Photo: Weymouth and Portland Borough Council With the Olympics about to arrive in Weymouth and Portland we've lined up some of our favourite haunts in this traditional Georgian seaside town. Whether you want to catch the Olympic sailing and windsurfing (starts July 27) or some of the great London 2012 Cultural Olympiad by The Sea events or just fancy a trip to the beautiful crescent shaped beach it’s definitely Weymouth time…
Made famous by George III using it as one of his holiday retreats, Weymouth is a rather beautiful mix of Georgian and Victorian buildings and seaside tat, combining to give the feeling of a proper old fashioned seaside resort but with plenty of happening new restaurants and places to visit. Hard to miss, but worth checking out is the recently buffed and polished statue of George III on the esplanade, with a new addition of his original bathing hut on wheels next to it. Weymouth Beach, vast and golden, slopes gently into the sea. It’s perfect for sandcastles and paddling, with some Punch and Judy thrown in, while gamblers can head across the road tothe amusement arcade and mini fun fair.
Be prepared for a bit of Kiss Me Quick mixed with a new edge of sophisticated restaurants and a maze of interesting Georgian and Victorian streets for shopping, plus the odd tall ship docked at the Old Harbour. This 17th Century waterfront was once a thriving trading harbour and is now a surprisingly quaint place with candy coloured buildings on one side giving the feel of a Cornish fishing village. Seems like the perfect spot to spend a few hours crabbing (bait and lines available from
many harbour shops). You can wander round the harbour, cross the bridge and then get the small rowing boat to take you back to the beach again – great fun. Lots of boats heading out of here to take you mackerel fishing too if you fancy a day at sea.
Food wise it's worth trying The Stable, (above the Harbour Master’s Office), which is a great combination of pizzas, pies and West Country ciders. They use local Dorset/West Country ingredients for their delicious pizzas such as the Bridport Blaster, Bucky Doo (Dorset Blue Vinney and spinach) or Denhay Delight (Denhay farm bacon, local field mushrooms etc) and with a huge selection of local ciders, long communal wooden tables and a view from their window over the harbour. Owned by the same people as the Bull in Bridport this is simple good local food.
Plus if the weather's looking a little dodgy, Sharkys (9 Custom House Quay) with its vast six lane slot car racing track, laser zone and some seating for its café/bar on the pavement overlooking the harbour, is worth keeping up your sleeve. On the other side of the harbour there are plenty of places to eat too, especially around the old warehouse, Brewer’s Quay. A great sounding pop up restaurant, Salt, is set to open in the Excise House at Brewers Quay on July 1 in time for the Olympics. As a sister restaurant to The Stable, it will serve seafood, including locally sourced crab, oysters and lobsters with bowls of Salt chips. There are also plans to open a boutique hotel here in what seems like an up and coming area. For a bit of history, it's worth checking out the Old Tudor House close to Brewer's Quay to give you a feel of Weymouth in the 17th Century
Walking past Brewer’s Quay you come to Nothe Fort. This Victorian Fort at the mouth of Weymouth Harbour is set over three levels, with underground passageways, plus great views of the Coast. Great guns and displays make it a big draw. It used to protect the entrance to Portland Harbour when it was once hugely important in naval defences. Voted one of the spookiest places in 2007 by the National Lottery Survey, so many sightings have taken place there that it’s now a well known spot for paranormal activity and ghost hunters. The Fort’s Artillery Volunteers also fire off some of the cannons every 2nd and 4th Sunday. We’ve had lots of recommendations for Rossinis (Mediterranean dishes, mainly Italian and Spanish food) at 43 maiden Street. We’ve yet to try but sounds good and also has gluten free food. It's pretty hard to visit Weymouth and not have an ice cream... We love Rossi’s Ice Cream (92 the Esplanade) on the sea front. Run by an Italian family it’s a bit of an institution in Weymouth and prides itself on having a delicious natural flavor ice cream, plus a couple of other flavours it rotates, like coconut, pineapple with bits of fruit in, plus raspberry and chocolate.
For all you foodies, a good weekend to visit is the 7 to 8 July when the Dorset Seafood Festival will be taking place in the Old Harbour. With over 80 stalls, amazing seafood, celeb chefs and music, we’ll be joining the Weird Fish Cross Harbour Challenge when you race across the harbour to be the first to down an oyster and a glass of champagne…a good enough reason to get wet .. This is part of The Spirit of the Sea Festival (29 June until 15July) and includes loads of great events including the chance to try out stand up paddle boarding and the Travelling Pilosaur Cinema (a giant Jurassic sea lizard into whose belly you can crawl for some cinematic story telling). If it’s a clear day, worth taking the Sea Life Tower, Weymouth’s answer to the London Eye, which has just opened in time for the Olympics and gives amazing views over the Jurassic Coast during its 15 minute ride from its glass revolving viewing platform. A short ride from the centre, on the Portland Road is the fantastic Crab House Café. This family run business is set at the bottom of a caravan park on the beginning of Chesil Beach. With its funky pink and white umbrellas this is the place to head to if you want some seriously delicious lobster or crab (with the added fun of arriving with its own hammer to crack it open).
They also have their own oyster beds. If you go you have to try the donuts too – couldn’t get enough of these, soaked in caramel. What started as a crab sandwich shack now gets rave reviews and we can see why. But again you’ll need to book over the Olympics as this shack’s going to be busy.
Portland lies across a bridge from Weymouth, and as you cross, look back at the views of the stunning Chesil Beach snaking into the distance. You'll eventually come to Portland Bill lighthouse and a huge carved slab of beautiful Portland stone. With crashing waves it has the feeling of Lands End about it, with some basic beach shelters. Definitely worth a visit and a clamber over the rocks – it feels wild. The Lobster Pot café there has some fantastic homemade scones which you can eat in or take away.
Heading back towards Weymouth, lots of recommendations for the Blue Fish Café and Restaurant on Portland, (Chiswell, Portland). They do a good breakfast too. For some outside art and a great walk, Tout Park, an old abandoned quarry on Portland is worth checking out. The Portland stone from here helped make St Paul’s and Buckingham Palace but it has now been turned into an evolving sculpture park with stone carvings (including some by Antony Gormley). All looking over Chesil Bay. You can also do outdoor stone carving sessions in the summer here too. There’s a new family friendly restaurant opening which we’re pretty excited about. On the 21 July, Masterchef winner, Matt Folas (who already has the delicious Wild Garlic restaurant in Beaminster) is opening the Chesil Beach Café. It will be part of the rebuilt Chesil Beach Centre, which is run by the Dorset Wildlife Centre on Portland Beach Road. With the emphasis on sustainability and locally sourced food, expect great seafood and they’ll also be doing brunches. Maritime Mix - London Cultural Olympiad 2012 by the Sea will be celebrating Weymouth hosting the Olympic and Paralympic Sailing Events by putting on art, music, installations, outdoor theatre and circus, most events are free. For the opening of the sailing there will be three days of celebration on Weymouth beach including the Battle for the Winds (26 – 28July) a huge outdoor theatrical performance with aerial artists from Cirque Bijou and DesperatMen, plus loads more.
Another highlight will be an installation of 300 instruments on top of Portland to create wind powered sound symphony , Harmonic Fields. We’re really looking forward to the arrival of Nowhere Island. From the 25 July until August 2 this floating island installation by Alex Hartley will be anchored in Bowleaze Cove and the best view will be from Furzy Cliff. This extraordinary sculpture is made from material salvaged from a newly revealed island in the Arctic, which has been declared a new nation with citizenship open to all. Couple of our other picks are Signpost, Crabman and Bell who take you on “mis-guided” tours around Weymouth during 1-5 August, highlighting the trivial and hidden histories – sounds like fun.
The magnificent Revolution, a pedal powered mobile cinema, touring Portland, letting people jump on, pedal and get to watch some short films. Plus Telepathic (yes) drawing lessons taking place in bars and pubs as part of b-Side.
We’re also liking the sound of the ICCI 360 on Weymouth Pavilion forecourt, from 26 July which is going to be an amazing place to see events in 360 degrees. Inspired by the 18 and 19 Century touring panoramas with live music and dance – this one is well worth checking out. And whether you leave Weymouth by car or train – look out for artist Day Bowman’s giant hoardings placed around Weymouth station (from 12 July to 20 Sept) Commissioned for b-side for the Martime Mix Cultural Olympiad 2012, her posters show an alternative view of our seaside towns where urban wastelands mix with the seaside we know. Images from this (such as Weymouth/Portland 15 below) will also be projected on the ICCI dome on the 9 August as part of At the Edge of Everything, a mix of film, art and live music from great bands such as the Nordic Giants and Phoria.
There's also the Jurassic Safari which takes you on a landrover tour around Dorset - the best way to see the stunning Jurassic Coast. And if you need somewhere to stay, we’ve heard great things about the Moonfleet Hotel. This luxe Georgian Manor hotel overlooks Chesil Beach and is perfect for families.