Rufus Castle

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Rufus Castle

Castle/Historic House

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Review of "Rufus Castle"

published 13/10/2013 | 80smusicreviewer
Member since : 07/05/2011
Reviews : 146
Members who trust : 99
About me :
Many thanks for all rates, I will always return but may need a week to do so.
Pro A wonderful historic ruin, excellent surrounding views, easy to get to
Cons Not fully open to public, most visitors only know of Portland Castle
Is it worth visiting?
Transport links
Family Friendly

"Rufus Castle"

Rufus Castle as seen from the walkway past Portland Museum.

Rufus Castle as seen from the walkway past Portland Museum.

Introduction and History

Rufus Castle, also known as Bow and Arrow Castle, is a ruined castle overlooking Church Ope Cove on Portland, England. The castle is a Grade I listed building, dating from the late 15th century, on the site of an earlier building (with origins dating from 1142) - making it Portland's oldest castle. Built directly off of the rock face, much of the original castle has been lost to erosion and collapse over the years. Remains include parts of the keep, outer bailey, sections of wall with gun ports and a 19th-century round-arched bridge across Church Ope Road. In recent years the castle has become available for the public to view on certain dates during the peak season, but only the exterior.

Rufus Castle was reportedly built for William II and that the structure still standing in ruins today was probably the keep of a larger castle. Although very little remains of the original castle, the possible exception is the arch that spans over the path from Church Ope Road. However, the archway has been rumoured to be of Tudor origin from when the castle was partly rebuilt. In 1142, Robert, Earl of Gloucester, had captured the castle from King Stephen on behalf of Empress Maud. It had additional fortifications added in 1238 by Richard de Clare who owned it at that time. Around 1256, Aylmer de Lusignan obtained a licence to crenellate the 'insulam de Portand' and Robert, Earl of Gloucester, was granted a similar licence just 14 months later. It is generally presumed that Rufus castle is the site of any work that may have resulted from these licences and any remains that may date from the period exist only at foundation level, or have been lost to cliff erosion. It was rebuilt in the 15th century between 1432-50, and much of what remains today dates from this time. In an article in the Free Portland News issue of May 2010, it was reported that the remaining ruins of the castle might be a folly built by John Penn, who owned the nearby Pennsylvania Castle, sometime in the early 1800s and therefore nothing like the castle seen in the late 1700s. In 1989, the castle's seaward arch collapsed.


Extensive restoration and consolidation work was carried out to Rufus Castle in 2010-2012 on behalf of English Heritage, under their scheme of repair and urgent works. The castle was listed on the Heritage at Risk Register in 2010, and has also been on the register for the following two years. Circa mid-2008, the castle was listed as being ruinous and in need of conservation repair and consolidation. As reported in a Dorset Echo article at the time, the owner was working up a repair scheme, some emergency repairs were completed to stabilise collapsing masonry and English Heritage offered a grant for the main repair scheme. Originally work began in 2010 by historic building and church architect Russ Palmer of Honiton, Devon. At this time the remaining structure was in a vulnerable and dangerous condition standing immediately above a public footpath. With the aid of the English Heritage grant, the project firstly involved investigation of the condition of the castle and the implementation of the first stage of recommended repairs, which were partly funded by the English Heritage grant. The Stage One investigations established that the castle was of 15th century origin and that extensive repairs were needed, initially to the north walls. This involved core drilling using roped access and the removal of ivy which shrouded the north wall and the cliff below. Palmer produced a specification for the work and after competitive tenders were obtained work was carried out by Carrek Ltd between May and October 2010 for a cost of £150,000. The work included the consolidation of the top of the walls and the exposed core at low level, grouting voids between the core and the face of the wall, and repointing. The main structural problem was due to a large arch inserted at the north west corner in about 1800. The wall above the arch was in a dangerous condition and it was strengthened with Cintec anchors and partly rebuilt. The remaining masonry was also consolidated and repairs using specialist technics such as gravity grouting, cintec anchors, recording using tracing frames etc was completed. The project was hampered by a boundary wall collapse adjacent to the site as well as visiting seagulls looking for a nesting site. The work was finished by November 2010.

Castle Design

The castle, constructed in the form of a pentagon, has 7-foot-thick walls pierced by numerous loop-holes meant to allow archers to fire at attackers. This gave the castle an alternative name; "Bow and Arrow" Castle. It is built with Portland stone. Rufus Castle features walls of roughly squared rubble and no roof. The walls to the north and west stand to their full height and retain at the top a number of shaped corbels for a machicolated parapet, but part of the south-east wall, which is thinner, has broken away. To the south-west is a gateway with four-centred, arched head; to the north is a 19th-century gateway with a round-arched head approached by a bridge of the same date. In the south-east wall is a chamfered stone jamb of a doorway which has been closed up. In the north and west walls, at first-floor level, are five embrasures, splayed internally under segmental rear arches, with circular gunports. Outside the south gateway are the remains of stone footings and there are said to have been further buildings to the east, where the cliff has fallen away. The pentagonal tower of Bow and Arrow Castle overlooking Church Ope Cove has late Medieval gunholes, but rests uncomfortably on an earlier foundation to the north and stepped plinth to the west which may have been a 12th-century keep.


Rufus Castle is within the grounds and ownership of the adjoining Castle Keep, and was formerly part of the estate of the nearby Pennsylvania Castle. In the early 1990s it was intended to be purchased for £1 by Mark Watson, a writer and broadcaster on royalty and genealogy, but this did not materialise. He had written books on royalty such as Royal Families Worldwide.

In the Sunday Mirror issue from 10 August 1997, an interview/article based on Watson was written by Caroline Sutton. In the article, which had the headline "Hello darling... I'm king of the £1 castle.", Watson revealed his desired plans to turn the castle into a tourist attraction, with the article writing "Home is a council house, he drives a shaky old car and his income amounts to shirt buttons. But Mark Watson has just snapped up his very own clifftop castle...for £1. Now Mark, wife Caroline and their four children can't wait to show the castle off to the royals who often pop in to their terraced house for tea - honestly. Mark, 33, believes that battered Rufus Castle - built on the Dorset coast by William The Conqueror's son - can be transformed into a national treasure. He has already set his plans into motion and predicts that restoration will cost at least £250,000. He said: "People may think it's a mad scheme, but I'm sure it will work. I want to set up a fund and restore it as a local bit of heritage and a tourist attraction." Warning bells might have sounded to anyone but Mark when the last owners felt the castle was such a liability that they were willing to let it go for a quid. At least Mark's home in Kinson, Bournemouth, provides a roof over their heads and three bedrooms. The castle has no roof and not even four walls. But Mark's colourful outlook and big plans convinced the former owners he was the right man to take it on. He's had a succession of jobs since leaving school at 16 and now concentrates on tracing family trees."

Although the castle remains privately owned, the castle allows visitors access to the exterior only from 10am-2pm on a number of dates from April-September. Situated next to the castle is a bungalow and private gardens with an outdoor swimming pool which has no public access. Any visitors to the castle are directed to go through a stone archway at bottom of Wakeham, near the museum, and follow down the private road past a bungalow, and finally ring the bell to let the occupants know you are visiting their grounds.

My Opinion

Rufus Castle was another important piece of Portland history which I didn’t know existed. The castle I always knew about, as would most people, is Portland Castle, found down in Castletown near Portland Harbour. This castle, still in excellent condition throughout, is open to the public and run by English Heritage, whereas its sister castle across the bay Sandsfoot Castle in Wyke Regis, Weymouth, had fallen into ruin for many centuries, until in recent years it has been preserved and now people can walk around the inside of the remains. That leaves the only other castle in the area, Rufus Castle. When I visited Church Ope Cove, the beach the castle overlooks, for the first time in what must have been April 2011, I was amazed at the castle and its grand position overlooking the cove far down below. I had been to the cove before as a young child, and as you under the archway you can see a huge crack in the rock that the castle sits on. As a child I do remember looking at the cracked rock but I can’t say I really remembered the castle! As I came to look into the history of so many of Portland’s features I discovered that like a lot of important monuments and buildings on the island, Rufus Castle has been left in neglect for all too long. Despite not being able to visit the castle due to its dangerous condition, anyway you walk around Church Ope Cove and nearby, the castle remained a great sight. In fact you can even get to the entrance of the bridge for another perspective of it although it is naturally well-fenced off.

The castle certainly has an odd romantic charm to it, and apart from the obvious rich historic past the site holds, there is also a peaceful and relaxing nature to the ruins. In fact there was one visit earlier this year with a friend who was rather tempted just to sneak into the castle and have a look. We didn’t of course, but that’s when I realised there was the bungalow and an outdoor swimming pool pretty much right next to the castle, as I hadn’t seen it before! What I didn’t realise at the time though was the restoration work done in 2010 and having recently looked into it properly I discovered that you can indeed view the castle on private grounds but the exterior only. Apparently even The Samaritans have a plant and book sale a couple of times a year in the grounds of the castle, the private garden, where access is allowed into the castle. Even though it would be great to have a castle you can enter free of charge at any time, it is great to be able to see it on certain dates. Perhaps one day the castle will be opened up properly. At least the restoration work will stop the castle from any further major damage too. Although the inside of the castle is obviously out-of-bounds to the public, there are some photos of the inside on the internet. As you expect the inside is plain and like any typical castle ruins. The main attraction if they did open it up properly is to not only look at the castle but the magnificent views surrounding it.


On the whole a visit to Rufus Castle is recommended for those in the area. Church Ope Cove is a favourite spot for me and it also holds the beach as an attraction, and in between the beach and the castle there are ruins of the 13th century church St. Andrews. This is another nice visit and near to that is Pennsylvania Castle – a Gothic Revival mansion, built in 1797-1800 to designs by James Wyatt for John Penn, Governor of Portland and grandson of William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Although private, John Penn’s Bath is on public land and those who are a little adventurous can take a small de-tour to visit this oval shaped stone bath. However for those who wouldn’t want to make a ‘day’ of Church Ope Cove, and wish to just see the castle then one can easily pass the museum (which is close to a free car park) and follow down a short pathway which takes you under the castle’s arch anyway. The castle is tucked away from any proper road though so seeing it as you drive past the area isn’t possible. A visit on one of the opening dates would also be recommended to those with a particular interest in castles, but for the majority of people I expect being able to see the castle from a good vantage point from the outside would be good enough.

The Wikipedia page I created for Rufus Castle can be found here:

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Comments on this review

  • Deesrev published 11/04/2014
    Superb review xXx
  • fizzytom published 13/11/2013
    Super read
  • kirstysian published 07/11/2013
    Very thing I would need to know. E
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Product Information : Rufus Castle

Manufacturer's product description

Castle/Historic House

Product Details

Type: Castle/Historic House

City: Isle of Portland


Listed on Ciao since: 08/10/2013