Ever since I was a boy there were rumours of Portland having a huge nuclear bunker. So huge in fact that some conspiracy theorists suggested it was big enough for 5,000 people and the Queen herself would inhabit it if nuclear war ever broke out.
Unfortunately this was all legend. And the truth isn’t that hard to uncover with an open mind and quick bit of research.
Sitting on almost the highest point of the Isle of Portland is a large fenced-off area next to HMP Verne, adjacent to the Victorian High-Angle Batterys (locally known as ‘The Ghost Tunnels’). Beyond the chainlink fence are several uninteresting, small buildings and a bungalow. It’s within this modest bungalow that things become epic…
Admiring the Portland ROTOR bunker from afar it had always been a dream to see inside, and one evening I was in a local pub and talking about the bunker to someone whose daughter worked at the horse stables which were at that time inhabiting the site and using the bungalow for storage. He said she’d been inside. After a bit of pestering, we got the information that was needed.
Standing inside the small bungalow it was hard to imagine it had anything to do with a “Nuclear Bunker”, and then we saw it… at the end of the corridor, a large, thick metal blast door. Opening the door, the waft of stale, cold air surrounded us as we entered the darkness.
A few steps inside and you’re confronted with an eighty-odd foot shaft, straight down. Once upon a time this open shaft would have housed a lift with emergency stairs spiraling around it. Nowadays a lonely, steel cage-ladder is the only point of access. Not being the most comfortable person with heights, the ladder was a scary experience but what waited at the bottom was worth every single leg-shaking rung.
The entrance tunnel, gently sloping into the bunker is breath-taking and by far the most incredible feature of the ROTOR.
At the end of the tunnel you zig-zag in to the main operations corridor through thick, steel blast doors. Several rooms branch off each side of the passage, some more obvious than others to what they were once used for. A kitchen, toilets, sinks – all covered in a layer of soot (The ROTOR was victim of fire in the 60’s).
The main operations and mapping room, the largest of all the rooms in the bunker, is probably the most damaged. No flooring remains and a lot of water and a very dodgy ladder prevents anyone with half a brain cell from attempting to access the 1st floor. Portland ROTOR is unique in many ways, this two-tier comms room being one.
Moving on from the operations room there is a space set aside for all the air-conditioning & water needs for the bunker. This room must have been extremely noisy. In fact, the ROTOR must have been deafening with all this machinery so close to the main operations room?!
After a few nondescript rooms, possibly used for down-time, relaxing etc you reach the end of the bunker. The emergency exit shaft (long since back-filled with rubble and concrete capped at the surface) which consisted of two sets of stairs with a short corridor in-between, lies beyond another set of large blast doors.
The future for Portland’s ROTOR bunker
What will become of the Portland ROTOR bunker is unclear. The surrounding land recently became home to “Fancy’s Farm” and rumour has it the bungalow and bunker “booby-trapped” and alarmed to put-off would be explorers. It’s such a shame. This bunker is part of our country’s history & heritage and it’s one of only a few surviving ROTORs.
For more information on the ROTOR project visit Subterranea Britannica where they also have photos of the original lift and operations room before it was stripped.
Extra special thanks to Oxygen Theif of 28dayslater (who joined us for the explore) for the use of some of his photos
Last updated: December 2014