Portland ROTOR Bunker, Dorset

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.

Portland ROTOR bunker

Image taken from Suterranea Britannica. Photo by Nick Catford

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.

The Explore…

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: August 2014

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Comments

29 Responses to “Portland ROTOR Bunker, Dorset”

  1. Ted Caine says:

    Great site people. I live locally and have heard all about the Portland site, shame it’s closed, incidentally, between dorchester and weymouth, on the ridgeway, is a mast, the bungalow looks one of the old RAF disguised guard room. This is the top of a control bunker, the bungalow being occupied, I believe that the bunker is now used for storage by the owner of a local toy shop, worth checking, good luck

    • Hi Ted,

      Yep, that’s correct. It’s an aboveground AAOR and you can read all about it on the Subterranea Britannica website.

      I was in there a few weeks ago. It’s full to the brim of stock from the ToyMaster shop in Weymouth. The bunker itself is in great condition but with the stock everywhere it was impossible to photograph.

      I happened to notice the gates were open one day as I was passing and they didn’t seem to mind me looking around although I’m not sure how impressed the owner would be if lots of people start snooping around up there mind!

  2. Bob Radar-sonar says:

    I am a retired radar research engineer and have always been fascinated by anything military underground. The surface building is meant to represent a cricket pavilion in and attempt to disguise it from above… but I am told that they made all the ROTOR entry buildings from the same plans so once you had found one it wasn’t difficult to find the others!

    The ROTOR came up for sale about 12 years ago and we went to the auction in the Prince Regent Hotel. All the prospective buyers were invited underground by the local estate agent and it was so fascinating. Chatting to locals from the naval base who had decommissioned it, it was rumoured it had a load of blue asbestos still in, so we didn’t bid actively. From memory it sold to a Portland pub owner for about £160k… a great price by todays standards.

    Bob

  3. Wendy says:

    I will e doing some research of my own. I hope they do/ have opened it to the public, that would be a epic tour and one yours truly would love to go look at.

    Another good reason for me to come back home.

  4. David H says:

    It’s disturbing that your ‘shitty’ website has now encouraged a mass breaking and entering being arranged for the rotor , hardly a good way to protect it.

    Perhaps, a discussion with the farm operators, who are not shitty would have yielded a better informed write up from you.

    • David, I’ve already apologised to Jon for my comments about his farm and explained why I was so frustrated with the farm seemingly taking precedence over what’s a massive piece of this country’s history.

      I am in no way responsible for the actions of others. And if anyone breaks in I hope they get caught and arrested. It’s not the way things are done! Plus, if these people are stupid enough to make their actions known in public view, I don’t think they’ll get very far!?

  5. Warren Hall says:

    I knew it, I’m of the generation of people that moved to Portland in 1966 aged 2 with the navy. And fathers held alsorts of secrets, it was a rumour in our teens and now has been proven.

  6. Shane Vincent says:

    I live just down the road from fancys farm and have been there with the kids didn’t know that was under the bungalow going to go up again this Saturday and have a nose . How interesting

    • Hi Shane, I’m sure if you ask Jon nicely he may even show you the bunker. I believe Subterranea Britannica recently had a tour down there so there should be no question of Health & Safety to overcome (hopefully!)

      • Rob Phillips says:

        I was on the Subbrit visit, we take H&S very seriously. Steel toe boots,onsies boiler suits,head torches,spare torch. helmet/hard hat. With some work the bunker could be easily opened.. Second hand fire escape for access stairs. 12 volt LED lighting. a few holes filled or covered and the emergancy exit reopened for air circulation. There is some water to pump out from a recent fire and the place needs a spring clean. Air flow would dry out the condensation. The place is a sixties time capsule with regards to the plant rooms. The largest room that held the computers, “Green Garlic” ect needs flooring over. The PDU well is full of water. The two level controle room is disintergrating due to wet. Some of the equipment is in very good condition, some needs rebuilding. Its a lot of work but I believe it’s well worth doing. This is our secret history, paid for by our parents and abandoned by our feckless government. Lets not lose any more.

        • Absolutely Rob, couldn’t agree more!

          The Portland ROTOR is one of the finest examples of an original ROTOR left in the UK and it’d be a shame to let it disappear.

  7. Jon Illsley says:

    Hi guys. The shitty farm is run by me and I have the key to the bunker. We are in the process of preserving what is left on the bunker and are organising an open day when everyone can get access in May 2013. It is being run by the Sub Brit forum so please contact them for details.

    The bunker was sealed and alarmed due to copper thefts over the years and if we are to preserve what is left then we had no option. Please do not jump to conclusions about what you don’t know about.

    We are working closely with English Herritage in order to make the site open to everyone in the future. At present there is not enough oxygen down there so it is dangerous to access, we need to get some air movement down there to make it safe.

    Cheers
    Jon

    • Hi Jon,

      Thanks a lot for comment. I was hoping you’d eventually find this blog post and give your side of the story.

      Firstly, apologies for calling your farm “shitty” – it was out of frustration to see the ROTOR seemingly forgotten about after so much promise when the landowner first bought the bunker.

      I’m glad you’re now taking a pro-active approach and having been on a Sub-Brit tour, I’m sure they’ll do a great job as always.

      I was unaware there had been metal thefts from the site, that’s a real shame and I hope nothing was too damaged in the process. Jumping to conclusions was the only thing one could do as previous attempts of information was always met with hostility from the landowner. Trust me, I’ve been on the receiving end!

      Thanks again for commenting and keeping people abreast of the developments. I hope the tour goes well and the bunker is preserved for years to come.

      Adam

    • thewanderer says:

      Hi Jon,

      I have been past your farm many times. I live nearby.

      Would be really interested in seeing the bunker. If I could arrange a group would you consider opening it for us to see? My email address is natalie.manifold@hotmail.co.uk

      Thanks

  8. ROYCE says:

    so much history of portland hidden such a shame its , wrong!!, do you know if you can still get in here ?

    • Near-on impossible mate. You’re right, it’s a massive shame!

      • ROYCE says:

        its a disgrace they can do it, i dont know anyone who actually knows about this place apart from me and my mates but only because of you even though we cant get it now its still nice to know its there and will keep me wondering for years whats there.

        • I’ll tell you what mate… that bunker will be there A LOT longer than the shitty farm that’s currently on the site! I’m sure you’ll see it one day!

          • ROYCE says:

            Yeah i hope so , tonight me and my friends are going down cheyne tunnels , dont know if youve heard of them before?, we tried lastnight but the water was in on hightied.

  9. Josh Samways says:

    This is incredible, I can’t believe we were literally feet away from this building! We got kicked off the land by the owners because I think it is now a petting farm or something. Gutted we missed this

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