There’s a lot of sea around Portland. Lots and lots of sea and lots of sky and lots of light - and I can never get it right when it comes to photographs. Detail is often blurred out and I rarely get things perfectly in focus.
But then . . . maybe this is precisely how the photos should turn out. Because this is how we do (or, rather don’t!) see here. We nearly always have to squint. The light is bright and stark and white - except on the days when it is dull and misty. It swings between the two.
Portland has its own weather system. You can see it from miles away in each direction - sitting in the sea with clouds making a bee-line for it. Often its top wears them like a hat.
This contrast of light is echoed in the landscape. The Grove (the Young Offender’s Prison I mentioned in my last post) is on the Eastern Cliffs. Just around the corner, you come to this
|on your left|
|straight ahead - this|
(If you peer into the picture, you will see, in the straight-ahead distance, one of the lighthouses I showed in a previous post.)
|and, on your right - is this.|
Fishing and quarrying have been the main industries on Portland for centuries. The sea remains the sea but the quarries have changed and defined the landscape. Some are still working. Still they churn up and dig out - and magnify the glare which comes down from the sun (and the mist!) and the sea.
Portland is shrinking, cutting bits off itself and sending them away. It’s been doing this for a long time!
When London had to be re-built after the Great Fire in 1666, stone quarried on Portland went to re-build St Paul’s Cathedral and many other grand buildings which are still there today. (Christopher Wren was the local MP!) London wouldn’t be the same without them. One almost might say London wouldn’t be London if it weren’t for Portland.
It is a particular feature of Portland stone that it works well in big blocks but not so much in small ones. The hacking and lowering and transporting of these huge rocks was a time consuming business - expensive too!
Looking over the edge of the cliff . . . this is where the stone went from, lowered by crane into barges. This kind of crane was used for boats as well as stone - and there's one down there still. (Though not left over from the seventeenth century!) In an earlier post, I published a photo of one at Portland Bill. Taking a look at that might be easier than peering into this picture but there are other things of interest down there too - a ‘pillbox’ from World War Two (a concrete hut with slit windows to see through when guarding the coast) and great hunks of abandoned stone. These hunks add to the lunar nature of some of the landscape. On the western side of the island, so much un-needed, waste stone was tipped over the cliffs, it has accumulated into a great slope which looks almost as if it is a natural feature of the scenery. (I know I am building a great list of items for future posts - but this will feature in one.)
There’s an old quarry railway down there too - at least, you can see the long, straight, white line where it used to be.
|To give an idea of scale -|
there are two people standing on the track.
It was not easy to construct this railway - one of the great challenges being to build a cutting (now filled in) on a gradient gentle enough that engines could climb to the little town of Easton - but it opened in 1901 and for fifty years the trains transported passengers as well as stone. Freight trains continued until 1965. The rails have gone now and it has become a good flat track for walking. (Once you get down to it!)
There are wild goats here; and fulmars were swooping around their nests while I was taking these pictures. (They build them in the vertical faces of the cliffs, inaccessible to humans.)
And as for plants - they get everywhere!
|Whether to the right|
|or to the left|
People come in coaches to see the lighthouses of Portland but there are few visitors along here. There are enough walkers (mainly local with dogs) to make you feel safe - you are not too remote. Sometimes they will stop to talk (one told me there are sometimes ravens in these cliffs . . . ) but, mostly, people will smile, call a short, quiet greeting and continue on their way. It’s a good place to think. There will be a long gap before the next passer by.
Sometime, when the weather is sunny and warm, I’ll take you down to the old railway track and we’ll look up - and probably say ‘Surely this can’t be England?!’.
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Special thanks to Stuart Morris for the friendly way he helped with information about the railway. He is the author of
(You can buy this through Amazon. Here is the link.)
For a Link Page to lots of Portland Material - Click HERE
For Photographs of Stone Quarries on Portland - Click HERE
If you’d like to find tourist information or where to stay on Portland - Click HERE
To see where Portland is on a Google Map - Click HERE
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All these pictures were taken within a twenty minute span on 27th May 2011.