Imagine steps that took you away from the modern world to a hidden place of solitude and beauty. Quite appealing? The Isle of Portland in Dorset has a rich history and its small size is crammed full of secrets and mysteries. Many of which may never be unearthed but I am going to share with you this absolute cracker - The Hidden Steps.
With lock-down restrictions easing I was able to meet up with my friend Matt and his family with the sole purpose of finding 'The Hidden Steps'. Despite living in the area all our lives and frequently hiking along the top of the cliffs we remained oblivious that this area was accessible by land. At Blacknor Point (located roughly halfway down the west coast of Portland), looking south looks like a battleground forged in Middle Earth. Stones lobbed from the quarries above, limestone blocks like icebergs seemingly hewn from the cliffs (by a giant's axe) with the addition of the menacing stormy seas of Lyme Bay nibbling away at the base. Everywhere provides evidence of landslides and erosion in this ever changing landscape but the constant appears to be the seemingly impenetrable wall of looming limestone cliffs.
Looking south from Blacknor point last summer
Meeting up at Reap Lane in Southwell, close to the coast path and where the steps are concealed, the crazy March random weather had forecast hot sunshine but delivered cloud with a pinch of fog. Secretly I was just pleased it was dry underfoot as my footwear had a few miles on the clock and I didn't want the grip on the soles to be tested too much!
After spending 5 minutes making sure I had all my coffee brewing gear and doing some pre-explore stretches we struck out to explore. Within a minute we thought we had arrived. Noticing a faint trail heading towards the cliff we violently high fived. Alas, was this in vain as this surely looked too open to hide anything? Either that or this blog post would be seriously underwhelming. Unperturbed we ventured on. The path became steep quickly and a convenient rope had been pegged alongside to help. As we descended down there was a clearer footpath and the views started to open up - I began to feel it was going to be special.
Looking north provided views towards Blacknor point, which looms over Mutton Cove - a graveyard for many ships driven ahead of south-westerly storm onto the rocks. The precipitous cliffs keeping watch over the area.
Looking north towards Blacknor point descending the cliff path
At the base of the descent, a clearer path heading north emerged which we followed. The path continues along near the top of a cliff ledge where the helmets of successful climbers reaching the top could be seen. Progressing further, we left the climbers behind and quickly became alone, listening to the natural soundtrack of crashing waves and intermittent bird song. It really was a tonic in the current challenging times. The path naturally undulates over the uneven ground and we lumbered over a few rocks here and there. At one point the path has fallen away and became engulfed with brambles deeming it necessary to albeit clumsily navigate the rocks around. As if by design, I managed to methodically prick my hands on each single bramble in our way! After rejoining the path it took us between the cliffs and a huge lump of stone which had detached and slipped away from the precipice. As we ventured through I was half expecting bandits to come out waving guns. With a spring in our step we came out the other side of the corridor of rock to be greeted with the spectacular views towards Blacknor Point and Mutton Cove. In the background the sweeping Chesil Beach and fleet lagoon behind reminded me of the variety of coastline over such a short distance.
Bandit Country?! Looking back south after passing through
We continued following the path hoping at every turn to be greeted by the hidden steps. Instead the path got narrow and less obvious. Unbowed we moved on. Looking at the impenetrable cliffs, we started to question whether we were in the right place. Seeing a new spray of rock climbers adorning the cliffs above we thought there may be another access point to the cliff tops. We ruled out asking the Climbers as it didn't feel in the spirit of exploring and we didn't want to inadvertently startle them. We scrambled up a bit further and as we turned around they revealed themselves in all their glory - spectacularly carved into the cliff face.
The Hidden Steps revealed
Chains are placed alongside alongside the steps and as you reach the uppermost point there are a few tougher boulders to scramble over. We were now a few hundred metres further north than the path from where we descended! There is a faint path leading from the coast path but the hidden steps are merely a few metres away. There are warning signs of the risks on the steps but nothing that marks this path from the coastal path.
At the top, the expansive views all around were glorious. With the light starting to dim we carefully followed our footsteps back down the steps.
View from the top looking down (left) and along the coast looking North (right)
We found the steps. Now let's drink coffee!
I had promised Matt I would brew him our new seasonal Speciality decaf coffee 'Onze Mil Campo'. It is a blend of two estates from Brazil and has smooth, bold chocolate notes with gentle candy lemon flavour. Nobody was around apart from a couple of rock climbers so I set to work brewing with a Chemex on the lower part of the steps. A rest was now enjoyed as the light faded, propped up against the cliff face soaking up the views across Lyme Bay to Start Point, drinking our welcome coffee. As we walked back we all were hugely satisfied at discovering something so amazing on our doorstep and already thinking of the next adventure.
Thanks for reading,