We spent a good half the day on the Island, which is full of little villages and some interesting landmarks…
Isle of Portland: (Including Easton, Fortuneswell, Weston and Others)
Status: Weymouth and Portland District, Dorset, England
Eating & Sleeping: Portland Bill Cafe
Attractions: Portland Bill Lighthouse, Young Offenders Institute, Weymouth and Portland Sailing Academy, Gold Post Box
We started at the far edge of the Island, looking out to sea, but France and the Channel Islands are too far to see so it was just a vast expanse of water. The main landmark on the Island is Portland Bill Lighthouse, which is one of a number to stand on this spot. The island is quite isolated on that side so it stops ships running aground.
The current lighthouse is also the largest, at 135 feet tall, in its distinctive red and white striped livery. It was completed in 1906, and since 1993 has been a Grade II listed structure. It is open to the public and you can go up to the lamp gallery itself, which we did. Inside you can walk up the winding staircase around the inner wall of the building and gaze down at the pieces of machinery, and the view from the top is fantastic, out to sea, back over to Dorset and over the rest of the island.
The lighthouse is no longer operated by hand, and was de-manned in 1996. There are 53 steps to the top, but it doesn’t feel that many, and its worth the climb.
The area around the lighthouse, and most significantly, below it, is a plethora of small cliff faces that people were climbing up and down and exploring the rocky bottom. These are underneath the lighthouse which stands at the top of the cliff face. We had good fun exploring, and did a decent section of the rocks.
Further along, a monument stands on top of the cliff, bearing the initials TH, which stands for Trinity House, who own the current lighthouse, as well as the previous one since 1884.
We stopped for Cheesy Chips at the lighthouse cafe and shop (sat in a separate building just opposite the lighthouse) and moved into the centre of the island to the village of Easton, and we stopped in the picturesque park at its centre. It contains an impressive Clock Tower (1907) and some well looked after flower beds, as well as a small play park.
There are some fabulous stone buildings around the square that houses the park, which are shown above. They almost look like Cathedrals, but aren’t quite so grand, with the building on the right being the Methodist Church, which is still very eye catching.
For some reason my phone started playing up at this point and told me I was in France, which is miles away. I got at text saying welcome to France, which was a little strange… I had to wait till we got off the Island to text, so keep an eye on your mobiles if you visit.
On the other side of Easton we found a Gold Post Box dedicated to Helena Lucas, who won gold in the Paralympic Sailing.
From Easton we made our way back to the front of Island, facing back to Weymouth and the village of Wyke Regis which is technically where our caravan is. You might be wondering how exactly we got onto the island as I never mentioned a ferry? In actual fact there is a road linking the island to the mainland. You can see it going across the beach and from there a small bridge links it over to Wyke Regis.
The beach itself is called Chesil Beach, and is a staggering 18 miles long, starting at Portland and heading off around the Dorset Coast. It reaches a full height of 15 metres in some places, making it a formidable spit of sand. The beach is part of the Jurassic Coast Line in the area, which itself is even longer at 96 miles, stretching from Exmouth in Devon round to Swanage in Dorset. The cliffs date back to the Jurassic era as the name suggests and there have been many historical finds along its route.
On the right hand side of Chesil Beach you can see the Portland Harbour walls, which still have a naval presence.
The whole area came to international attention recently as it was the host venue for the sailing events for the London 2012 Olympics, at the Weymouth and Portland sailing academy, so a permanent memorial to the event was erected on the island. There were many sets of Olympic Rings in the UK for the Olympics, including across the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, and in Edinburgh, and on Tower Bridge in London.
Also on the island is a fort similar to the one in Weymouth, as well as the Young Offenders Institute, and HM Prison The Verne which obviously we couldn’t go inside but we got a look at the entrance, which was very foreboding. The institute is in the buildings that originally housed the prison opened in 1848 for adults. By 1988 it was converted into an institute for young males, as the Young Offenders institute. Although it is a slightly grim subject, the institute is a landmark on the island. The remains of other parts of the prison are also visible on the island, and are quite interesting to discover.
In the village of Wakeham, which is also on the island, is the Portland Museum, covering the Island and a lot of the Jurassic Coast. It is only open May – November, when it closes for the winter and reopens the following May. Another portion of the museum also talks about Portland stone, which was quarried on the island, and used in many famous structures around the world including the Cenotaph in London, St Paul’s Cathedral also in London, The Port of Liverpool Building in Liverpool and 100 King Street, Manchester as well as the United Nations Building in New York, USA.
Portland is a lovely island and was my favourite place from Dorset during our visit there. Its got many places to explore, and gives a stunning view back over to the mainland as you saw before. The only access to the island is by road but it is direct access back to Weymouth and beyond so it’s no trouble.
Next time, we visit the historic Dorset county town of Dorchester…