Outdoor climbing is definitely something that we at StartClimbing want to encourage young climbers to do. Once you’ve read our articles about preparing to go outdoor climbing, your next choice is where to go.
Portland was recommended by Lilia (@lilia.climbs), Rose (@roseclimb) and Finn.
“It’s a great place for beginners. It’s the first place I climbed outdoors”
There’s a nice view of the sea. You can see fish splashing and go paddling.”
“I really like Battleship – it’s just wild!”
“I like indoor and outdoor climbing just as much, but outdoors you need to search for the holds and there are more holds to use.”
“I like the variety of holds”
“There are a lot of different grades and styles”
Thanks to Tim Miller, Boulder Shack Climbing Gym and Paul Jackson, Jurassic Climbing for their support writing this article.
The Isle of Portland is a small island, reached by road, off the tip of Dorset at Weymouth. It is the origin of the stone used on grand buildings around the country. Portland Bill at it’s southernmost tip has 3 lighthouses (only one is still working)
Portland can be accessed via the main A354, Portland Beach Road. There are several main parking locations which you would choose dependent on where you want to climb. The commonly used ones are Blacknoor Car Park (also referred to as The Climber’s Car Park, pay & display), Reap Lane (be aware this is a residential area so be conscious of this when parking) and Cheyne Weares Car Park (free parking).
From the car parks, the walks to the crags are around 15 minutes. Some of the access paths are very steep and some (especially those around Sharbutt’s Quarry) involve a ladder climb or a roped scramble to get down to. If looking for flat access then the best option is The Cuttings.
Type of Climbing
The stone in this area is Portland limestone. Because limestone is formed from laid down layers of crustaceans the rock is generally quite sharp. It can be quite harsh on fingers for crimpy routes. Some routes consist more of flowstone, a rock which has a fairly smooth texture but forms threads and handles which can be used as holds. Over time rocks can shear away or break so it is necessary to be sure of holds and to check the BMC’s RAD (Regional Access Database) for up to date information about the route condition. Signage is placed at the top of the climbing areas giving any urgent or important information so always take note of these.
Most of the boulder crags strewn across Portland offer great Bouldering and great scenery. The personal favourite offered by Paul Jackson of Jurassic Climbing is the Red Crane area as it has everything: easy access, wide sea ledges suitable for families and picnics, great sea views, dolphins and seals, and of course great bouldering from beginner level to elite.
Paul also recommends Cutting Boulderfield, especially for those who like their bouldering to be sit starts and powerful, as it has loads of problems on smallish boulders offering bulges, aretes, cracks, pockets, crimps, slopers, and slabs. The landings are rocky and some are poor so at least one pad is essential, and more is better.
Other areas he says offer great bouldering around Portland are – Southwell Landslips, Cheyne Weares Area, Portland Bill, Battleship Beach, Blacknor Beach, and West Weares
The majority of the routes on Portland are Sport climbing, although most areas have some Trad routes as well. There are 18 different climbing areas on Portland, each with dozens of routes, varying in grade from UK Sport Grade 2 up to 8b.
Most beginners will start at The Cuttings or Cheyne Weares as they have a larger collection of easier routes. For example, The Cuttings has 29 routes at grade 4 or below. Cheyne Weares is great for families as it has plenty of easier routes (37), plus it is on a low, flat, rocky beach with access to the sea for paddling. For those progressing their climbing then The Battleship and Blacknoor are popular.
Given the number of options, it’s almost essential to get a good guide covering these. The Rockfax Dorset guide book is just about the best.
- Widely recognised as having
some of the best climbing in the south of England.
- World Heritage Jurassic coastline with phenomenal views when climbing and the opportunity to take some great photos.
- Massive range of routes covering all grades.
- Lots of easier grade routes for beginners and younger children.
- There is a very active Bolt Fund so the routes are regularly inspected and rebolted.
- At Cheney Weares/Neddyfields on a lot of the routes it is possible to place a top route by leaning out from the access path.
Not so good for:
- On windy and choppy days, the noise from the wind and sea can make communication between climber and belayer difficult. Walkie talkies are helpful.
- On sunny days there is little shade or shelter on the west coast and can get very hot.
- Some areas have very tricky access routes, those are only suitable for climbers, not a family trip with dog and buggy. Some are quite precarious. Please check a guidebook in advance.
- Some of the lower grade routes at The Cuttings are quite polished.
- Be careful sharing the guidebook with your kids as some of the route names are a bit rude.
A good guide book is essential for any trip, giving information on access and all the routes. You’ll have a lot more fun if you know what you want to climb and how to find it. The following books contain good information covering the Portland area.
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Of interest to kids and families
The South West Coastal path includes the island so there are plenty of walks with wonderful views.
The rabbits on the island are believed to be unlucky by locals and the word rabbit is never used! Other words have to be used instead, such as bunny or “long-eared furry thing”. See if you can spot any.
The working lighthouse at Portland Bill includes a visitors centre (which is free to visit for children although they charge adults and to enter the lighthouse)
The east coast of the island (eg: The Cuttings and Cheyne Weares) get the morning sun but are cooler with shade in the afternoon. The west coast is shaded in the morning and can take a while to warm up, but from midday is very exposed to the sun on hot days. Taking shade/sun screen is essential.
Cheyne Weares is on a rocky beach with access to the sea. Great for an opportunity to paddle and cool down in the afternoon.
Jurassic Climbing offers outdoor coaching and instruction courses which can be found at – www.jurassicclimbing.co.uk/coaching/
Other Useful links:
The BMC website – including their Regional Access Database
UKClimbing website including crag guides and logbook
DISCLAIMER – The author is not a qualified climbing instructor and all climbers should ensure they have the skills, training and equipment necessary for climbing before embarking on the activity. All climbers enter into the activity of climbing at their own risk and should always be aware of the possibility of serious injury or death as per the BMC participation statement that can be found on their website.