Rufus Castle, Dorset


Bridge to the castle
Cliff to the southeast

Minor but picturesque ruins on a cliff edge, overlooking the coast, on the east side of the Isle of Portland; a pentagonal tower, built in the 15th century. Above a pebble bay (Church Ope Cove), and near the ruins of the medieval St Andrew's Church
Privately owned
At the end of Church Ope Road, off Pennsylvania Road; DT5 1HS
Photo Tour (15 images)
Rufus Castle is one of two ancient fortifications on the Isle of Portland, and very different to the other, the much better known Portland Castle, built in 1541 by Henry VIII to protect Portland Harbour. The origins of Rufus are much older, as the first castle on the site was erected in the late 12th century, for William II (whose nickname was Rufus owing to his red hair), though nothing remains of this, and instead the visible ruin dates from the mid 15th century, when the fort was rebuilt, under the command of Richard the 3rd Duke of York. This later castle consists of an irregularly five-sided tower, at the edge of a cliff on the east side of the island, above a sheltered pebble bay, Church Ope Cove; quite a dramatic location, enhanced by tall trees along the cliffs, shielding the site from the nearby more recent buildings.

The castle seems not to have been much used and had been abandoned for several hundred years by the time the writer and statesman John Penn (died 1834) constructed a Gothic style mansion (Pennsylvania Castle) 500 feet west; as part of this project the original castle, which fell within the estate, was modified to create a more picturesque ruin, with additions including an arched bridge leading to new entrance. In recent years the tower has undergone extensive repairs, though it retains most of its original features. All is still privately owned however, not accessible to the public, but the exterior can be viewed quite well from an adjacent path, which passes under the bridge, and from the cove below.


Church Ope Cove is provided with a free carpark, along Pennsylvania Road, on the south side of the village of Easton. The castle itself is not signposted, but easily reached, by walking down a path that starts at the end of the short Church Ope Road, also used to access the Portland Museum. This path leads below the north side of the castle to a viewing area with bench, and a junction with the coast path, which descends a flight of steps to the cove. Another walking route to the beach leaves the main road just south of the parking area, runs along the perimeter of Pennsylvania Castle and descends into a wooded glen, at the edge of which are the sparse remains of the medieval St Andrews Church, in use until the mid 1700s.

The Castle

Rufus Castle is now contained within the garden of a private house, so cannot be entered but may be seen close up from the north and east sides, and from a longer distance to the south. The bridge leading to the north side entrance, (both created in the 19th century) is fenced off, and leads to an overgrown area above the path, which stays some way below the base of the walls. The castle is built on top of an isolated block of Portland stone, somewhat reduced in size by erosion over the centuries, a process that has destroyed some exterior structures to the southeast. The tower has full height walls to the north and west, topped by several projecting corbels, once supporting a parapet. The original entrance is in the southwest wall, still complete, while another, blocked doorway can be seen to the southeast. All five walls are pierced by many small, circular gun ports and square scaffold support holes.

Church and Cove

The first religious building at Church Ope Cove was probably built by the Saxons, and the church was reconstructed on several occasions, most recently in the mid 15th century, followed soon after by addition of a separate tower. Landslips later caused the building to become unstable, and it was finally abandoned in 1756. The church was partly dismantled, and the remains left to decay; they were further degraded as a result of bombing during World War II. Visible components include the exterior walls, rising to a maximum height of six feet, the arched doorway at the base of the belltower, assorted gravestones, and three tombs. The path past the church descends to the cove, originally a sandy beach but now filled with pebbles as a result of erosion of debris from several local quarries, dumped during Victorian times. The surrounding coastline is formed of a mix of jumbled rocks, remains of ancient landslips, and grassy mounds - not especially scenic, but containing a few shapely stone formations. The cove is lined with several dozen beach huts, since this is a popular location for fishing and swimming, in part due to its sheltered setting, well protected from the westerly wind.

Church Ope Cove
Church Ope Cove