Portland, Thomas Hardy's 'Isle of Slingers', juts out like a bird's beak into the
English Channel. This fascinating island offers the most perfect vantage point to marvel at the panoramic views of Dorset's Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site stretching both east and west along the Dorset coastline. Portland is home to the National Sailing Acedemy and along with neighbouring town Weymouth is pround to have been josen to play host to the sailing events in the 2012 Olympic Games.
Most visitors only know Portland for its famous stone or
the lighthouse but there's a lot more to discover, from walks along the
cliffs to exploring its varied history. Be sure to put it on your list of
places to visit whilst on holiday. The Isle of Portland is not really an
island, though it is only joined to the mainland by a narrow strip of land
and the Chesil Beach. The mass of land that juts out into the channel is
formed from a block of limestone 4 1/2 miles long by 3/4 of a mile wide
and rises from near sea level in the south to over 400 ft high in the north.
Portland has been inhabited since early times and traces of occupation have
been dated back 7,000 years. The Romans knew it as "Vindilis' and Thomas
Hardy wrote about it as 'The Isle of Slingers' due to the fact that Portlanders
used to throw stones to keep Kimberlins (strangers) away. It is a Royal
Manor and many of the quarries dotting the landscape are owned by the crown.
The breakwater, which forms one of the largest harbours in the world, some
2130 acres, was started in 1849. Prince Albert laid the foundation stone
on the 25 July and Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, laid the last stone on
18 August 1872. The twenty-three years of construction had cost the lives
of twenty-two men. Convicts, who had hewn 5,731,376 of stone to form the
breakwater, carried out most of the construction work at a cost, in 1871,
of £1,167,852. Inigo Jones had used Portland stone before the Civil War,
and Sir Christopher Wren, Weymouth's MP, used it to rebuild London after
the Great Fire of 1666. St Paul's Cathedral and some fifty other churches
and buildings were built with the famous white limestone. Over six million
tons were used in the rebuilding, the stone loaded onto barges from piers
on the east side of the island then transported along the coast and up the
River Thames to the building sites.
In 1972 approximately 600 tons of stone were quarried for the restoration
and repair of St Paul's. Included in the delivery was a block originally
selected and marked for Sir Christopher Wren, 300 years earlier. The stone
was also used for the Whitehall Cenotaph, the national memorial for the
dead of the Great War. A special quarry was opened at Wakeham for the carefully
selected stone, and the order from the Commonwealth War Graves was for half
a million headstones; all were shaped, carved with names and badges and
shipped from Portland to the Western Front. Over 800,000 gravestones were
also produced in the 1950s for the nation's war dead of the Second World
War. Following attacks from the French, Portland Castle at Castletown was
built in 1539. Its partner, Sandsfoot Castle at Wyke Regis, is now a ruin
due to sea erosion of the sandstone cliffs. The Castle is built of Ashlar
stone, the finest Portland Stone available, and cost £4,964 at its completion
around 1540. Its plan is impressive, like an open fan with the curved face
of the two storey gun battery facing out to the sea. A climb to the top
will reward you with wonderful views across the harbour and beaches, including
the point where the US troops embarked for the D-Day invasion in June 1944.
It is one of the best preserved of Henry Vlll's castles and is of interest
as it shows the transition from medieval to more modern methods of fortification.
These days the Verne, on the top of Portland, is a prison, but it was originally
constructed as a citadel for the army and held 700 men, though in time of
war it could accommodate over 2000. It was heavily fortified and was armed
with 30-ton guns. The latest prison to open on the island actually floats!
It is HMP Weare which is anchored in the former Naval Base. Bought from
the American Prison Service, it was carried across the Atlantic on a huge
barge, it had originally been built to accommodate British troops stationed
in the Falkland Islands. There are many businesses situated on Portland,
some of which are featured on these pages. The presence of the Navy and
its associated scientific establishments was the mainstay of the island's
economy for many years, but with the recent changes in defence policy this
changed in 1995 when the Royal Naval Base closed. This was followed by the
closure of HMS Osprey, the Naval Air Station, in March 1999. With this in
mind local businesses are turning to tourism as an important part of their
If you wish to stay on or near Portland there are hotels, guest houses and
self-catering accommodation that should fulfil your needs, also if you're
looking for somewhere to eat, there are pubs and restaurants to suit all
pockets. And at Wyke Regis, on the way to Portland, there is the Oyster
Farm where you can buy fresh oysters harvested from the Fleet Lagoon. Weymouth is just a short drive away and here you will also find planty of hotels, b and b's, holiday cottages and campsites or holiday parks.
you feel like a bit of adventure you can go scuba diving or sailing in Portland
Harbour, or there are some fine coastal rides if you prefer horse riding.
Portland Castle, at Castletown, is well worth a visit and you will find
Portland Museum at Wakeham, on the way to Portland Bill. The island has
lots to offer at any time of year, with its splendid coastal views, fascinating
history and varied walks. Why not come back out of season, the spectacular
coastline can change into a boiling maelstrom with gigantic waves rolling
in from the Atlantic and crashing against the rocks and surging onto Chesil
Beach, but whenever you come, you're sure to enjoy your visit to Portland.
Use the map of Portland below to zoom in or out to view directions or click the satellite button for an aerial view.
To open a large version of the map in a new window and plan a journey to Portland click here.
Kite Surfing in Portland Harbour
The Wiers Portland
Church Ope Cove, Portland
Riding on Portland
Tout Quarry Sculpture Park
Kite & Windsurfing , Portland