Portland is one of the sunniest climates in the UK; it’s entire coastline forming the central part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site of 95 miles stretching from Orcombe Point near Exmouth in East Devon to Old Harry Rocks near Swanage in East Dorset. Portland is almost completely surrounded by the South West Coast Path, one of the top walks in the world and Britain’s longest way marked footpath. It is a “tied” limestone island, connected by a shingle bar to the mainland at Abbotsbury. This bar is known as a Tombolo, the largest in the UK and forms Chesil Beach. So technically Portland is not an island, although known as such. Chesil beach terminates at West Bay, home to the spectacular scenery made famous by the TV series Broadchurch.
Two or more tombolos form an enclosure called a lagoon; at Chesil Beach this is the Fleet Lagoon, enclosed on the harbour side by a barrier beach over which the causeway runs between Weymouth and Portland. The harbour’s flat, protected waters provide a safe sailing/surfing environment and you will regularly see Windsurfers and Kitesurfers perfecting their sport, alongside the sailors of the Weymouth and Portland National Sailing Academy, home of the 2012 Olympics.
The Fleet lagoon is an important area for wildlife and conservation, protecting rare species of wildlife and plants which are showcased at the Chesil Beach Centre along the causeway. Little Terns nest here in the summer months, the South West’s only Tern colony.
The Jurassic Coast is a walk through time. The layers of rock that form this coastline reveal the history of Earth formed over a period of 185 million years providing a nearly complete record of the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretacous periods. For this reason the Jurassic Coast that Portland is a part of, was designated as England’s first natural World Heritage site in 2001.
Charmouth particularly is famous for its fossils and it is considered the best and safest place to search for fossils as they are plentiful there particularly in the winter months when rough weather exposes more. More information on the Jurassic Coast and fossil hunting can be found on the “Jurassiccoast” website.
SEE BLOG FOR THE LATEST NEWS ON JURASSICA – A PLANNED VISITOR ATTRACTION TO SHOWCASE 200 MILLION YEARS OF GEOLOGICAL HISTORY.
Portland is also renowned for its stone which has been quarried for centuries and most famously was used to build St Paul’s Cathedral and the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Most houses on Portland are built of Portland stone forming rows of quaint cottages, being a whiter colour than the famous Cotswold limestone, though attractive nonetheless.
The Island is steeped in history and folklore for those who care to discover it. Most notably Portland Castle and its sister, Sandsfoot Castle, (a ruin at Wyke Regis in Weymouth) which were built by Henry VIII to protect this coast from invasion; thus the two castles allowed the whole harbour to be covered by artillery fire. Portland Castle, unlike its sister is Dorset’s only intact Tudor castle and is a popular tourist attraction.
Church Ope Cove near Portland Bill houses the ruins of St Andrew’s Church itself overlooked by the ruins of ancient Rufus Castle, Portland’s oldest castle. Scattered amongst these ruins are gravestones, often depicting a skull and crossbones. Folklore states, these are pirates’ graves, possibly of those shipwrecked along Portland’s shores. Then there is the Roy Dog of Portland Bill ………
So whether you wish to walk the coast path, sail the Olympic waters, discover the bird observatory, climb Portland rocks, look for fossils, fish surf or dive from Chesil beach, or just discover the legends of this unique land; there is something for everyone here, young or old.
Not forgetting the fabulous sandy beach at Weymouth and its picturesque harbour area or the stunning coast road to Bridport; you will never be at a loss for things to do on the Dorset Coast and are assured a warm welcome from Portland Islanders who are known for their kind, amenable spirit.
Come to Portland and discover this unique hidden gem which is central for exploring the Jurassic Coastline in either direction.