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Britain > Dorset > Isle of Portland

An island that made its way across the world.


Tout Quarry
Portland Bill
Portland Castle
Portland Harbour
Even if you've never been to the Isle of Portland, perhaps a part of the isle has come to you. Its stone is probably the most famous building material in the world, and it's been used everywhere from St. Paul's Cathedral to Dublin's National Gallery. Over many centuries the quarrymen worked their way across the island. In their wake they left a trail of drystone walls, tracks and open rock faces; this became Portland's distinctive landscape.

Portland stone
Photo Jim Linwood
The quarrying business ended around a century ago, but its legacy is strong. Tout Quarry, for example, is now open to the public. Local craftsmen have turned it into an unlikely arts display, with statues and reliefs everywhere you turn. Some sculptures were made using loose bits of shale, while others were carved directly into the rock. Even today you'll sometimes see local stonemasons working hard on something new.

Tout Quarry
Photo Chris Gunns
At the southern tip of the island is a promontory called Portland Bill. It's marked by a red-and-white lighthouse that's, naturally, made from Portland stone. Its light is an important warning - these rough, shallow waters are a graveyard for careless ships. Computers have negated the need for a permanent keeper, but there are staff on hand to give guided tours.

Portland Bill
Photo Jim Linwood
This is actually Portland Bill's third lighthouse; earlier models were erected in 1716 and 1789. The 1789 version is still standing, but it's now the Portland Bird Observatory. Keen birdwatchers can come here for information, company and unique accommodation.

Portland Bird Observatory
Photo Chris Gunns
Birds, though, aren't the only thing to watch out for. Look south and you may well spot dolphins or whales. At the right tide levels the rockpools burst with marine life, and the island's meadows are covered in butterflies. There are even two dedicated butterfly reserves, at Perryfield and Broadcroft.
In fact, Portland's visitors usually spend the majority of their time outdoors. In almost all weather, the island's many paths are covered in hikers and picnicers. Even windy days aren't an excuse to stay inside; instead, they're the perfect time to bring a kite. A clifftop walking route follows the entire coastline. It's 13 miles long, so completing the loop is tough, but achievable. This is a small section of the South-West Coast Path, the UK's longest National Trail. It runs along Devon and Dorset's World Heritage Jurassic Coast, of which Portland is a central part.

Coastal path
Photo Jonathan Billinger
In truth, this really an island. It's linked to the mainland by Chesil Beach, a thin strip of land that sweeps 18 miles to the north-west. The crossing is overlooked by Portland Castle, a 16th century stronghold that Henry VIII built to protect his coastline against invasions from the Spanish and French. Today, English Heritage look after the building. They've added plenty of information about the site, as well as gardens and a tearoom. You can try on pieces of armour, meet ancient ghosts and explore the Tudor gun platforms.

Portland Castle
Photo chestertouristcom
Portland Bay - which never was captured by the Spanish or French- was further protected in the 19th century by the building of the Portland breakwater: a series of submerged stone walls that turned this into one of the largest man-made harbours in the world. As a further defence against submarine attack, an entire ship was purposefully sunk across the southern entrance. Later, the port also played a big part in the D-Day landings of World War II.

Portland Harbour
Photo Andrew Michaels
After its time as a naval base, the harbour became a civilian port and recreational area. The reliable wind is perfect for wind and kite-surfing, but the most popular activity is surely sailing. It's such a well-established venue that it became a host for sailing events in the 2012 Olympics.
Visitor Information
Weymouth Tourist Information Centre is open daily, 9.30 am to 4pm. The Pavilion, The Esplanade, Weymouth, Dorset, DT4 8ED. Tel: 01305 785747.
Tout Quarry is open all year round. Entry is free. Tradecroft Industrial Estate, Portland, DT5 2LN. Tel: 01305 826736.
Portland Bill Lighthouse Visitor Centre is open Sunday to Thursday, May to September, 11am - 5pm. Entry costs around £4 for adults, £3 children. Portland Bill, Portland, Dorset, DT5 2JT. Tel: 01305 861233.
Portland Bird Observatory is open all year round. It costs around £20 per night for a bunk bed, and £80 per night for the lighthouse-keeper's cottage. Portland Bill, Dorset, England, DT5 2JT. Tel: 01305 820553.
Portland Castle is open daily from Aptil to October, 10am to 5pm. Entry costs around £5 for adults and £3 for children. Castle Town, Portland Castle, Portland, Dorset DT5 1AZ. Tel: 01305 820868.

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