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.
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?!
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!
NOTICE: New bylaws introduced in 2018 at Portland Port are in effect and people are being convicted of, “entering or leaving a harbour premises other than by a designated entrance or exit, other than in an emergency”.