The Boat that Rocks
Bar Restaurant

In Victorian times the erection of the Portland harbour breakwaters became an undertaking of momentous proportions. On top of the foundation stone laid by Prince Albert convicts piled untold tons of freshly quarried stone. It was not finally completed until 1905. The safe anchorage created one of the world's largest harbours and meant Portland became of increasing importance to the navy. As such it became a major point of embarkation for the D Day landings.

Isolation and relatively poor access made the island a secure and attractive choice for the incarceration of wrongdoers with the conversion of the old Verne citadel from fort to prison. While the end of the Cold War meant that the naval base eventually closed for good in the 80s. The harbour, empty of warships, has now become a mecca for water sports which will attain global recognition in 2012 when it plays host to the 2012 Olympic sailing events.

Portland's rugged environment and temperate climate means it hosts a varied flora and fauna including a flightless cricket only found on Chesil Beach. The isle is also on the flight path of rare migratory birds which draws hordes of bird enthusiasts. One of Portland's disused lighthouses now serves as a unique observatory and offers simple accommodation as well. Quarrying is still a part of Portland life though on a smaller scale. Some of the workings have been filled in while one, Tout Quarry, is now a sculpture park where if you look hard, a contribution by Anthony Gormley (the Angel of the North) may be found.

Dorset's enigmatic island
Tout Quarry
Sculpture Park
Church of
St George
The wild 
west coast
Wonder of the natural
world Chesil Bank

Before the quarries came to dominate life on Portland the population survived on fishing and farming. Strip lychets, long narrow field systems, abandoned in Medieval times by mainland farmers, are still worked in places to this day.

The lighthouse at
Portland Bill

     ortland has always been a little different. Its people. Its landscape. Its traditions.
    Joined to the mainland by the merest sliver of shingle its only communication with mainland Dorset until 1839 was by ferry. In bad weather it could be cut off for days.

Alternatively, launch your kayak from  Castle Cove beneath the ruins of Sandsfoot Castle and paddle across the harbour to Portland Marina, visit Portland Castle then sip a latte at the Boat that Rocks on the marina, then paddle back.

Rufus Castle 
Last of the
quarry cranes

By far the best way to appreciate Portland is to follow the  well signposted coast path that follows its perimeter, about 7.5 miles. It allows you to see most of the sites viewed in this article. A wild, windswept day or a calm sunny one both make equally rewarding walks.

Walk and Kayak

Water sports
in the harbour
Coast Path

Discover Dorset

Quiddles Cafe

Isolation bred an inward-looking, hardy people, self-reliant and suspicious of strangers. These traits were only strengthened by the terrible events of the Easton Massacre which took place in 1803 ( For article click here) An isolated community is bound to have unusual traditions. One such tradition associates rabbits with bad luck, possibly because rabbits appearing from their burrows presaged a rock fall in the quarries. As a result rabbits are never ever referred to by name. Be warned!

The fine white limestone, quarried on the island since time immemorial, attained its finest hour when Sir Christopher Wren (also MP for Weymouth) used it for the reconstruction of St Paul's Cathedral after the Great Fire of London. It has since been used in some of our most important buildings and monuments including thousands of crisp, white headstones for the war cemeteries in France .

Portland harbour with Portland in the background

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The Isle is formed from gently sloping bands of limestone and is 4.5 in length by 1.75 miles in width. Shaped roughly like an ancient arrowhead it thrusts out into the English Channel to form a  maritime barrier to shipping, constantly pounded on all sides by wind and wave. The soil forms but a thin covering and sheltering trees are a rarity. First impressions can be of a bleak, desolate landscape, more akin to Dartmoor than Dorset. First impressions are never reliable and the more one gets to know Portland the more it weaves its spell.It has been continuously inhabited since the Stone Age while two millennia ago the invading Romans made their mark, quarrying for first time the pure white limestone that makes Portland famous the world over. The Roman presence was consolidated by the erection of massive earthworks at the Verne which presided over a sheltered anchorage exploited by navys right up to the present.


Portland has been a royal manor for a 1000 years ago and is presided over by its own court leet, or council, giving the manor a number of unique rights and privileges. It has also been thought worthy of defending since at least the thirteenth century when Rufus, or Bow and Arrow castle, was built in its commanding position high on a pinnacle of rock above Church Ope Cove. Close by stands the poignant remains of St Andrew's, Portland's first and only church before the building of the beautiful classical church of St George at Reforne in the eighteenth century. A second castle, Portland Castle, built to defend the harbour was built in Henry VIII's time and is now open to the public
During the civil war Portland was staunchly royalist until its fall in 1643.

At its tip, known as the Bill, is Portland's most prominent landmark, the perfect red and white lighthouse. It is the last in a succession dating from 1716, though sadly, now totally automated. Here two conflicting tides meet head-on to form an area of boiling turbulence, grave of many a ship, and called the Race.

Massive lintel created from abandoned limestone blocks