright Ashley Smith

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Copyright Ashley Smith

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Copyright Ashley Smith

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Copyright Ashley Smith

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Copyright Ashley Smith

This is an example of the type of gun used at the Verne Emplacement. This example is at the Nothe Fort in Weymouth.

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OLD TRAMWAY TRACKS [3]

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The ‘Merchants Railway’ ran from the quarries on the top of Portland down to Castletown where the stone blocks were loaded onto ships. The cable operated railway descended through these arches.

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Looking down into the descending track of the Merchant’s Railway. The bridge carries the road from New Ground to Fancy’s Family Farm.
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The upper archway photographed in 2008 before the most recent clear up exercise.

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A tramway track ran under the road by New Ground as seen in the above picture. Also in the picture is one of many Admiralty stone boundary markers that can be found scattered across the area.

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Here we see a nearby War Department boundary marker.

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The tramway tracks on the top of Portland are mainly represented now by deep ravines as shown above and below.

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In this 1989 picture my daughter poses casually.

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A ravine once used by the trucks taking stone from the nearby quarries to the Merchant’s Railway. This view is by the eastern entrance to Waycroft Tunnel. The ‘Elf and Safety’ work on the right-hand wall was carried out before this area was opened up as a Nature Reserve.

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WAYCROFT TUNNEL [4]

This is one of the few tramway tunnels still open to walk through. The other goes from Tout Quarry under the main road - click here to see this latter tunnel.

The location of Waycroft Tunnel is where the arrow is pointing on the map here.

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I prepare to explore the tunnel in 1989.

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My daughter in the tunnel in 1989. This was before Elf and Safety required the tunnel to be supported by steel girders as is now the case. When the above photographs were taken there were fears that blasting in near-by quarries might cause the tunnel roof to collapse.

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The western tunnel entrance in 1989. Notice how the tree has grown up in the modern picture below.

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The western tunnel entrance photographed in 2015. Note how the tree has appeared.

If anyone is interested seeing a forty year sequence of pictures of the same tree (and who isn’t?) then have a look here. Why I keep taking pictures of a tree that hasn’t really changed over the decades is unknown. That’s just the sort of daft thing that I do.

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My best friend Sandra enters the tunnel in 2008 just after it had been made safe for walkers to enter. However,  we have been going through this tunnel for decades without mishap.

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Children love exploring this spooky tunnel!

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THE HIGH ANGLE BATTERY [5]

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Near New Ground and opposite the entrance to Fancy’s Family Farm on Portland lies the High Angle Battery.

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There is a detailed description of this site which can be read here.

This battery was built in 1892 to fire shells at enemy ships such that they descended almost vertically onto the relatively weakly protected decks of enemy ships; the sides of the ships being far better protected by very strong armour.

The following two pictures show how the shells were loaded in through the muzzle end of the gun barrel. These pictures were taken in the East Weares Battery which is now within the Portland Port site and not accessible to the general public. However, a similar routine would have been used to load the guns at the High Angle Battery.

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The explosive package, the wadding and the shells were all manhandled into the barrel using a small crane attached to the barrel end as shown above.

Obviously this was a very slow and dangerous procedure which gave a very low firing rate even with a highly trained crew.

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Eventually the gun was loaded and could be turned into the required direction for firing.

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This picture shows a gun in the High Angle Battery being rotated and elevated to its typical ‘high angle’ firing position.

A bit of fun with for children is to give them a copy of the above picture and set them loose in the High Angle Battery to find where the Victorian photographer was standing. Notice the positions of the stone steps for a clue.

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Here my two eldest grandchildren have found the spot and I have photographed them standing on the ring of bolts that secured the massive gun to the concrete base. That amused them for a few minutes!

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This is one of the abandoned armament storage tunnels. Various attempts have been made over many years to seal off these tunnels but these efforts are in vain. No sooner are the gates padlocked than they are broken open again.

Here we also see the remains of the tramway that transported the huge shells to the gun emplacements, see below.

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The side rooms are in total darkness and very scary. Recently efforts were made to block off entry into the side rooms but some are still available to explore with a reliable and powerful torch.

WARNING! DO NOT GO INTO THESE TUNNELS!

But, if you do, take a reliable torch!

With the advent of high speed torpedo boats and more accurate and powerful guns the big guns of the High Angle Battery would be far less likely to damage a major warship. As a result, after just six years in place they were taken out of service in 1898.

The High Angle Battery was decommissioned in 1906 and has gradually fallen into the present state of an interesting free attraction.

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Two storage buildings on the High Angle Battery site as photographed in 2010.

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Where calls of nature were answered!

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Lunch break during an exploration of the High Angle Battery.

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Don’t Jump!

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Inside the ‘Ghost Tunnels’.

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A side room where the shells were stored. These rooms have now been bricked up.

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A recognition of the work of the Manpower Services Commission in the mid-1980s in clearing up the High Angle Battery.

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RAF PORTLAND ‘ROTOR’ STATION [6]

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The site upon which Fancy’s Family Farm is located was once a military base called RAF PORTLAND. The buildings which now are used by the farm were once the nucleus of a radar establishment set up in the 1950s during the Cold War period.

The small buildings give no clue to the existence of huge bunkers and long tunnels deep beneath the surface. The tunnels extend far under Portland.

In the 1960s the purpose of this network of rooms and tunnels was variously described as a bunker into which the Royal Family would come to live in the event of a nuclear war, a bunker within which local government would be run and a Top Secret military establishment for communicating with Flying Saucer occupants.

The true history and purpose of this site is explained in a detailed article which can be read here and there are many pictures at that site of the buildings that have survived from the 1950s when the military site was built.

Please click here and here to see amazing pictures of this vast underground construction.

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The above picture is reproduced by kind permission of Dan McKenzie and shows just one of the tunnels deep beneath Portland.

Technical details of this site with some more pictures can be viewed here.

My pictures below give an impression of what is left of RAF PORTLAND..

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The aerial above is modern but the building was, in the 1950s, the control room for the main radar used to detect low-flying enemy aircraft.

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 The underground tunnels and rooms have had all access points welded shut because of asbestos danger.

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 The 1950s site control room which is now used by Fancy’s Family Farm.

Ashley Smith writes as follows about this site

“The 1963 film ‘The Damned’, filmed in 1961, and starring Oliver Reed and Shirley Anne Field, used the station as the Edgecliff Military Establishment. Within the storyline, the establishment was under the command of a Dr. Bernard, who was involved in a top-secret Cold War project, by keeping radioactive children hidden from society deep underground. If nuclear war was to ensue, it was these children who would be the only survivors capable of living in fallout conditions” - see here for more details.

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On the cliff edge overlooking East Weares are these remains of three World War 2 Position Finding (Look Out) Posts.

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FANCY’S FAMILY FARM [6]

Fancy’s Family Farm is a delightful place for children - and adults - to visit. A wide variety of animals can be fed and there is a soft play room as well as an outside play area. It is also free to visit although a donation is welcomed.

This great attraction’s website can be seen here.

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My granddaughter thoroughly enjoys her visits to Fancy’s Family Farm.

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OLD WATER CISTERN [7]

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The Verne Cistern is a water supply reservoir situated on the southern flank of the Verne Ramparts shown by the red arrow in the above picture. The cistern became Grade II Listed in May 1993. There is an excellent article on this structure which can be read here.

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For many years this structure was concealed by overgrowth as seen above. In recent years the entrance has been cleared, opened up, sealed with brickwork, smashed open again and overgrown again.

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During a brief period when it was possible to get into the cistern I managed to get the above picture. It was hardly worth the effort and risk of disease to be amongst the rotting remains of human waste and rats. I was hopeful that none of the water in this cistern was still finding its way into the public water supply!

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Nearby the water cistern are a couple of - possibly - Victorian horse drinking troughs carved out of solid Portland stone blocks. These were fed with local spring water to allow the horses to quench their thirsts as they dragged trucks on the Merchant’s Railway tramway.

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The above picture shows a team of horses waiting to pull a wagon loaded with stone around the curving track of the Merchant’s Railway to the top of the gravity incline down to Castletown.

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The other nearby horse drinking trough.

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The track of the Merchant’s Railway at the top of Tillycombe.

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A boundary fence post still survives on the track of the Merchant’s Railway near the horse drinking troughs; a remembrance of the times before the tramway closed in 1939 when horses pulled wagons around the ramparts of the Verne Citadel.

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The tramway track around the Verne Ramparts is getting narrow and overgrown.

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Much of the tramway is still clear however and the stone sleepers used to hold the rails are still visible even though the railway was abandoned in 1939.

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TILLYCOMBE ESTATE [8]

As we descend the hill from Priory Corner we see an estate of houses stretching away up the hill towards The Verne. This is the Tillycombe Estate.

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The recent picture above we see the houses of the Tillycombe Estate sprawling up the valley towards The Verne ramparts.

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A view of Tillycombe looking down from New Ground. The two Merchants’ Railway tracks can be seen in the background.

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The above picture show the view of the higher end of Tillycombe with the tracks and bridges of the Merchants’ Railway in the distance. The curved gully on the left is the path of the railway.

The picture below shows the same scene about a century ago.

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Notice an empty stone wagon at the foot of the incline. There was a place on the right edge of the above picture where the railway track crossed the road.

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At the top of Tillycombe Road is a car parking area seen in an earlier picture. It was through this area that one track of the Merchant’s Railway passed on is way from Priory Corner to Castletown. The road continuing up to the Verne Ramparts is a very steep and narrow lane.

The branch of the Merchants Railway descended to a point on the right edge of the above picture and then carried on down the track in the centre and curved to the left to follow the contour of the Verne Ramparts.

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This old picture matches the previous picture. This was taken in 1919.

...AND FINALLY!

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Portland is always full of surprises. I photographed this peacock sitting on top of a car near Fancy’s Family Farm. However, it seems that it was not an escapee from the farm but may have belonged to a resident in Easton and was on his holidays up by the Verne.

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ANOTHER OF MY HOBBIES

Book Covers 3

In 2014 at the age of 75 I started a new hobby - writing books. These are available as paperbacks and free ebooks. 

Please click here for details. All have been very well received; so far gathering all ‘five star’ reviews apart from one ‘four star’ review.

I also have many other websites covering a wide range of interesting topics. These can be visited by clicking here.

 

Keywords New Ground High Angle Battery Fancy’s Family Farm RAF Portland Waycroft Tunnel Portland Dorset