Where Weymouth meets Portland: Ferry Bridge

Or is that Ferrybridge? The name seems to be used both with and without a space. And you could argue that it’s where Wyke Regis meets Chesil Beach, not a boundary between Weymouth and Portland.

Leaving these minor details aside, Ferry Bridge is a landmark, albeit a minor landmark, that deserves a mention. And despite the name, Ferry Bridge is neither a ferry or a bridge. It’s bigger than that.

Ferry Bridge is the place where the Fleet lagoon meets the sea. The Fleet is the long, narrow natural lake that formed behind Chesil Beach thousands of years ago. Sea water seeps into the lagoon through the beach but it also flows in and out, with the tide, at the Ferry Bridge opening. At the time it was known as Smallmouth Passage.

Ferry Bridge is also the historic crossing point from the mainland to the Isle of Portland. It’s not technically an island, being connected to the mainland by the miles of pebbles that make up Chesil Beach.

The bridges of Ferry Bridge

Ferry Bridge as seen from Portland, with the bridge, the pub and Smallmouth cove
Ferry Bridge as seen from Portland, with the bridge, the pub and Smallmouth cove

While you can walk from Abbotsbury to Portland without getting your feet wet (except in serious storms), it’s an impractical journey along the stony causeway. The quicker route is from Weymouth via Ferry Bridge. Which is why a ferry was established there hundreds of years ago.

An alternative to the ferry, at low tide, was to cross the Smallmouth sands. Today’s Old Castle Road, which runs past Sandsfoot Castle and down to Castle Cove Sailing Club, was also a road to Portland. Leading to the beach, it opened the way to crossing the shallow waters.

Today's rather dull crossing point at Ferry Bridge
Today’s rather dull crossing point at Ferry Bridge

Two hundred years ago there was growing demand to replace the ferry with a bridge and it finally happened in 1839. It wasn’t where the bridge is today, but right beside the Ferry Bridge pub. That’s because the pub, built on the site of the ferry man’s house, used to be right beside the crossing point, Smallmouth Passage. In the 1980s point where the sea enters the Fleet was moved to where the modern bridge now stands.

The original wooden bridge was replaced by an iron structure in 1896. This in turn was succeeded by the current bridge in 1985. It’s an uninspiring, functional road carrier that does its job without attempting to make any statement about it historical or geographical significance.

For a while a second bridge, carrying a railway, also crossed at this point. Demolished in the early 1970s, all that remains are the bridge supports at the northern end, at the southern tip of the Rodwell Trail.

The Ferry Bridge pub

The Ferry Bridge pub which closed August 2015
The Ferry Bridge pub which closed August 2015

During the Great Storm of 1824 the ferryman lost his life and his home, along with accommodation built for travellers, was swept away. Today the spot is occupied by the heavy brick building known as the Ferry Bridge, the last pub and the last building before crossing onto Chesil Beach.

Previously known as the Royal Victoria Inn (the name is occasionally revealed when the weather chooses to rip away more recent signage), this solid Victorian construction is due to be demolished and replaced by homes and a restaurant. The pub closed in late August 2015.

When it was built, the pub stood right beside the Smallmouth channel connecting the Fleet with Portland Harbour. The remodelling work of the 1980s moved the channel to the site of today’s bridge.

 

 

 

 

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