East Devon & Dorset: Weymouth & Portland

If you were to ask me to list my favourite places in Britain, Weymouth would be right up there, knocking on the door of top spot.

It just has it all this place. A fantastic beach, wonderful marina and a vibrant town centre means that you’re never far away from something to look at or do in this town.

But it is a tricky town to navigate by car. Lots of one-way streets, and narrow ones at that, as well as bridges across the quay make finding where you want to be a tough task.

We start by heading along the marina, across the water to Trinity Road on the North Quay. It’s fairly calm over here, with a lovely view across the harbour out into the open sea, as well as to the other side of the quay. As the sun begins to shine, out comes the camera for some shots of the delightful scenery.

There are a number of small gift, art and craft shops along this street as well as some small cafes, fish and chip shops and pubs.

Coastline Cruises run boat trips from this side of the quay, offering trips out into the harbour and along the Jurassic Coast – a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trips are weather and tide dependant, but in good weather are a real treat.

Back across the quay again and a wander to the end of the esplanade takes you to the Weymouth Pavilion, where the main attraction at the moment is Joe McElderry starring in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Here you can also get superb sweeping views back across the beach – a vantage point that lends itself perfectly to a spot of photography.

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A view of Weymouth’s quayside in the sun. Pic: Scott Hunt

Likewise the views back down the quay from the other side are spectacular in the sunshine, with the town really coming alive in the bright summer weather.

The beach is quite simply magnificent, with shallow waters enabling families to safely paddle in the sea before heading back onto the sand to revel in the superb facilities on offer.

From trampolines to beach tennis and volleyball areas, as well as an enormous line of deckchairs to sit and watch the view, Weymouth is a beach designed with families in mind and is simply one of the finest beaches I have seen in Britain.

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A view across Weymouth beach. Pic: Scott Hunt

There is also a sand sculpture exhibition at the moment, while the promenade itself is a joy to drive along, with statues and impressive architecture lining the seafront. In the summer sun it can get very crowded, but it’s a beach worth fighting the crowd for.

But should the skies above let you down, as they did with us (a small shower interrupted the afternoon) Weymouth has plenty of other attractions to keep you occupied. The town centre is packed with mainstream shopping options, with the multi-storey car park leading directly into Debenhams and onto the streets lined with the likes of WHSmith and M&S.

Down tight side streets there are also independent beach and souvenir shops, though I would advise they are traversed by foot rather than attempting to squeeze down in your car.

It’s a town for all seasons and all weathers, offering a bit of something for everyone. From the calm, relaxed vibes of the harbour and marina, to the family fun of the beach and the shoppers paradise of the town centre, you’re never far away from something to enjoy here.

But Weymouth also has a partner in crime. Just under ten miles down the road is Portland, a strip of land jutting out from the mainland that also has bags of character and appeal in its own right.

The sun is shining brightly now and so the first port of call is to follow signs to the very point of this limestone-tied island where you will find Portland Bill and its magnificent lighthouse.

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Portland Bill lighthouse. Pic: Scott Hunt

As the southernmost point of Dorset, you’re fully exposed to the breeze blowing off the Channel, but the views are worth the not-insignificant buffeting.

Walk beyond the lighthouse and gravel paths lead you around the point of the island, where the waves are crashing majestically against the rocks below. Make sure your camera battery is well charged you before visiting as you will find yourself snapping endlessly as the beauty of the place draws you in.

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The view from Portland Bill. Pic: Scott Hunt

Boats pass by out in the water, adding to the photographic potential. There are some brave (some would say foolish) people climbing to the top of the rocks to our right, where nothing but a sheer drop separates them from the rocks and sea below.

But this is truly a place to explore and wander freely. With dramatic views to soak up on both sides of Portland Bill, there’s no reason not to put a few hours on the car park ticket and just allow yourself to take it all in. Cafes and pubs are also on hand to offer refreshment for the windswept adventurers, meaning Portland Bill just about has it all.

Back down the road we came in on (there aren’t many roads on Portland), through the towns of Southwell and Weston, and you’ll soon reach The Heights hotel.

This is well worth a visit. Across the road from the car park there are spectacular views to be had across Chesil Beach, with the sand stretching out in front of you, as well as views back across to Weymouth and even Dorchester in the distance. In the right light, it can be a sensational view.

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The view down to Chesil Beach with the Olympic Rings statue. Pic: Scott Hunt

There is also a statue of the Olympic Rings here, signifying the fact that the London 2012 sailing events were contested off Weymouth and Portland, and that members of the GB team stayed at the hotel during the games.

We head up to the café and bar at the hotel, and we enjoy a drink with the breathtaking views down below. It’s not particularly cheap (over £10 for a diet coke and three teas; £28 for afternoon tea for two) but its USP is the vantage point it offers and when you glance out of the window you rather forget how much you paid.

Portland is often overlooked as a tourist option but a trip onto the island is well worthwhile when in Dorset. For its rugged coastal charm and spectacular views, Portland has plenty to offer and works beautifully with neighbouring Weymouth to make this a majestic part of Dorset.

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