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Friends of the Rodwell Trail and Sandsfoot Castle

We are a friendly community group of volunteers. The ‘Friends of Rodwell Trail’ were formed in 2005 and incorporated Sandsfoot Castle and Gardens in 2008 to become the ‘Friends of the Rodwell Trail and Sandsfoot Castle’. We are established for local members and the public benefit to work in partnership with the landowners. With the 2019 changes to Council structure the development and management of Sandsfoot Castle and Gardens is with Weymouth Town Council.  We also work in partnership with the landowners of the Rodwell Trail, Dorset Council in the same manner. We meet regularly to plan and respond to issues and post all our activities on the noticeboard fixed to the wall of Sandsfoot Café, and published in the Dorset Echo, BBC Solent Radio, Wessex FM and via our website.

We welcome all.  We endeavour to make all our activities inclusive and where possible free. We respond to all ideas and comments posted on our website and Facebook group.

Map and Information Leaflet

The Friends designed and distribute a handy A3 fold out leaflet which maps the route from Weymouth town centre to Ferrybridge on route to the Isle of Portland which can be obtained from the Tourist Information Centre, Sandsfoot Café and downloaded from our website. This provides information on the wildlife, history and amenities of both Trail and Sandsfoot Castle and the Gardens.

Green Flag Award

In June 2013 the Friends and Council were thrilled that their application for a Green Flag for Sandsfoot Castle and Gardens was successful. This award recognises the hard work put in by everyone involved in the partnership to renovate the castle and gardens.  Today the Green Flag continues to proudly fly, evidence of our Welcoming Place which encourages Healthy Activities in a Safe and Secure setting. It is well Maintained and Clean, has a positive approach on the Local Environmental Impact, conserves Biodiversity Landscape and Heritage. The Flag also recognises the Community Involvement, Educational and Interpretational Communications and that the gardens have an implemented management plan.

Sandsfoot Castle Restoration Project

Sandsfoot Castle is listed by English Heritage and is Weymouth’s only Scheduled Monument. It was on the At Risk Register suffering from neglect, coastal erosion and vandalism. In 2010, working together, the Friends and the Council’s parks team submitted and received a Second Round Heritage Lottery Fund to stabilise, preserve and monitor the structure of the Castle and make it safe for public access.  The Castle is now open day and night with free safe open access.

Garden Information Board

In front of the café, with the majestic view of Portland and its harbour beyond the gardens, is an information board which introduces the main features of the place.

Castle Information Boards

The Friends have provided visitors to the Castle with illustrated historical information boards and can enjoy stepping out on a beautiful balcony looking over the cliff to Portland Harbour. They can also enrich their visit by listening to the free download Castle Audio Guide available from.
The Friends have design and published a fully illustrated history guide book which can be purchased from Sandsfoot Café.

‘Tudor’ Flower bed at Sandsfoot Gardens

There is a formal layout to the upper ornamental Gardens reminiscent of a Tudor geometry. A generous local resident donated £500 to buy shrub that would have been planted in the days of Henry VIII. The Parks Section was able to revamp an old rose flower bed adjacent to the central fish pond. The parks gardeners take special care to plant annual colourful flowers to complement the flowering shrubs, herbs and evergreens so that all through the year there is an attractive exhibition of  care and celebration of the outdoors which is enjoyed by All.

Handrail for footsteps by Sandsfoot Cafe

The same local resident who donated plants funds is interested in achieving accessibility for all.  The funds provided also donated a new handrail for the steps by Sandsfoot Cafe to help visitors into the gardens climb the steps safely.

The Pond

The square pond is a central feature in the geometric layout.  There is a polite notice at the garden entrance advising parents to take care of small children at the water feature. Fish thrive in our pond [and arrive in secret]. The water feature is an attraction with its fountain changing through the seasons with freezing in the winter to refreshing sounds in the summer. 
The Friends have noted that the vertical sides of the pond are not wildlife friendly to frogs and toads or even hedgehogs, if they should fall in, and are considering ways that this could be resolved and achieved.  A design will be presented to the Council in due course.

Water Lilies

Bennetts Water Gardens, Weymouth, holders of national and international collections of water lilies donated the ponds fine and beautiful water lilies which adorn the central pond with fountain flowering from late May to September.  They continue to advice on their best maintenance.

Wildlife

The Gardens are located in the Portland Harbour Shore SSSI and, as such, are very important as a wildlife habitat on this part of the coast.  The Friends membership includes expert naturalists, geologists and a geomorphologist who take care to note the health of this place and all its residents.  Free public events are organised by the Friends to introduce people to Bat Watching, Bug Hunts and Nature Walks.  On a quiet first light, if you are lucky, you might see our local badgers cross the Gardens.  Of an evening a fox is often seen rushing on his way and a heron or two are frequently studying the fish in the pond or do they eat the frog spawn as well? The deer, which mostly reside in the undercliff, occasionally make a visit too.

Reinstatement of a Footbridge in Sandsfoot Gardens

In times past the Gardens became neglected with no café and no general care and supervision.  There used to be a lot of littering, antisocial behaviour and the old bridge was burnt down by hooligans.  Since the Friends and the café owner started working with the Parks team in the Gardens it has become a place of pride and are now mostly litter free with regular locals quietly supporting the Council to keep things just lovely. The replacement footbridge which is located on axis with the Castle crosses the old moat. The bridge was achieved by the Friends working with the Council to reinstate this important link from the ornamental Gardens to the Sandsfoot Castle. Infills to the handrails have recently been upgraded with galvanised vertical rods and the footway is formed of softwood profiled deck panels.

Henrietta Hedgehog Children’s Quiz

There is a fun quiz prepared by the Friends to introduce information of interest to visitors and their families incorporating aspects of the history and nature found in the Gardens. Copies are distributed via the Tourist Information Centre and the café. It can be downloaded from the Friends website and is designed to be easily reproduced for groups and schools.

Human Sundial

The Human Sundial, where your own shadow tells the time, is located by the café.  It was initiated and managed by the Friends and opened on 5 September 2014. The Sandsfoot Castle Cafe Racers, who are a cycle group meet and set off regularly at the Gardens, together with Council Parks Department funded the project.  A very big thank you to all involved. 

Litter Picks

The Friends, together with local residents, are aided by the Council to carry out spring and autumn litter picks. Starting at the Gardens we work along the entire gardens and Trail.  It is a lovely way to meet local adults, young people and children to chat and share ideas whilst collecting rubbish on each clean-up operation and great to see it all carted away in the Council van!

Star Gazing

Each winter we invite a local people, including children, to join the Friends and Weymouth Astronomy Club on a dark starry evening for a FREE evening of Star Gazing and Fascinating Talks introducing you to the wonders of the universe at Sandsfoot Castle, refreshments are made available at the café.  You need to wrap up warmly and bring binoculars and a red light torch if you have one.  Check for adverse weather on our website and Facebook for alternative arrangements.

Events and One off Entertainments

The Friends have hosted and assisted other groups to host a wide variety of events in the Gardens; the free events are the most popular. Tudor Picnics, Art in the Park, Music Concerts, Choir recitals, Theatre, Civil War re-enactment complete with canon fire, Dawn Yoga have all been a great success. The castle itself has very interesting acoustics and as a backdrop to activities on the lower lawn a superb setting with the very best of views!

All these need proper planning assessment and agreement with the Council to ensure safety and adequate access arrangements especially to safeguard emergency vehicles – even large fire engines access through Old Castle Road where there is minimal parking!  There are toilet facilities available when the café is open.

Wedding photography is a regular activity as it is such a beautiful place and the garden gets busy, especially on Saturdays and particularly in fine weather.

To host events in the gardens, please contact the Council’s Parks team.

Signage

There are ‘responsible dog owner’ signs on display at the entrance to the Gardens. Irresponsible dog owners who do not pick up after their dogs are a particular concern, especially where children play and roll on the grass. The group is working with the Dog Warden, the Parks Section and other responsible dog owners to help tackle the problem. The Gardens are not a dog toilet. Grab it, Bag it and Bin it is our motto!

Get involved

The Friends welcome all to join our activities which are posted on the Gardens noticeboard by the café, our Facebook page and on the website where you can also post comments, pictures and ideas.  The Friends are a group of volunteers who are pleased to help enhance the area.