East Weare Batteries & DISTEX site, Portland, Dorset

The first explore of the year took me back to Portland, again! The East Weare Batteries & Disaster Relief Exercise site. I must have been here a thousand times as a kid, running scared from the various tunnels and buildings in the “Forbidden City” – as we, and the generations before us called it – but I’d never taken photos here.

East Weare Batteries
EAST WEARE BATTERIES: Red arrows indicate buildings mentioned here. Yellow are batteries inside new fencing installed to surround the gas storage at Portland Port. White are outside of the Port’s fences.

The East Weare Batteries area comprises of 19th century Victorian defences alongside the 20th century brickwork of the Disaster relief exercise buildings (DISTEX). Technically, the East Weare Batteries stretch further than what I’ve captured here, alongside the Naval cemeteries and arguably inside The Verne prison walls, but for now I’ll be concentrating on the area inside Portland Port’s fences…

The first stop was a look around “The German House”. A small building that has the emblems of two German ships on the side. “Bremen” & “Emden”. The interior is completely stripped of fixtures and the roof long-gone. Opposite is one of the most interesting structures on the East Weare Batteries site. A large Portland Stone archway with iron gates leading in to a courtyard area, and at the back (facing the sea), a heavily strengthened building with thick walls and no obvious entrance (bricked-up or otherwise). I had been inside here before, but with the only way in being a death-defying walk of faith across a rotten piece of timber precariously poised over a 20-25ft drop… I wasn’t wearing my big boys pants today! On the “front” of this building are some really interesting embrasures. Small, oval windows on a swivel-pin which I assume would have allowed a gun to be fired from? Or perhaps these were just simply fancy windows?!

A blaze of wooden pallets during a DISTEX exercise in the 1990's at the East Weare Batteries site
A blaze of wooden pallets during a DISTEX exercise in the 1990’s

DISTEX at East Weare Batteries

Following the path down the hill you find yourself at the entrance of a street-like section. Herein lies HMS Osprey’s former DISTEX site. At this point there’d usually be an inferno of burning pallets – and it still shows from the soot remnants. Ship crews from Britain and various other countries would carry out exercises and riot training along this stretch of ground and inside the buildings surrounding it. A lot of effort went in to the exercises to make them as real-to-life as possible with casualties even sporting fake blood and broken bones.

Further along, the mix of Victorian & 20th century building-works continues with lots of small rooms in a large stone building. Cosy fireplaces look oddly out of place amongst the cold stone walls and in another room, the rusty shell of an old cooker hanging on for life against the elements. A gun emplacement sits on the far south-east point, the service tunnel around the perimeter half-collapsed but still with some interesting features.

At the end of the site is another Portland Stone Victorian battery. This one is completely covered and only accessed via tunnels. Some wooden doors have remarkably survived over the years and even some still have signage!

Sadly, Portland Port has continued it’s destruction of the wider area around the East Weare site and encroached even further on the East Weare Batteries, getting as close as they’re legally permitted to a listed monument I’m sure! Hopefully people will continue to visit the area as I guess that’s the only thing keeping it from being completely overtaken by brambles and forgotten forever.

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91 responses to “East Weare Batteries & DISTEX site, Portland, Dorset”

  1. BreakBeatStu says:

    I tried going down here the other day but no joy. The route that most people refer to by going round the back of Fancies Farm and left at the rock stack looks to be totally fenced off. That path is all over grown but easy enough until you get to a newish looking 12ft metal fence covered in anti-climb paint… however about half way down this path towards the fence I did see what looked like a very much less trodden path that looks like it may go down a little further to the port area and loop round the fence or even have a way though. This looks like a right rabbit hole of a route so I didn’t chance it, thought I’d save myself the cuts and bruises, but I’m now thinking this is the way… is it? Anyone know what I mean? Did I give up too soon?

    • Sam says:

      I went down resently on the North end of the area. No chance you’re getting through there, plus they have installed a fancy new motion sensor camera on a very tall pole. You can’t move anywhere without it following you. I’m yet to try the south entrance but I feel like there isn’t much chance the fence is still old and bent to get through as the north entrance is impossible to get through. Best of luck ;)

      • Dan says:

        People have been visiting the DISTEX site long after those cameras were installed. There’s still plenty of ways in, Sam. You just can’t expect to walk along the main path as you’ve done and go through the gate.

        It’s not a good idea to discuss access points, Portland Port will probably be reading all the comments and securing any weak points mentioned!

  2. Elliot whiting says:

    Went to see this place today. Known to us locals as the forbidden city. We managed to find a way in and get onto the site. Explored everything there and found some cool things. After a few hours we had seen everything and decided to leave only to find working cameras follow our every move. Would definitely go back there though.

    • James Mayo says:

      How sad that Portland Port can find the money for cameras and fencing which would be better spent turning this and Chequer Fort into fee-paying tourist attractions, which would also create some employment for the locals

    • Arrianne kingman says:

      Me and my friends have been twice now, and got closer each time but still not yet managed to get into the ‘forbidden city’ are you able to give specific directions on the way you went please. If you are ever returning I’d love for you to let me know so that we could tag along

      • Elliot says:

        you have to go behind fancies farm where there is a quarry, behind the quarry there is like a big rock statue sort thing, go to that turn left and there is a path

        • Emily says:

          Are you still able to access it now? I am doing a photography project on abandoned buildings for my A-Level, and only have 6 weeks to do it. Live in Dorset and need to find somewhere like this ASAP to photograph. Any suggestions?

          • John says:

            I’m going to attempt it [time & date removed]. I’ve been studying the area on 3D maps and think I’ve found the best way down. (based on the angles I’ve seen some of these pictures taken, and some of the comments on here). How overgrown the route is going to be I have no idea though. Everything looks easier on a map!

            • Jman says:

              I tried with some friends a couple weeks back. Went in from Fancys Farm end down the edge of the cliff but there is what looked like a very new fence blocking this way which was not there when I visited a couple years back. Fence was pretty unclimbable, no gaps either and anti-climb paint all over it.

              Is there a way to access this site from the other side? There looks like there is a path that leads from the cemetery? Can anyone confirm?

  3. Explorer says:

    Update: Managed to get there today, through **access point removed for obvious reasons**

    After getting through the bramble and a very faint muddy path we reached an opening and then could see the ‘City’ in the distance. Walked over but after 10mins were stopped and escorted off by the Portland police. Due to being spotted by ground workers.

    Got to see all around the place in the police jeep tho! So much cool history there, and learnt a lot about it all from the workers/portland officer.

    Cameras are 100% active. Saw all of them working in the port office. They may not be monitored all the time but there are workers on the grounds.

  4. Joe says:

    Love this thread! Thinking of heading there in the next few days – Anyone been recently?
    Looking to explore past the cemetery and down to the Battery E first, but wanting to explore the Forbidden City more – is the CCTV still on a higher alert?

  5. Harry says:

    Me and a few friends went here a lot, whenever we were bored as we’d found a perfect way in avoiding all cameras. They’ve recently renewed the fences around the whole place meaning they are higher and they have put barbed wire at the top of the fences. We took lap after lap around the place until we came to the conclusion there was no other way in. They have also demolished a few pill boxes from around the site.

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      They’ve definitely made it harder for the casual, but not impossible. The destruction of the pill boxes is an absolute outrage in my opinion and Portland Port need to realise they don’t own Portland and can’t do whatever they like to this historically important site.

      • Harry says:

        I couldn’t agree more. It’s utterly ridiculous. Yeah it’s not completly impossible but it is a lot harder yeah. I can imagine if you look hard enough and dedicate enough time you would be able to get in

  6. Adam says:

    I’ve lived in Weymouth practically all my life and often take a trip to East Weare and the Grove. Such a shame to see Portland Port encroaching on local history. I once blagged my way through security in Castletown and went in search of a bunker that was dug into the hillside and was rumoured to have temporarily stored the bodies of American sailors killed in the Slapton Sands disaster. I believe the entrance is at road level about 150 Mtrs past the security checkpoint. Any info to support this? P.S – This is a great website, really enjoyed looking at the pictures and reading everyones comments.

  7. Craig says:

    Hi, about those white arrows in the picture, I presume those areas are not restricted? So I could just walk in and it would be perfectly fine? If thats the case, is it roughly the same difficulty if I were to try to get to the abandoned city?

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Craig, the top arrow is just off a public footpath and easily accessible, the other white arrow is a bit difficult to explain, it’s behind a fence but very much contained within itself. I’ve not been to the “abandoned city” in a long time so can’t comment on the current access although I know people are still exploring there.

  8. Stacey Humpo says:

    Hey all. Been reading all comments. Me and partner down for holiday and we tried cemetery route… through bushes and stingers by cliff. Could see site from up top but builders were there on the road. Could you tell me which entry best you found? Would be soooo grateful… been trying for 2 days! Gulp…

  9. Mandie says:

    We tried to get in today but sadly the camera by the cemetery route does work. Went around by the young offenders but it was far too dark to see where we were going. Anyone recently been here and how to avoid cameras? And why is it restricted, is it just because it’s near the port?

  10. Corey collins says:

    Any update on the site, is it being knocked down and what the update on the security on the site

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      It’s definitely not being knocked down, and if you’re not making loads of noise & walking in to the wrong parts; you’ll be fine with regards to security. Give it a go!

  11. Ross says:

    Visited this place for the first time today after failing to find an entrance many times in the past. After trekking through hedges and climbing through fences it was definitely worth it. I was aware of the security camera over the far side but it appeared to be off so we had a good two hours of exploring without being told to leave.

  12. Explorer says:

    I have visited this place a few times now, a few things have changed since last time. Once in there are approximately 6 cameras all seem to be moving and active, this is all Portland Port area. A builder asked what we were doing and let us know that it’s private property but let us on our way. It has got more strict and it’s possible that you can be escorted off-site once in. This place is amazing including the tunnels if you walk further down the port.

    • Fox says:

      There is definitely one active camera atop a flagpole overlooking the entire site. We visited a few months ago and were met on our way out by a security guard from the Port Authority. A great explore and very interesting site but they do seem to watch it very carefully now.

  13. Bob Alexander says:

    The long red arrow (second up from the bottom) points at the first HMS Osprey Signals Establishment. This was originally the penal establishment for the Verne Fort.

    Entrance to the establishment from the Verne was via a tunnel that exited at the bottom of the cliff. The tunnel entrance is at the end of the descending gully, clearly marked by the dark shadow at the end of the road from the Garrison Commanders house. On the other side of the gully the old stables and garages are clearly marked by a new white roof whilst the car park is grown over. The gap between the end of the road and the stables would at first seem to be a bridge or some other way across the gully, whereas the shadow to the right is where the ground was dug out years later by Governor Richards who wanted the capstone to support his sunken garden, when he occupied the house in the late 1940s.

    The cliff face at exit of the tunnel has been built over up to the surrounding east wall. The original path from the exit went right at a downward angle, joining the existing path shown. When I lived in the Verne in 1948 we often went down the tunnel until it was bricked up. The saddest part of this story is that we also used to play in the north gate tunnel, that impressive entrance that overlooks Portland Harbour. Close examination of the entrance behind the gates will reveal a vertical gully rising on both sides to a slot across the top. This is for the Portcullis to be lowered. Entrance to the mechanisms is gained through the stepped archways found some yards up the tunnel on both sides (now blocked by concrete blocks). The huge port is still up there in a locked position lying at a backwards angle.

    Obviously there are many other underground tunnels leading to gun ports and ammunition dumps which were all open when we first moved into the Verne Prison in 1947, proving to be the best ever playground I ever had.

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      What a brilliant insight, thank you!

      We actually found the tunnel you speak of when we were children (late 90’s) and our heads were making up all sorts of imaginative stories to where it lead! Of course, we later realised that it just went through the hill in to the Verne.

      However, the penal establishment is a new one for me, so thank you! The design of the building always suggested to me that it was meant to either keep people in, or out!

  14. chloe says:

    Is this place restricted? I need to film a music video for my media project for college, is there any chance I could film here.

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Hi Chloe, you can film wherever you like. Just remember you’ll be trespassing unless permission is granted.

      • Martyn says:

        Hello, I am extremely intrested in abandoned places and the topic of it. Is there any places in Wales which are accessable by either no security or free to look at?

      • Pia says:

        Hey, a friend and I are currently starting a photography project which only lasts 8 weeks and would love to take pictures here. How would we go about getting permission so we wouldn’t have to leave if caught? Or is it not worth the hassle and just try without permission?

        thanks :)

    • Bob Alexander says:

      You can go into the Verne to the Prison Cafe which overlooks the harbour and gun emplacements on East Weares. From the Cafe walk past the big extended red brick house and at the top of the hill on the right is the blocked up entrance to the underground caverns and gun slot tunnels overlooking the harbour. Walk down the hill and half way down on you left you will find the entrance to the lower ammunition magazine. At the bottom before the bend on the right is the top on the North Gate. A little further on the right is the first big half round gun emplacement with a smaller one further up the hill. Have fun, but keep a wary eye out during the weekend

  15. James Mayo says:

    Hi, I just found this post from 2005 when I Googled Secrets of Portland Dorset. I have no idea where the Naval Park was.

    I’m looking for information from anyone who knows anything about the underground network of tunnels that run under portland dorset they supposedly link up the old naval base sites and the old DRA it’s a vast network and contains workshops a hospital and submarine pen I know it exists because when I was younger my brother and I and a few friends gained access to it through what we thought was an electricity station in a corner of the kids park on the naval estate there were steps leading down to three corridors branching off in different directions! We got access to three rooms and being kids were satisified with the hexi burners and ration packs we found when the MOD realised that we had been in there they rounded up all the kids thay could find from the naval estate (luckily me and my brother weren’t among them) and there were serious repercussions from what I can gather. Can anyone help?

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Ha! Yeah, I’ve read that before. It’s funny how time changes people’s memory of events and places. They’ve also mixed several truths & legends in to one, big conspiracy theory!

      The Naval park was situated in Westcliff. A play park for the surrounding married-quarters accommodation. In the corner was a compound which housed an observation bunker, known as a ROC post. I can see how it would have peaked the interest of local children, watching “official-looking” RAF personnel venture down in to it. The truth is that these bunkers were only small rooms. 15-20ft at their longest I would say. At the bottom of the access shaft, in the darkness, it would probably appear to small children that there were “three corridors branching off” – sadly not the case. In truth, there’s two directions at the bottom of the ladder, one to the main monitoring room, and another to a cupboard with a toilet! A close relative of mine was a volunteer in the Royal Observer Corps and stationed at the Westcliff post and they’ve confirmed that this post was no different to the rest!

      As for the other points they mention, yeah, there’s tunnels all over Portland for sure, but nothing like a “vast network” all connecting. There is an underground hospital, sure, and the submarine pen is an ongoing urban legend of Portland, no hard evidence to support it at all! HMS Osprey had z-berth submarine pens for the occasional visit of nuclear submarines, so perhaps Chinese Whispers are at work there.

      So sadly, whoever wrote that has been living in a bit of a dream world, all conjured up by inaccurate childhood memories!

  16. Rick says:

    This is the type of stuff I live for, except for the cops… Is there ever any times where patrol would not be there? Or even similiar places near Portland?

  17. Tom says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but are those BB’s littered on the floor in most of the pictures? Would be a very interesting place to do such.

  18. Nick says:

    Tried to visit this place on the weekend but with no luck as there were cameras following us outside the fences then a truck turned up so we ran lol. Is there a good way in?

  19. Jack Hyndman says:

    I have tried to find this place but no luck, ended up at this place with rubble mounds and diggers etc, got very lost, could someone please give me some guidence on how to get there, thanks
    Jack

  20. shanice says:

    I was down here last week. I’ve lived on Portland all my life but took some friends down it’s so easy to get to it we ended going right down to Portland Port and guard had to let us out through bottom, luckily we knew him but it’s so fun I’ve been going to MOD since I was 10 I’m now 22 but there is so much to explore but there is deffo dangerous parts, I felt like I was on an episode of Casualty and something bad was going to happen lol! But there is so much people don’t know about like the underground tunnel where you need an oxygen mask – God knows where that leads you but anyway it’s great fun.

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      What you found there is the underground gas storage holders. Search for ‘Portland gas bunkers’ and you’ll find more information on it.

    • Tristan says:

      Hi Shanice,

      Would it be possible to get the guard’s contact information, we would like to shoot a student film there but we want to make sure we have permission to do so.

      Kind regards

      Tristan

  21. Sophie Hughes says:

    These images are amazing! Me and my brother would love to see all of this but we don’t know how to sneak in. We once managed to crawl under a fence near the firing range and we walked a bit further from it and saw a few of the buildings but we got worried we would get caught and went back. Our parents were born on Portland and we have been very curious of all the old secret buildings since we were kids. I came across this website today and I’m so happy I did! Thank you so much for posting these photos :)

  22. The Joss says:

    Great times up there training, be very careful if you go off any track as there are several underground storage tanks that have rotted tops and you may fall into and won’t be able to get out. There is a flooded access tunnel to the right of the site as you look at it from the internal road that used to go up to Osprey.

    The training there was as real as you can imagine, real petrol bombs, fire, snipers, natural disasters including earthquakes and rescuing everything from children to pregnant women from collapsed buildings, great fun.

    Just be careful, no photograph is better than no you!

  23. Dan says:

    I went with my kids today. It’s a great place but after half an hour we were discovered and escorted off the site in a police van… made the day all the more exciting for my kids! He did say I was criminally trespassing although I thought that was only on MOD or Crown owned land

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      Haha! That must have been exciting for them!

      I assume it was Port Police? There are parts of the Island which are Crown Land. And I believe areas of the port could be.

      Still, you must have been really unlucky! I’ve not heard of anyone getting escorted out of here in years!

      • Dave Oliver says:

        Spent many an afternoon on the DISTEX site when based at Portland. Pictures bring back lots of memories; setting fires, booby traps and pelting the guys on the other side of the barriers with anything we could lay our hands on. Have you checked out the ROTOR site on top of the island? Thanks Dave

  24. Jess says:

    We head to Portland exploring quite a few weekends, I find the place absolutely fascinating and it’s always throwing up hidden gems. Tried to find this place today, saw some interesting bits and pieces, but nothing as per your photos. Not sure where I went wrong?

    It’s definitely a shame people aren’t looking after such a rich heritage although I have to say, I do enjoy being able to explore in the true sense without someone telling us where we can and can’t go and possibly charging us for the privilege. Bit of a double edged sword really. Also would hate these places to get so gummed up with tourists everywhere you look but appreciate something needs to be done. :/

    • The Urban Explorer says:

      I know exactly what you mean! It’s sad to see somewhere slowly crumble away, but I also would hate to see Health & Safety barriers and railings everywhere and being shown things from a distance. Plus, if everywhere was protected & restored I wouldn’t have a hobby!

      E-mail me if you’re still unsure how to get there and I’ll see if I can help you out.

      • Jess says:

        Thank you, sorry my notifications dont seem to come up on my email. I will email you and hopefully I can go back down and take another look! Luckily I am only about 30 miles away from Portland so we can do day trips. I’ve even considered taking a caravan holiday down there so we can make the most of exploring! Do you have a FB page?

      • Jess says:

        I have a few pics which I can email or if you’re on FB post, you can see where I ‘got’ (only iPhone pics but to give an idea) I guess you can see my email…. I’ve really got the bug with this, I have a five and 3year old, and a husband and two dogs, so have to be a bit careful, if there’s anyone going down that way, I’d be interested in doing an explore sans kids, just so I can really get stuck in ;)

        • Nat says:

          Hi Jess, we go to Portland exploring quite a lot and would be happy to explore with you!

          • Ishka says:

            Hi Nat I live in Dorset and am really hoping to go some of these places although the bf is too scared to come with me but abandonned photography is something I take a huge interest I’d be really interested to explore there with you can you get in contact with me at all as not sure how to use this site (first time posting)

  25. Oscar says:

    This really is awesome. Thank you for the update. As soon as we saw the post we knew we had to take a visit and what a day out it was. I have a feeling we came a long way round down from the car park near Fancy’s Farm but we made it through eventually. Brilliant stuff, keep it going :)

  26. Steve Jackson says:

    I spent many a summers day exploring this site as a kid along with many other youngsters. I must admit that I haven’t been down there for years but have read many reports about how the place is being slowly desecrated.

    I was born on the island as were several generations of my family. This island has so much history but this seems to matter for nothing. The mainland has always been able to do what it wanted to the island and I feel we have now become a dumping ground for rubbish and that includes the immigrants they will be dumping on us. We used to have some strong characters looking after our interests, where are they now? I don’t mean that in any way derogatory towards the likes of those on this great site but more to the money grabbing Kimberliners!

  27. Ben B says:

    Brill article, I used to go exploring round there when I was a kid! If you’re interested I have some photos I took at the time whilst hiding from the security van.

  28. mark peters says:

    Great photos and post, the radiator on the floor is funny as I tried to nab these as a kid.
    On a sober note, why are Portland Port allowed to treat our heritage this way, if this was in Weymouth it would be turned into a tourist site rather than letting it rot, and don’t get me started on them not opening up a path to The Grove, disgusting.

  29. Stuart Morris says:

    It’s about time the desecration and damage was stopped. Unfortunately not all the Victorian buildings, defence works and batteries at East Weares are listed yet. I wrote to English Heritage in March 2012: “I am extremely concerned about the despoliation which is taking place at East Weares, Portland. It is within the Portland Port area, but I am sure what is happening goes beyond their permitted rights.

    “A large amount of material is being dumped on and near the 19th century defence works. There does not appear to have been any significant demolition within the port recently, so presumably the rubble and detritus has been brought in.

    “The attached photos also show what appears to be some sort of waste transfer setup.

    “Can I please urge that these aspects are investigated urgently?

    “1. Damage to the structures and setting of the Victorian defence features. The main tipping is at ‘C’-Battery (1869). These historic features of course are irreplaceable. The NMR English Heritage Monument Number is 451839, Sy 67 Se 45.

    “Of equal importance to the stone and concrete structures are the earthworks which are (were) an integral part of the installations.

    “I have not had close access, but I am worried that the contemporary ironwork has also been destroyed – or taken as scrap.

    “2. Tipping is destroying the profuse scrubland of this coastal slope.
    The councils and Natural England were heavily involved in the protection of the area in the ordnance clearance scheme in 1996 (and I recall that action was taken over trees ‘inadvertently’ destroyed). Subsequent natural regeneration has been remarkable.

    “3. I do not know what has been dumped but I am told that sources may include buildings demolished on the mainland. If so, and if the authorities have done no monitoring, there must be fears of hazardous materials (including asbestos?) being buried.

    “4. As the photos show, a lot of equipment has been installed around the site. It is all a hideous disfigurement of an otherwise attractive and important part of the Island coast. It matters not that there is not direct public access; it is still an important part of the scene and should be prized and protected as the rest of the Heritage Coast.

    “It was remarkable that so much of the monument and natural interests survived the ‘Thursday War’ mock battles of the Navy and SAS, but the new activities are more destructive. None of this appears to be related to essential port operations or infrastructure.
    This follows the large-scale dumping on the grassland of the former rifle range, and the destruction of the superb all-weather Astroturf sports pitch nearby.”

    I hope Urban Explorers can pursue this urgently. Thanks.

  30. Sara Harpley says:

    Please put your ‘big boy’ pants on.. :-)

  31. Owen says:

    Very good report. Well taken pictures, felt like I was there with you. Thanks for sharing.

  32. Steve says:

    Great report and about an area I would love to get into. Information I never knew before too. Great pictures as always.

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