Until July 2017, documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say! Meanwhile . . . I've now moved to Halifax in West Yorkshire. Click on the link below to collect the new URL. Don't forget to follow there!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011


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?!’.

* * *

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

* * *

All these pictures were taken within a twenty minute span on 27th May 2011.


Rowan said...

This must be a lovely area to walk in the summer but I should think that it's decidedly bleak in the winter! I must admit that although I know that Portland stone was used for many of London's great buildings I hadn't realised that it was just hacked out of the cliff face! I suppose I thought there was a quarry inland somewhere.

Lucy said...

You are right about it being taken out of the ground - but Portland is so small 'inland' hardly means anything. It's easy to walk from one side of the island to the other. It doesn't take long. And it's pleasant to walk the longer distance from Chesil to Portland Bill. As you go, you can see great hollow bowls where stone has been taken. (There are several quarries.)If I had had more time that morning (I was on my way to a meeting and couldn't stop!) I would have taken photos of the quarry immediately by where I was standing too. Another post! So it isn't that Portland is being shaved away - more that it's being hollowed out and some of the debris has been left round the edges. (And almost everywhere else on the island too. It's a dusty as well as a flowery place!)

Come to think of it, the cliffs below where I was standing are very smooth - I expect stone was split from them. Another thing to learn!


Toffeeapple said...

Another interesting post Lucy and a good walk too, I like being taken for a stroll. What plant is that in picture 8? The height from the rail-path made me slightly dizzy.

Lucy said...

Hello Toffee Apple.

I've been wondering about that plant too. (So much for my botany!)

I really was in a rush. I had to run from there to the place I was going. (Literally - run!) I know the plant with the red flowers is Red Valerian and there's masses of it about at the moment. But the other . . . in silhouette, it reminds me most of sage . . . I'll see if I can get closer next time. (It was on the edge and, as you say, this edge can be quite dizzying!)


Donna said...

Lucy what an incredible place to live and walk around...nothing so beautiful here..and the history...lovely

Gardens at Waters East said...

Lucy, I so enjoyed your tour of the sea. Living here at the lake because of its size is much like the sea and I love it. Your history of the railroad and etc was interesting, always makes blogging so much more in depth to me. The stone about St. Paul's brought me back to my visit there while in London, nice. Jack

Claire said...

You have an informative blog. I’ve learned something from it. I do have mine too www.claire-fernandez.blogspot.com... Thanks

Richard said...

greetings folks from the Amish settlement of Lebanon,Pa. Richard from Amish stories.

Shifan said...

This must be a lovely area to walk.An informative blog.

PatioPatch said...

Lucy your narrative is lovely - feel like I'm right there with you as guide. Great contrasts in 3rd image where the dustry path meets the sky.

Lucy said...

Hello Donna. I know nothing about your part of the world except that there is a lake somewhere there - and I doubt anywhere with a lake can not have some beautiful parts. That said, I am constantly surprised by the beauty of Dorset. I walk along and wonder how I came to be here. Am I really here? Is this England? Of course it is - but why don't people know about it? . . . For it is the strange case that few people in the UK are aware of what is is like here - which is very odd!

Hello Jack. Although the sea frightens me - its power, its noise, its size - I'd find it hard to live far from it. I can imagine how being by a lake would make you feel the same - except I would miss the tides.

Hello Claire. I'm glad you like Loose and Leafy.

Hello Richard and Shifan. Thanks for your visits.

Hello PatioPatch. I'm pleased you picked out the third picture down to mention because, for all its starkness, it is probably my favourite in this post.


Lucy said...

Hello Everyone - you may like to know the next post is up on Loose and Leafy.


It's called 'And Autumn Arrives' . It's about the way the drought seems to have weakened plants in the hedgerows, accelerated ripening and limited the size of fruits . . . autumn comes early.