Friday, August 22nd 2014
The Isle of Portland, whose white limestone is much prized as a building material, is a lonely but beautiful outcrop of land into the Channel. Its shape and position, together with the Shambles, a mile-long sandbank to its south-east, constitutes an important danger to shipping in the Channel. At the southernmost tip of the island, called Portland Bill, stands a lighthouse, a necessary warning for shipping sailing close to shore. The name “Bill” (anciently written “Beel”) is said to derive from the bird-beak shape of the island’s tip.
If you do not have your own transport, the best way to travel to the island from Weymouth is to catch bus number 501 from its stop on the seafront. However, buses run once an hour (June to September) or once every two hours (May to June), and the last bus leaves Portland at 1730 (May to June) or 1805 (June to September) so you must plan your journey carefully to avoid being left stranded. (This nearly happened to me on one occasion. The story is told in Weymouth on a tenner, below the sixth photo.)
The bus stop at Portland Bill is in the large car par park and is within a short walk of the Bill and its lighthouse. On a warm sunny day, this is a pretty and welcoming place but in bad weather it would be bleak and rather forbidding. There is a cafe and gift shop and some cottages for holidaymakers to rent and that is about all.
The shore here is made of tumbled rocks of Portland stone. When you stand by the lighthouse looking out to sea, you know that there is no land in that direction until Guernsey, one of the Channel Islands. On a calm day, when the sea and the sky are blue and the waves are gentle, it is a peaceful scene, but the weather can deteriorate and turn this area into a ships’ graveyard.
The lighthouse is the tallest object at Portland Bill and therefore tends to appear in all views of the area. Brightly painted red and white, it is not to be missed. The lighthouse was originally manned but ceased to be so in 1996 when the light was automated. It is now controlled by Trinity House’s Operations & Planning Centre in Harwich.
This view along the shore shows how rocky it is and how potentially dangerous to shipping. If you think that the white building to the left of the picture is a lighthouse, you are right, though it no longer functions as such.
The need for a lighthouse had become apparent by no later than the 17th century but, curiously, Trinity House refused all requests to build one. It seems likely that they considered the cost prohibitive. The first lighthouses, two in number and now known as Old Higher Lighthouse and Old Lower Lighthouse, respectively, were commissioned in 1716 and their operation entrusted, not to Trinity House but to a private consortium.
By the 1750s, however, it was found that the lights were badly maintained, being lit belatedly or not at all. As time passed, the lighthouses were rebuilt and modernized (and a pair of cannon installed against possible threat from Napoleonic incursions) but the need for a new modern lighthouse became clear, especially after 14 ships were wrecked in a storm in 1901. The new lighthouse, the one we admired today, finally shone for the first time in 1906. The old lower lighthouse, visible in the above view along the shore, is now a bird observatory and the old higher, under the name of Branscombe Lodge, has been converted as a holiday cottage.
Another warning indicator is the Trinity House Obelisk, built in 1844, to mark a low shelf of rock extending 30 metres into the sea at that point.
These buildings are used by local fishermen whose boats are launched by means of a crane. I don’t know how important this fishing industry is or even whether it can be called that.
Though Portland Bill is fairly barren in human terms, it is heavily visited. There were relatively few people about during our time there but the ground bore the signs of many feet. This wear and tear can lead to erosion so I hope the appropriate authorities have the matter in hand because it would be a shame to ruin this beauty spot.
We spotted a few butterflies and I managed to snatch a photo of this one which I think might be a Speckled Wood. They were very active and very nervous, flying off if we approached.
We caught a 501 from Portland Bill but stopped off in Easton, one of the villages on Portland. The above view is of Easton Garden in the centre of the village.
In the garden is a small but nicely designed clock tower. Interestingly enough, it was funded by public subscription. It was unveiled in 1907 by Henry J, Sansom, Chairman of the Council, and “dedicated to the public”.
We took to the buses again and disembarked at The Heights, a hotel where we took refreshment in the cafe-bar. The hotel is situated on Verne Hill, the highest point on Portland from where you have splendid views over the surrounding countryside. In the above photo we are looking over Fortuneswell, one of Portland’s largest villages, to Chesil Beach stretching away into the distance.
Here are a couple of slightly more detailed views.
In fact, there are three villages here which have expanded and melted into one another, as it were. The eye of one possessed of local knowledge could perhaps distinguish the smaller Chesil and Castletown from the larger Fortuneswell but I am unable to do so.
Here we see Chesil Beach stretching away apparently to infinity, lost in the haze of distance.
Turning slightly to the east, we have a view of Weymouth Bay and can see that it is far bigger than one might guess on seeing it from sea level. It was dotted with boats, in particular a crowd of small yachts. I tried to count them but their mutual movements made it easy to lose count though I think there must have been a hundred or more.
We retuned to the hotel for a rest and to ready ourselves for the evening. We were going to meet friends of Tigger’s who had invited us to dinner. We took a train to a small station called Moreton and were picked up there by car. There wasn’t much opportunity for photos but, just for the form, as it were, I took this one of Moreton Station as we were waiting for our train back to town.