Sam Parsons suggests Portland has some of the best mid-grade sport routes in the UK, with a warm climate for year-round climbing. He shares some of his favourite photos, which will get you psyched to visit this island on the south coast of England.

Portland is an island on the south coast of the UK, connected by a single road. Shaped a bit like a teardrop, it’s 4 miles long by 2 miles wide, and has cliffs wrapping all around its circumference. It’s gained recognition for its quality limestone, which has built much of London (according to some). It’s also perfect for sport climbing, and maintains a pleasant micro-climate which allows you to climb on different aspects throughout the year. Most Dorset locals know Portland for the rumoured ‘web-toed residents,’ but I’m pretty sure every island is infamous for that, right?

I grew up on the island, but didn’t discover its true beauty for climbing until my late teens. I’ve since moved away but I return home for the climbing every chance I get. There are around 1,500 routes (and more being bolted all the time), ranging from F2 to F8b. The routes vary from 10 metre power-pieces such as ‘Sign of the Vulcan’ F7b+ at The Cuttings, to exposed slabs like ‘Fallen Slab Arête’ F3a at Blacknor Beach. 

Both the Climber’s Club and Rockfax have written climbing guides to Dorset, which detail most of the routes on the island. Many of the crags require a 70 metre rope and up to 12 quickdraws, although some routes like ‘Pregnant Pause’ will require nearer to 18! The bolts are maintained by excellent Dorset Bolt Fund, a charity run by local volunteer climbers, which help maintain bolts, lower-offs, paths and access rights; it also adds new routes every year. Interestingly, the bolts are the new standard ‘P-bolts,’ which are placed using a resin/glue compound - expansion bolts would rust due to the proximity of the salty sea air.

During a typical day at the crag, you might meet climbers from Bristol, Portsmouth, Brighton and even London; occasionally, mainland Europeans also visit. Climbers often stay in one of the bunkhouses on Portland. You can also stay at campsites on the mainland, in neighbouring villages like Wyke Regis and Weymouth. If you’re in the know, there are a few spots to park up the van or set up a sneaky tent on Portland - just be sure to leave no trace!

The island is split between East and West side. The winter months see people populating the east-facing crags, such as The Cuttings or Cheyne Weares. Often, the biting winds are too strong for the west side. Once summer arrives (or the odd lucky day in winter), the west side will be busy. Blacknor is the longest stretch of crag, where you can walk beneath Blacknor North, Central, South and Far South. This sector hosts many classics throughout the grade range, and usually has an amazing view of the sunset. 

If you have a little more time to explore the island, the southern crags such as Wallsend and Coastguard Cliffs are worth a visit. The approaches are a bit more involved (for example, walking along a boulder-strewn beach), but the reward is quiet, high-quality routes on unpolished rock. Typically, the routes at this end of the island are more difficult, so should be saved for the more experienced climber. That’s not to say there isn’t the odd Top 50 F6a scattered about…

Oh, and there’s also a bit of Deep Water Soloing, too! This island really is a gem.

Sam’s Favourite Photos:

First up is Daniel Weissmann on Portland’s longest route (32 metres), the classic Top 50 arête ‘Pregnant Pause’ F6a+ at Blacknor Central. It’s not a push over.


Second is Emmie Chadwick on my personal favourite route of the island ‘Burning Skies’ F6b+, again Blacknor Central. This route is at a section of the crag named ‘Portland Heights’. It’s the tallest stretch of climbing on the island and hosts tons of excellent routes ranging from F6b to F7b+. It should keep you busy for long enough…


Third, we see Hannah Whaley on The Cuttings classic ‘The Cutting Edge’ F6c+. This sharp arête makes you squeeze, crimp and hope, with a distinct crux move at the top to hit a flatty.


Fourth up is Chris Weedon on ‘Superfly Guy’ F7a at Coastguard North. Just one of the many amazing F7a’s Portland has to offer. This crag is located at the south of the island, not far away from the tourist hot spot, The Portland Bill Lighthouse. The secluded, sea level crag offers a nice, atmospheric feel with the sound of the sea to calm your thoughts. 

Read more on Sam Parsons's website: After The Send