This is an exposed anchorage that offers a measure of protection to the westerly or north-westerly winds behind its high cliffs. The cove offers straightforward daylight access, although there are no marks there are no outlying dangers.
Keyfacts for Church Ope Cove
SummaryAn exposed location with straightforward access.
Position and approaches
Haven position50° 32.264' N, 002° 25.642' W
This is off the beach, in about 3 metres.
What is the initial fix?
What are the key points of the approach?
- Sound in from the initial fix and anchor in sand off the beach.
Not what you need?
How to get in?
Church Ope Cove is a small secluded cove on the sheltered eastern side of the Isle of Portland. The south-east facing cove is situated about midway between Portland Bill and Portland Harbour. The remains of Rufus Castle, also locally known as ‘Bow and Arrow Castle’, towers over the cove from its escarpment above and picturesque huts stand at the back of its shale beach.
Approaches to the area are provided in the Weymouth Harbour entry.
This is set on the 5 metre CD contour close south-west of the cove. The shore is steep-to here with the 5-metre contour being just over 100 metres from the shoreline. From here the beach huts lining the back of the beach and Rufus Castle towering above the cove will make it readily apparent.
Anchor in 3 metres off the beach in a sandy patch. Land by tender on the beach.
Why visit here?Church Ope Cove derives its name from the conjunction of its historic church and the local word ’Ope’ a shortening for ‘opening’ that locals use to describe a gap in the cliffs that lead down to the water's edge.
In 1340, and again in 1404, French raiders landed in the cove and torched the little parish church. Each time it was rebuilt and extended reaching its seminal years in the 1500s. But destruction was to come again in 1625 in the form of a landslip that caused serious damage to its north end and caused half the cemetery to fall onto the beach. After this a wall was built to shore it up and St. Andrew's received extensive repairs. But its surrounding area had by this time become prone to landslips and in 1734/5 more graves fell to the beach below, including that of the twin daughters of King Ethelred, who had both died at birth in 990. After centuries of service, the church was finally deemed unsafe in 1756 and abandoned for the new parish church St George's.
Since then it has been in ruin on the upper part of a level site on the cliff, in the valley below the castle. The area on which it stands has been strengthened by the construction of a retaining wall. Subsequent archaeological excavations of the site have uncovered statues similar to Bronze Age ones found at Salisbury, and evidence that the site was occupied as early as the Iron Age. St. Andrews Church is a Grade II Listed Building and a Scheduled Monument.
Being the only easily accessible landing place on the Isle Of Portland, and one that is sheltered from the prevailing wind, the cove has always been prone to attack. The first recorded Viking raid within the British Isles, including Ireland, is believed to have occurred in Church Ope Cove in 787 AD. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle described three lost Viking ships coming up upon the cove. The king's reeve, accustomed to meeting Scandinavian merchants, tried to collect taxes from them and they killed him before sailing on. Three more Viking raids were to occur in the cove when the Danes carried off everything of value in the district that they could lay their hands on, including local women.
The Normans countered this exposure by building Rufus Castle on the cliff-top overlooking the beach. Also locally known as ‘Bow and Arrow Castle’ it was reportedly built for William II, although the structure remaining in ruins today is not of that date. The earlier castle was captured by Robert, Earl of Gloucester and illegitimate son of King Henry I of England, in 1142. Since then it has been extended several times with the largest part of what is seen today dating back to a rebuild by Richard, Duke of York between 1432 - 60. As it was built on the site of the earlier Norman building it is considered today as Portland's oldest castle. Much of the 15th Century castle has been lost over the centuries and only ‘The Keep’ survives in a ruinous state. Circa mid-2008, the castle was listed as being ruinous and in need of conservation repair and consolidation.
Today Portland’s Museum, founded in two early 17th century stone cottages immediately above the cove, tells the story of the island. The cove is now a favourite spot for beach hut owners looking to escape the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives. The beach used to be sandy, but unwanted quarry debris tipped over nearby cliffs has washed up in the cove to cover the sand, and over the years these been eroded into rounded pebbles and shingle. Being one of the few beaches on Portland, and having high protective cliffs on three sides that provide shelter from the prevailing wind, it is now a popular destination for bathers. It is also attractive to divers as it provides access to numerous wrecks in the surrounding waters.
From a sailing point of view this is an exposed location suitable for a lunch stop in settled conditions. It makes an ideal tide wait location for west going vessels waiting for the tide to turn in order to round the Bill of Portland, just a couple of miles southward. But it also offers a magnificent setting for a family day out until the sun descends behind its high cliffs in the late afternoon.
What facilities are available?There are public toilets on the beach. For all other facilities use Portland Harbour or in Weymouth.
With thanks to:Michael Harpur S/Y Whistler. Photography with thanks to Michael Harpur and Chris Downer.
Church Ope Cove, Portland. Rufus Castle, St Andrew's Church, Pennsylvania Castle
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