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. Codswallop. And the truth isn’t that hard to uncover with a quick bit of research.

Portland ROTOR bunker
Image 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

The bungalow and ROTOR bunker has been scheduled and protected by the new owners of Fancy’s Farm. They’ve previously opened the bunker for official tours to interested groups, however they’re now planning on sealing the bunker indefinitely while they convert the bungalow in to accommodation so they can live on-site 24/7 caring for the animals.

The ROTOR bunker is an important part of our country’s history & heritage and it’s one of only a few surviving ROTORs and the owners of Fancy’s Farm are doing a great job at preserving it.

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.

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Important, noteworthy & interesting comments are highlighted below

  1. Mark Sapsard says:

    I used to show visitors down there when the Navy owned it as part of the Verne Receiver Station.
    One group I took down had the plans for the ops room and after a bit of floor clearing, we found the hatch to the under floor projector room. No projector there, the void was half full of water but it was so clean, none of the fires had got through. Not sure who took the fllor but it was intact then. Shame they took the stairs out before selling it.

    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      That’s interesting Mark! I believe the stairs were deemed too dangerous to remain.

      1. Alison Marchant says:

        Moors Valley Country Park, Osmington, Weymouth, Dorset has an Open Day to visit The WW2 Bombing Decoy Bunker on 20 Sept. 2020 if anyone with military interest? Unfortunately my husband and I are holidaying there too early. We sent an e-mail to ask if they would open it for us if we made a generous donation but no.
        Just wanted to inform anyone who may be keen to visit this site aware of the Open Day. MVT member from Oxford.

      2. Mark Sapsard says:

        I didn’t think so but to make it safer to sell and restrict what they could use it for, the MOD removed them and the lift that was still installed in the middle of the staircase.

      3. Nigel says:

        Will be open to visits in the near future.

        1. The Urban Explorer says:

          Interesting. Not sure how that would be made possible (safe) for the general public without spending a lot of money.

        2. Graham masters says:

          Hi Nigel
          Is it actually going to be open to look around, if it is I am very interested. If you could let me know that would be great thanks.

        3. RSJ says:

          With the Ukraine being under attack, we now see a real threat of nuclear war. Putin is trigger happy and it’s a real danger it could happen. Bunkers like this should be preserved and updated inside for at least some. The country should be better prepared with more underground places.

      4. Paul chubb says:

        I too have heard about an underground nuclear submarine station under Portland but have never been able to find out for sure. Anyone have any information on this?

    2. Philippa says:

      My friend used to rent this area for her horse and the “bungalow” was the tack and feed area, I remember going with her at night to feed the horses and it was creepy as hell the door inside the “bungalow” was welded shut but we could hear people behind, we always wondered what was behind and we did attempt at some point to try prising the door open but it was impossible until one evening on our usual horse feed night we noticed the door was ajar a bit we so creeped out, we practically threw the food into the field and got away as quick as possible ha ha we were such scaredy cats but I’m so pleased to have found this thread I’ve always wondered what was behind that damn door 😆

  2. Luke says:

    Just wondering if there is anyone in Dorset this coming Saturday that would be able to take me and a couple friends round some of the interesting sites located around! Email Luke.inkle@yahoo.com

    1. James Bennis says:

      It is amazing to go exploring! Creepy as hell at night!

  3. jay says:

    I’ve heard recently from an islander and local police officer that the ladder in the lift shaft has been removed for safety reasons! Can anyone confirm this? I thought the guy from Fancy’s Farm was considering a restoration? Any information would be great!


    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      No idea on the ladder, but it’s all irrelevant now anyway because the Fancy’s Farm owners have converted the bungalow in to their home.

      1. Jay says:

        Sounds like my ideal home to be honest

        1. The Urban Explorer says:

          Ha! And mine. Never mind, sadly you’ve missed the boat on this one by a good few years.

          1. Jay says:

            Sadly yes, I did attend the auction but only out of interest!

            Having read through the comments from Jon and others it sounds like sealing the door was the best thing to do for now. It sounds like a restoration would be an immense investment of time and money which understandably is not a priority, but who knows what the future will hold.

            I have been to Fancy’s Farm and as unusual as it is seeing all the animals in and amongst radar baseplates housings it was a good day out with plenty of different animals to see and had a decent chip butty too. Would highly recommend.

          2. Peter Hopkins says:

            Is this shelter related to the one my great uncle built after the second world war? He was mayor of Weymouth. His surname was Hopkins maybe Tom.


            Peter Hopkins

  4. The bunker was built in 1956. Myself and other kids that lived in the Verne at the time used to go around the governors house and watch it being built from the other side of the moat. We found it confusing that they built this building across the moat and then dug a hole in the field above it to cover it over. A year or so before this the radar pylon in the Verne was taken down and the RAF operators abandoned their Nissen hut and power house and moved over to the new site that was run by the RAF and USAF.

  5. Robert Hopkins says:

    What amazes me is the amount of craftsmanship and engineering that has gone into making this, yet there are few people on Portland that know about this hidden gem.

    My question really is, how does something this size get constructed without being noticed. There is so much earth movement that would have been involved.

    Did they construct this from the bottom up or the top down?! My opinion is the former, in which case there must be another entrance somewhere most likely in the harbour which explains how they managed to get do so much without anyone knowing.

    Hope all makes sense?

    If anyone is taking a trip down here please contact me. Most appreciated. 07449334410

    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      Robert, the ROTOR is a fair distance away from the harbour – it would have been a real feat of engineering for any kind of entrance to span that far over that kind of terrain. There used to be an emergency exit shaft within the grounds but it’s been long concreted over.

      The majority of the bunker is actually in The Verne moat, so technically only a few feet underground. The construction would have been fairly simple and the earth piled on top. The entrance shafts & tunnel would have been the biggest part of engineering works, the process very similar (if not identical) to the miles & miles of London underground and (a bit closer to home) the underground communications HQ which was built only a few years prior.

      Keep an eye on the Subbrit.org.uk website. While I believe there’s no plans to re-open the bunker, they were the last group which organised a tour there.

    2. lyall griffiths says:

      Hi Rob I believe it was back-filled, basically there is a moat from the Victorian Verne prison and this is built within the moat and I believe it was built and then back-filled with earth and rubble so I would say very little was actually dug out apart from the lift shaft… I went down here a couple of times many years ago very exciting.

      1. Rob says:

        Thinking about this would there be an underground railroad through? The Portland underground hospital with a link to the bunker and then to the submarine bay apparently exists anyone else have info thanks.

        1. The Urban Explorer says:

          Not a chance, Rob. The ROTOR is a standalone structure. It’s not linked to anything else, the terrain just wouldn’t allow it.

  6. Mackarias says:

    Yeah I was walking around that area a couple of years ago. Attracted by their colourful sign I walked over to Fancys Farm to have a look. I was approached by a very angry man who from inside the fence accused me of trespassing. I hadn’t crossed any boundaries and was simply looking from outside of the fence. If you don’t want people to take interest in what you’re doing take down the colourful sign.

    1. Mike & liz says:

      Is there anyone wanting to go here with a bit of experience me and the other half would like to join you

      1. Jobe Burroughs says:

        I’ll come, been looking for places to take some photos.

        1. The Urban Explorer says:

          All you’ll be doing there is taking photos of sheep and petting goats I’m afraid. It’s currently a “family farm” and there’s no access to the bunker.

          1. Mike & liz says:

            Well yes but in the building?

            1. The Urban Explorer says:

              The building isn’t derelict anymore, it’s in use, alarmed and very much a no go.

  7. Chris Ford says:

    I moved. (Retired) to Portland 2 yrs ago…..so much to explore, am out every day with my camera.

  8. billy says:

    Hi, I’ve been following you page for a long time now, building my own little collection of photos of Portland’s forgotten history, a major interest of mine. The ROTOR bunker has been on my to do list but don’t know how I’ll be able to obtain access.

    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      Keep an eye on subbrit.org.uk events. They were the last people to organise an open day here.

    2. Jon says:

      You won’t gain access as I have welded the door closed due to copper thieves and lots of asbestos. The entrance is inside my house.

  9. Andy McBride says:

    Very surprised to see this it’s fantastic. Also shame to see some of the comments. I have an idea? How about everyone working together so at some point in the future others can see it if the owner wants this. It will obviously cost to implement ‘health and safety’ these days. So many people have jumped to conclusions clearly without having the knowledge to make such remarks. I used to live on the Island and never knew this existed. I don’t live there any longer. Look after what you have everyone! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Marcus says:

    Hi all, called in to Fancy’s Farm today (23.10.15) with my children as I’ve never even seen this end of the island (only live in Dorchester). I spoke to one of the employees and he said it’s all still sealed up unfortunately. Would love a chance to go and explore it. Excellent farm by the way Jon: kids loved it

    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      It’s surprising how many locals never venture to Portland, it’s a magnificent place to explore off the beaten track.

  11. Johnny says:

    Visited the site last year. Didn’t see the bunker of course, but Fancy’s Farm itself looked like a decent and organised place, and likely a very fun day out for young families! Surrounded by lovely scenery, would definitely be a nice day out.

    Jon if you do ever get to open the bunker I’ll be first in line, but best of luck with the farm and hope there’s not been too much disruption.

    1. D says:

      There’s one entrance open and one entrance is full of hardcore and rubble. I know the last owner who opened it. It was then broken into and copper cable stolen.

      1. Jacko says:

        Hi D, think you must be talking about the high angle battery not the bunker, as Jon says the entrance has been sealed, no longer accessible.

  12. 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

    1. 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. Rob says:

      Yep known for years I’d like to have a look, reckon the train line branched off.

  13. 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.


  14. 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.

  15. 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.

    1. 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!?

  16. 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.

    1. Spot on, Warren! There’s plenty of hidden tunnels and suchlike on Portland, you just need to know where to look!

    2. Luke Rodd says:

      How’s it going old timer

    3. Robert says:

      It’s the Moved here in 66 That’s Jogged me memory, Take a read of this mate.

  17. 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

    1. 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!)

      1. 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.

        1. 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.

  18. 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.


    1. The Urban Explorer says:

      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.

    2. 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


    3. Paolo says:

      If you could make it into an attraction that could be toured by visitors to the farm for an extra £5, or whatever, it could be a worthwhile asset. Families might not come to it on its own in sufficient numbers, but if they are coming to the farm anyway, then they may be tempted, and others might come just for the bunker once the press or tourist sites had begun to mention or feature it. The extra revenue stream and slightly more visitors, could even fund further diversification. Just a thought. Thanks for looking after it, anyway.

    4. mrs s price says:

      Are you going to open the bunker at any point? Is it still in your plans to try and open it? Would be very intrested if you were to…

      1. Jon Illsley says:

        We have no plans to ever open the bunker as the entrance is inside what is now our house.


    5. Rob says:

      Yep known for years I’d like to have a look reckon the train line branched off. Jon you’ve done an amazing thing remember I asked you about it with my son and partner and a owl on your shoulder hope all’s well and that tunnel Portland harbour is an amazing piece of history during the cold war! What great thing you do always get ambushed by your lama lol!

      1. Jon says:

        Hi Rob. I have now finished converting the building into our house and the farm is busy. The bunker is so full of asbestos that it is unsafe to enter.

        All the best.

  19. ROYCE says:

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

    1. The Urban Explorer says:

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

      1. 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.

        1. The Urban Explorer says:

          The bunker will be there a lot longer than the farm that’s currently on the site. You’ll see it one day.

          1. ROYCE says:

            Yeah I hope so, tonight me and my friends are going down Cheyne tunnels, dont know if you’ve heard of them before? We tried last night but the water was in on high tide.

            1. The Urban Explorer says:

              Do you mean the tunnel and water shaft underneath the pump house at Cheyne House? As mentioned here? http://www.geoffkirby.co.uk/Portland/690700/

              1. RYAN says:

                Hey, I’m one of Royce’s mates… it really is a disgrace about the bunker (and a lot of other sites on Portland!) That’s the tunnel we’re on about and we found it through Geoff’s website. I see you’re the one that reported it blocked, is it completely sealed off? Or is there any gap a few young and keen explorers could fit through? :P

                1. The Urban Explorer says:

                  Absolutely, I took those photos almost 2 years ago so I can’t say what it’s like there now though.

              2. ROYCE says:

                yeah that is the place I’m on about.

  20. 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

    1. It’s an absolute disgrace the bunker has been left to rot!! Such a shame!

    2. Peter Dunn says:

      Interesting to read about and see photos of where I did my national service 1955/1956.

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