Despite being popular for sport climbing and deep-water-soloing, bouldering in Portland has never had many followers other than the usual bunch of committed locals. The development of bouldering venues lagged behind sport climbing and deep-water-soloing, but thanks to an intense period of developing and documenting Portland is now ringed by venues that offer a diverse selection of settings and problems. This article takes you on an anticlockwise tour of the island.
What's on offer?
The rock is limestone (dont judge just yet) and varies from smooth and fine-grained, to rough and wave-splashed. Some of the beach venues will rough up your hands like any good granite boulder. There are highballs and lowballs, slabs and roofs, boulders and outcrops, technical and powerful surely something for everybody. Falling just short of the cutting edge, the difficulty currently extends to f8A+ / f8B.
The tour starts at Chiswell, which as this is where the island joins the mainland, is a good enough place to start as any. West Weares is a 10 minute walk from Chiswell and is the most amenable of the west coast beaches. The problems are generally lowball and powerful. Short, but sweet, Hallelujah Arete is probably the stand-out problem. Above the beach is the Green Hump with another good handful of problems. West Weares is a perfect venue for a relaxed summer evening and not just because the Cove House Inn is passed on the walk out.
Beach-level bouldering can be a wonderful experience. However your first visit to Blacknor Beach will probably scare you witless. The lines are big and bold and the landings off-putting. The problems however are full of character and if youve got the mats, the spotters and the minerals you can have a very memorable experience. Blacknor Beach is still being developed and an update will be available in the New Year.
Battleship Beach is the jewel in the crown of the Portland beach venues with fine problems through the grades and relatively amenable landings. The Petit Peabody and Shipwreck Areas have the greatest concentration of quality lines. Autumn and early winter (before the ground gets slippery) are the best seasons to visit and, as with West Weares, summer evenings can be magical.
Portland Bill has numerous little venues in close proximity to each other, the car and a cafe. White Hole has a handful of technical highballs. Pulpit Overhang is the ultimate summer evening venue with superb climbing and great rough rock - Date Night and Winkle Picker are the classic ticks.
Roof junkies will get their fix at the Promontory Roof where a bewildering array of problems and link-ups weave through tiered overhangs right by (sometimes over) the waters edge. The Hidden Cove is a lovely spot with a main wall featuring some of the best problems in the area. The nearby Muggleys Plain is a great low-to-mid grade venue with over 50 problems lined up in succession. Butts Beach is another classy beach venue with the eye-catching Butts Beach Arete stealing the show.
If youre after technical and crimpy problems you cant beat the Neddyfields Bouldering Wall where there are well-established testpieces throughout the grades. Flowstone liberally adorns the vertical faces providing some very unusual holds and some very memorable problems. Cool conditions are a must if you are intent on pushing the grades.
If you have climbed most of the problems at the Neddyfields you could consider the nearby Longstone Ope. The blank, quarried walls of the Tar Pit and the sea-level steepness of the Sea Gods area make a good and varied day out.
The Southwell Landslips have matured in recent years and now offer a continuous collection of problems scattered along the path from the Cheyne Wears car park to Church Ope Cove. These include some excellent, mostly steep challenges in the f7A to f7C range at the Terrace Area, Hidden Quarry and Ope in Hell Area, with Ope in Hell, Sit-start the top trump at f7C.
The New Cuttings is the traditional forcing ground for Portland Bouldering with many stern testpieces that will leave your fingers screaming. Sheltered, with flat landings and a short walk-in, problems such as Phat Slapper, Stompin with Bez, Guy Fawkes and My Chemical Romance are worth investing time and skin for.
Fans of short and powerful lowballs should be able to find something to keep them occupied amongst the 500 problems in the Cuttings Boulderfield. The boulderfield was initially developed in 2000 to 2005, but the number of problems has doubled over the last 5 years.
First things first, bouldering mats are essential, and often more than one. Many of the finer problems are found on the beaches, which unfortunately are not of the sandy variety. Realistically a couple of regular-sized mats and a tiddler for sit-starts will suffice. Some of the other problems require more, but hopefully you will be accompanied by some friends with their own mats.
When to visit?
Portland is well known for its amenable climate, with some of the most meagrerainfall in the country, and if it does rain, it is highly unusual for a whole weekend to be washed-out. It is possible to boulder year-round though summer is hot and the best conditions are autumn and winter. Having said that, the west coast beaches can be very pleasant in the summer with the cooling presence of the sea and the chance of a quick swim.
Where to stay?
No wild camping is allowed on Portland. There are three campsites near Chickerell to the northwest of Portland and thereis the Portland Bunkhouse at Portland Bill.
How to get there?
Roads in Dorset are rubbish. Best to set off early, head for Weymouth, and be patient.
Where to buy gear and food?
Weymouth is packed with every shop you could need. There is a large ASDA on the roundabout as you approach Portland. On Portland there are a couple of mini-markets in Weston and two Co-ops - one in Fortuneswell and one in Easton. There is a large Tesco in Easton, just off of the square. There are a number of post offices, cash machines and other small shops on the Isle.
The Dorset Bouldering Rockfax covers everything you need to know. The Rockfax App version will be available soon and this includes all the new problems since the print guide.
Dorset Bouldering from ROCKFAX
Dorset has emerged as a major bouldering area in recent years thanks to the hard work of a bunch of diligent locals who have combed the coastline seeking out every block, problem and traverse. Chief amongst these developers has been Ben Stokes who has documented the developments intwo popular Rockfax PDF MiniGuides.
Ben has now put everything together into a much larger Rockfax book, adding loads of new areas and expanding the existing coverage. In addition to the well known areas of the Cuttings, the Boulderfield and the Neddyfields, the book has extensive information on the West Coast of Portland, many more areas on the East Coast, plus Swanage and Lulworth. It describes 1943 boulder problems on 384 pages. Sample chapter here.