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Saturday, 2nd March 2024, 9:42am

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Isle of Portland

Portland, Dorset

Portland Isle, Dorset

Well known for the source of Portland Stone, this West Dorset island is of almost treeless rock. However, the views can be stunning from some of the island's vantage points and there is a wealth of wildlife. The Portland Bird Observatory was set up in 1961 at the Old Lower Lighthouse to study bird migration, as Portland is popular as a stopping off and arriving spot for birds.

Portland has three lighthouses. The current Portland Bill Lighthouse is automated, stands about 135 feet high and was built at the beginning of the 20th Century. The Old Lower Lighthouse was built in 1788 and the world's first to use a true lens in its lantern. As stated above, it is now used as a bird observatory. The Old Higher Lighthouse is currently a guest house.

There was a naval base on the island until recently, but this is now known as Portland Port following a change of ownership, while the coastline and many areas on the island are designated as Sites of Special Scientific Interest.

History of the Isle of Portland, Dorset

Originally used by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) to rebuild St Paul's Cathedral as well as many other buildings in London following the Great Fire of London in 1666, Portland stone has been used to enhance buildings around the world ever since.

Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), the well known novelist, writer and poet of Dorset referred to the Isle of Portland as 'The Gibraltar of Wessex'.

Three castles were built to protect Portland's vulnerable position. The Bow and Arrow Castle, more commonly known as Rufus Castle, was built by the Normans (probably for King William II (Rufus) (1056-1100)) above Church Ope Cove, but is now in ruins. Only the archway still remains, though this was thought to be a later addition to the castle in Tudor times. Portland Castle, built by Henry VIII in 1520 to defend Weymouth against possible French and Spanish invasion is still well preserved, thanks to Charles Angustus Manning's efforts in the 19th Century. The third, Pennsylvania Castle was built in 1800.

Portland has a large harbour and breakwater which was completed in 1872.

The South West Coast Path

The official South West Coast Path does not enter the island. However, a coast path will take you out onto the southern most tip of Portland Isle to where the lighthouse stands. There is only one path on and off the island, but it is interesting to see the 'white horses' generated by swirling sea currents negotiating Portland Bill, even on a calm day. This effect is partly due to a tidal eddy, a circulating mass of water that within its eye has deposited a bank of shell fragments. Called the 'Shambles', it has built up over the centuries and although not visible itself, produces a fierce water disturbance.

Good Beach Guide

Portland Isle (Sandsfoot Castle / Castle Cove), Dorset...The sea water quality is rated as having passed the EC Mandatory Standard and receives a Recommendation (the highest award) from The Marine Conservation Society.

Royal National Lifeboat Institute

The Royal National Lifeboat Institute (RNLI) operate a lifeboat service from the nearby harbour at Weymouth.